The Beavers haven’t always played baseball in Portland. Minor league baseball took a few years off in the 70s. The team that came back in 1978 later moved to Salt Lake City, occasioning another break in AAA ball before the latest incarnation showed up. But those few bumps aside, there has been a Pacific Coast League edition of the Portland Beavers since 1903.
Not anymore, though, as the latest edition played its last game last night. The Beavers are losing their ballpark to Major League Soccer next season and will have to find a new home. Tucson is a possibility. So is Lake Elsinore, California. All we know for sure is that the Padres’ AAA team won’t be in Portland next season.
My first thought is to be irked by the fact that someone, somewhere thought that MLS was a better bet for Portland than baseball. My second thought is to scoff at anyone who brings up Portland as a possible landing spot for a relocating Major League Baseball team. Both thoughts are all about emotion, not reason, however, because this move has very little to do with how much Portland loves baseball and everything to do with economics.
Sure, it would be great if Portland had found room for both the Beavers and the new MLS team, but stadium politics in Oregon have always been dicey, rendering this an either/or situation. Given the league’s relatively low overhead and straight revenue split, a Major League Soccer franchise can be pretty damn lucrative these days. If you had the choice between keeping a minor league baseball team in your park or, alternatively, kicking them out, renovating the place for soccer and getting an MLS team you’d do the latter every time. At least if you were interested in making money. That was Portland’s choice.
The prospect of a major league team would likely change the economics of it all. No, it would not likely be easier to get public money to build a ballpark for, say, the A’s or the Rays or someone that it would have been for the Beavers, but there’s way more money to be made in Major League Baseball than there is in AAA too, so it could probably inspire more private money (assuming Bud Selig and the Lords of Baseball drop their aversion to owner-financed stadiums). The upshot: the Beavers fleeing has very little to do with Portland’s suitability as a major league city. It’s benefits and flaws remain much the same as they’ve always been.
But yeah, it does suck that there’s no baseball in Portland anymore. Because baseball is, you know, cool.