MLB to Portland Picks Up Steam

As Oakland and Tampa Bay fumble their way through finding themselves new stadiums, a group of business people in Portland, Oregon unveiled the Portland Diamond Project with one goal in mind: bringing Major League Baseball to Portland.

This of course comes on the heels of additional rumblings of either an expansion or relocated team moving to Montreal after another successful exhibition series packed old Olympic Stadium. Like Portland, investors in Montreal are willing to fund their own facility.

Early season attendance woes aside, I’m all for bringing MLB to Portland and reestablishing the Expos in Montreal. With that said, we’d likely see a realignment to balance the leagues and schedules, which will ultimately transform the league. The designated hitter will become a league-wide thing and the National and American Leagues as we know it will likely go away. We’d also see an expanded playoff system, and who doesn’t love baseball extending well into the fall? (I kid, I kid)

Traditionalists will yell and scream, but things change.

While I’m not going to sing Rob Manfred’s praises here, I agree with him that Oakland and Tampa Bay need to get their stadium situations figured out before we start expanding baseball again. The A’s and Rays are celebrating their 50th and 20th anniversaries, but there’s not much to celebrate. The franchises can’t draw decent crowds to their outdated facilities, and the backlash (for good reason) against publicly financed stadiums makes it a bit tougher for the teams to finance new parks. (Much of the challenges in Florida are highlighted in a recently published article in The Wall Street Journal;I highly recommend it)

Tampa seems closer than Oakland to solving their stadium situation, but now, here comes Portland.

Despite Manfred granting no expansion franchise and hasn’t yet entertained the idea of relocated the A’s or Rays, the Portland Diamond Project is moving fast. It’s made formal offers on two parcels of land, with plans to build a 32,000 seat stadium, along with apartments, and assorted accouterments baseball owners feel compelled to build, thanks to the Atlanta Braves.

Should this concern fans in Oakland and Tampa Bay? Maybe. In a short period of time, a group of well-financed people made enormous strides. Tampa’s just starting to get the ball rolling on its proposed Ybor City stadium project (but has no idea where the money will come from) and the A’s continue to lick a finger, stick it in the air, see which way the winds blows and determine whether or not that helps them find a new home in Oakland.

If (and it remains a big if) relocation is on the table, you’d have to assume Oakland is in more trouble than Tampa. The Rays picked a site and are putting together the support they need to get a stadium project together. Geographically, you’re marching the A’s up the Pacific Coast rather than relocating a team across the country.

Again, all of this is very speculative. No matter how much money, support, and plans Portland Diamond Project has, it doesn’t mean squat until Manfred decides the league wants to drop a team (expansion or relocated) in Portland.

I tend to agree with John Corzano’s column in The Oregonian claiming Portland is perfect for MLB. It currently lacks a major baseball presence, but the Portland Timbers were a huge hit from day one and the Trail Blazers generally get great crowds. Given the attendance issues MLB faces at the moment, knowing a city could regularly sell out ball games, regardless of a team’s on-the-field play must sound pretty darn good.

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