Featured Stories

WILD PITCH

City in dark about baseball tourney's move to Beaverton

Nearly everyone in Forest Grove is ready for the Junior League Western Regional baseball tournament to kick off this week, just as it has each of the past two summers.

The only problem is that the tournament isn't in Forest Grove this year - it's in Beaverton.

In a tale with plenty of twists and turns, District 4 (Oregon) Little League awarded the annual tournament to Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District this year.

According to district administrator Gary Rowell, the decision was made, in part, because Pacific University refused to house the 13- and 14-year-old players and, in part, because Forest Grove Little League officials dragged their collective feet when it came time to smooth things over with the university.

For his part, Forest Grove Little League president Kent Jansen said the city was more than capable of hosting the tournament, with or without Pacific's help, and he questioned the district's decision to move the festivities east.

Lost in the shuffle of the 'he-said, he-said' is the fact that few people outside of Rowell and Jansen seemed to know that the tournament - which last year brought roughly 800 visitors to the city and pumped needed dollars into the local economy - would not be held in Forest Grove this year.

'This is news to me,' said Mayor Richard Kidd, when contacted by the News-Times Tuesday morning. 'I was not aware that they moved anything. That tournament was a great event and it brought a lot of people to town.'

Kidd wasn't the only one surprised by the bad news on Tuesday morning, when the tournament's first round of games were scheduled to start.

City Councilor Pete Truax, a longtime local sports booster, and the staff at the Chamber of Commerce - not to mention a bevy of local businesses - were completely unaware that opening ceremonies were being held 15 miles east of Forest Grove at the Howard M. Terpenning Recreation Complex in Beaverton.

So why was the tournament moved? Both sides agree on a few basics:

• Last year's tournament - which was otherwise a rousing success - was marred by poor behavior in the Pacific dorms, notably by a group of players from Nevada, who were summarily disciplined and sent home.

• Following the tournament, Pacific sent word to the District 4 office that the university would no longer house the Junior League players for future events. Pacific officials refused to comment on the decision to the News-Times, but both Rowell and Jansen contend that it stemmed from the disciplinary problems in the dorms.

• Rowell informed Jansen that if Pacific was not on board for the 2006 tournament, the district might move the event to Beaverton, where there would be more hotel accommodations.

• Rowell called Jansen in mid-January from the state Little League meeting - where all nine districts converged to select host sites for state and regional tournaments - and, failing to get confirmation that Pacific's dorms were once again open to the tournament, declared publicly that Beaverton would be the host for the 2006 Junior League Western Regional.

According to Rowell, the ultimate decision to ditch Forest Grove was precipitated by indifference from local Little League officials, who did not act quickly or forcefully enough when it came time to smooth things over with Pacific.

'This is what I didn't want,' said Rowell. 'I didn't want the district to have to make the phone calls. District 4 doesn't benefit from having the tournament in Forest Grove - Forest Grove benefits from having the tournament in Forest Grove.'

The tournament brings players, and families, from across the West Coast.

'I wanted Forest Grove Little League to make the phone calls to keep the tournament there,' Rowell said.

Without the use of Pacific's dorm facilities, Rowell felt Forest Grove simply did not have enough hotels to accommodate the incoming players, parents and fans.

'With the number of hotels available in the (Forest Grove) area, we would have been putting kids up in Portland, Tigard, Beaverton, everywhere,' said Rowell. 'I had to go where there were more lodging opportunities, and Pacific was the hurdle that I couldn't get over.'

Jansen, on the other hand, contends that he was blindsided by the district's decision to move the tournament away from Forest Grove.

'Of all the district meetings I attended, we never once discussed the western regional,' he said. 'No one said a word about it. I put in some calls to Pacific, but no one ever called me back. I don't know what else I could have done.

'Then Gary called me from the state meeting and said, 'What do you want me to do? Can we have this tournament in Forest Grove or not?' I told him I didn't know. A month later I'm on the western region web site and I see that the tournament host site is listed as Beaverton. That's how I found out it had been moved.'

From Jansen's perspective, the tournament would have run smoothly even without the use of Pacific's dorms. Last year, only five of the 12 teams in town for the regional stayed on the Pacific campus, he said.

'Last year we had people staying in Beaverton and it didn't seem to be a problem,' he said. 'I don't know why it would have been a problem this year.'

After an inauspicious debut in 2004, last summer's tournament was a huge success, drawing sponsorships from a litany of local businesses and raising over $9,000 for Forest Grove Little League - $1,800 of which Jansen paid back to District 4 to recoup the losses from the previous year's tournament.

Sponsors provided tournament organizers with money, food, lodging and discounts at local businesses, all to be used for the incoming players and their families. Money was pouring in, according to Jansen, and there was no reason to believe local businesses would stop supporting a tournament that facilitated such a lucrative influx of tourism.

'We just had huge support for this tournament in the community,' said Jansen. 'We had all kinds of sponsors getting on board and a multitude of discounts from local businesses.

'I just feel bad for the city of Forest Grove and all the businesses that did so much to help support this tournament.'

Although Bond Field will be vacant this week and Beaverton, not Forest Grove, will be overrun with Junior Leaguers and their families, both sides of the dispute ultimately want the same thing - to see the Western Regional tournament return to Forest Grove.

'We still wanted to have this tournament,' said Jansen. 'We had sponsors lined up and everything. It was frustrating, not only for me, but for the (Forest Grove Little League) Board of Directors, too. We spent so much time and energy making this thing work, we were all really frustrated to have it taken away.'

Despite the current impasse, Rowell said the district would like to see the tournament back in Forest Grove, even as soon as next year.

'This decision was hard because I think the world of Forest Grove. I wish the tournament was there again this year,' said Rowell. 'They have a great facility and the dorm experience was great for these kids. I still get e-mails from players saying how much they loved playing in Forest Grove and staying at Pacific.'

Rowell added that 'if we are able to reconcile, I would entertain the opportunity to move this tournament back to Forest Grove.'