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Portland keeps fighting for pro baseball

For the second time in five years, a small but dedicated group of Portlanders is making a hard push to bring Major League Baseball to the Rose City.

After an unsuccessful attempt to snag the vagabond Montreal Expos in 2004, the Portland Baseball Group is now trying to reel in the Florida Marlins, whose owner, Jeffrey Loria, would like to keep the franchise in south Florida but also desperately wants a baseball-only facility to showcase his team - two goals that, at the moment, appear to be mutually exclusive.

The goal is certainly laudable, and it's receiving a groundswell of grassroots support from Portland citizens, many of whom feel the city suffers from having only one major professional sports franchise - and, furthermore, since that team is the comically mismanaged Trail Blazers, it should probably be counted more like half a franchise.

Right now, the question on everyone's mind seems to be: 'What can we do to bring Major League Baseball to Portland?' In reality, Portlanders and their suburban brethren (that's you, Forest Grove) should be asking: 'Do we really want a Major League Baseball team?'

Remember, this is the city that prides itself on being unique and out of the ordinary. This is the city where you can't drive three blocks without seeing a 'Keep Portland Weird' bumper sticker. This is the city that has suffered through nearly a decade of Blazers-related debacles that have caused its fans to collectively cup their faces and weep gently. And this city wants a Major League Baseball franchise?

What is it that makes the idea of a professional baseball team in Portland so appealing? It can't be ticket prices or fan friendliness - with contract disputes, labor negotiations and a players' strike all too frequent occurrences in the past 15 years, MLB long ago established that it cares more about itself than its fans.

In fact, here's my own personal anecdote to support that point.

Last summer, my wife and I spent a week in San Francisco and decided to catch a Giants game while we were in town. We bought the cheapest bleacher tickets we could find online ($25 apiece), then paid the convenience fee ($8.50), the order processing fee ($3.50) and the print-your-tickets-at-home fee ($2.50) - all totalled, the damage was almost $65.

Once inside, we each had a beer, a hot dog and an order of garlic fries. The individual prices aren't important, but let's just say we didn't get much change back from a $50 bill. As we left the stadium, we didn't even have enough cash in our wallets to pay for cab fare back to our hotel. Not exactly the type of experience that gains my unconditional support for landing a MLB franchise in Portland.

Meanwhile, last Thursday we drove down to Salem to watch the Eugene Emeralds take on the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes - Single A baseball at its finest. Our tickets cost a whopping $6 apiece, and we each got a beer, a hot dog and fries (all of which were as good, if not better than the grub we got in San Francisco) for the grand total of $18.

Once we were done eating, we strolled down to the fence in left field where the Emeralds were warming up and shouted to Matt Antonelli, the San Diego Padres' first-round draft pick out of our alma mater, Wake Forest. Instead of ignoring us, like most of the millionaire prima donnas in the Majors, he walked right over to the fence, shook our hands and chatted for a few minutes before the game - and he gave us an autograph.

And in the final coup de grace, as we walked out of the stadium not only did we have more than enough money to make it home, we were also handed a free loaf of bread courtesy of Sara Lee. Now that's marketing.

The sandwich I ate for lunch today was made with two pieces of free bread courtesy of the Volcanoes. As promotional giveaways go, it ranks a lot higher than the J.T. Snow bobblehead we got in San Francisco - a useless trinket that currently resides in its box in the bottom of a closet somewhere.

I know, the Volcanoes play in Salem, an hour south of Portland. Not really the strongest argument for keeping MLB out of the Rose City. But Portland is currently home to the Beavers, the Triple A affiliate of the Padres. Tickets and concessions are more expensive than they were in Salem, but they're still a whole lot less than they were in San Francisco.

For example, you could buy two tickets to a Beavers game, stuff your face with food and drink Widmer microbrews all night long for less than it would cost to get in the gate at Pac Bell or pretty much any other Major League park in the country.

So explain to me again why this city wants a Major League Baseball franchise?

Zack Palmer is the News-Times' sports editor. He lives in Portland with his wife and two dogs.