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Hops hit home run with fans in Hillsboro home opener


The Hillsboro Hops debut to a sold-out crowd that relishes having a new minor league baseball team in its backyard

The Hillsboro Hops’ Opening Night festivities had something for pretty much everyone.

Fireworks, games, food — and, of course, baseball — were all part of the fun on Monday evening. Bringing the much-anticipated return of Portland-area professional baseball to fruition, the Hops played their first-ever home game at Hillsboro Ballpark — on the grounds of the Gordon Faber Recreation Complex in Hillsboro — and breezed to a 12-0 win against the Eugene Emeralds.

While it is difficult to pin down how many residents of western Washington County were among the 4,710 in attendance, there were at least a few, and they witnessed a bit of history and had a pretty good time.

Already sporting some Hops gear, 15-year-old C.J. Friedman attended the game with his parents, Jack and Deanna. The young Friedman recently finished his first year at Forest Grove High School, where he played on the freshman baseball team this spring.

“He’s got a disease, a baseball disease,” Jack joked about his son partway through Monday’s game.

Now C.J. can scratch his baseball itch by going to Hops games. The Hillsboro Hops team is the short-season Class A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. Most of the players are in no more than their third year of professional baseball, and nine of the athletes on Monday’s roster were taken in the MLB draft staged earlier this month.

With seats not far off of home plate, the Friedmans were able to get an up close and personal look at the young professional players on Monday night.

“The nice thing here, is I sit almost the same place I sit when I watch (C.J.’s) games, so I can really see the difference between kids that are working to throw 80 (mph) and guys that are throwing mid-90s, upper-90s,” Jack noted.

C.J., who plays shortstop and pitcher, said he has always had an interest in baseball, but that interest really took off last year. He now follows Major League Baseball — the level which the Hops players are striving to reach — and the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals in particular. Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is his favorite player, he said, and he is also a fan of Bryce Harper, the Nationals’ 20-year-old outfield prodigy and 2012 NL Rookie of the Year.

C.J. has gone to a couple of Mariners games, but the Hops’ presence in Washington County provides him and other young area ball players the chance to observe players who are just a few years older than them and playing at the next level.

“It’s like the same kind of game, but just a little bit quicker ... the speed’s a little quicker,” C.J. observed. “I guess everything’s a little bit faster pace.”

While C.J. has most of his high school career — and maybe more than that — ahead of him, fellow Viking Rus Peters’ high school glory days are a few years past. Peters attended Monday’s game with his wife, Janet (who happens to be a former employee of the News-Times), as well as the couple’s 22-year-old son, Janet’s mother, and Rus’ boss and his wife.

“Wherever we go, we try to watch baseball games,” said Rus, who played left field as a senior on the Vikings’ 1972 Coast Valley League championship team.

The Peters have taken in Bend Elks games in Central Oregon, they said. The Elks are a summer league college team that plays in the West Coast League. And they were occasional spectators of the Portland Beavers, a Triple A team that played in Portland from 2001 through 2010 before vacating the former PGE Park to make way for the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer.

The Beavers were relocated to Tuscon, Ariz., and were renamed the Padres. They played their last game in Portland in September 2010, and a span of more than 1,000 days passed before professional baseball returned to the Portland area in the form of the Hops.

“Occasionally we went to (Beavers) games, but this is much closer and much easier to get to,” Rus Peters noted.

To ensure that they would attend the home opener — which Janet said her son was quite keen on — the Peters bought a four-game mini-pack of six tickets per game.

“We’re going to make it through July and I figured if they’re doing well, we’ll ... buy more tickets and just go from there,” said Janet, who now operates an insurance agency in Forest Grove.

She noted that she was glad to have picked up the tickets last Thursday at the ballpark open house, “which is really good, because the line was way out there to get your tickets for will call” on Monday, she said.

The Friedmans also will come out to more games, Jack said. For him, the proximity to home and pleasant atmosphere were positive attributes of the experience.

“To go watch a Blazers game, it turns into a midnight, 1 o’clock in the morning trip home, and you can’t do that during the week,” he said. “So here, it’s 25 minutes from the house. One of the things I like about baseball is the relaxed atmosphere and just kick back. It makes for a really nice evening.”

And a chance for C.J. to watch his dreams, live and in color.

Said Jack: “(The Hops are) three and four years older than him, and that’s what he wants to go do.”