Pickles, Hops, Timbers
The Portland Pickles are averaging 1,439 fans per game at Walker Stadium this year, and giving fans a competitive team to root for this summer.
At their level of baseball, being around .500 often is good enough to draw at the gate, as the other attractions (family entertainment, good weather, ballpark food and drink, affordable pricing, mascot antics, etc.) sell tickets as much as anything.
The Pickles (11-13) are on the road this week, but they will be back in Lents Park — and busy — on July 3 and 4. They'll play doubleheaders, facing the touring Perth Heat (1 p.m. both days) and Great West League rival Medford Rogues (7 p.m.).
Through Sunday, the Rogues were leading the GWL at 16-8, with the Lincoln Potters (15-9) and Chico Heat (15-10), making it a three-team race.
Four teams will make the GWL playoffs, and Portland was fourth, 2 1/2 games ahead of the Marysville Gold Sox.
Hop to it
The Hillsboro Hops were off to another good start heading into this week. While the two-time Class A Northwest League champions weren't dominating on the field, they were competitive in a tightly bunched South Division.
The Hops have had several interesting prospects show their wares already, including first-round draft pick/first baseman Pavin Smith, and the average crowd for the first homestand was 3,155 at Ron Tonkin Field.
A five-game home series with the Everett AquaSox starts Thursday night.
Can a 29-year-old central defender who has played the last six seasons in Turkey's top league steady the Portland Timbers shaky defense?
That is the hope now that the Timbers have added Congolese defender Larrys Mabiala. As a young player, Mabiala played a few matches with Paris Saint-Germain. He played the last six seasons in Turkey's top league.
Mabiala will be eligible to play when the summer transfer window opens on July 10, so he would presumably make his MLS debut on July 19, when Real Salt Lake visits Portland. That is almost exactly three years from the date Liam Ridgewell made his Timbers debut. Like Ridgewell, Mabiala will be approaching his 30th birthday when he debuts for Portland.
Mabiala will not be eligible for Saturday's match at Sporting Kansas City or the July 5 match against Chicago (two of the hottest teams in MLS).
A native of France who has played nine times for the Democratic Republic of the Congo national team, Mabiala is listed at 6-2, 185 pounds.
The Timbers have been working to add a starting-caliber central defender since Gbenga Arokoyo tore his Achilles tendon in January. They wanted to add Mabiala earlier but were unable to secure his rights before the May 8 closing of the primary transfer window.
Coach Caleb Porter says Mabiala will bring a physical presence to Portland's defense. But Porter also will look for the newest Timber to fill a leadership void.
In his frank assessment of his team after last week's 2-2 draw at home against man-down Seattle, Porter pointed to a lack of leadership as one reason for his club's inconsistent play. He specifically mentioned team captain Ridgewell, who has missed his nine-plus matches this season due to injury. The Timbers sorely miss Ridgewell's vocal leadership in games.
"The winning teams that I've seen, that I've coached, they had guys inside the lines that were holding guys accountable," Porter said. "And in the locker room before I'm in there, we had guys that were saying stuff. They didn't need to hear it from me. And I think we're lacking a little bit of that."