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

Allan and Dani Mullen had been waiting for Opening Night for a long time.

Baseball enthusiasts, the Hillsboro residents were two of the 4,710 individuals who enthusiastically greeted the return of professional baseball to the Portland area when the Hillsboro Hops played their home opener on Monday evening. The Arizona Diamondbacks’ Class-A short-season affiliate, the Hops squad relocated from Yakima, Wash., prior to this season and played its inaugural game in the new Hillsboro Ballpark on the grounds of the Gordon Faber Recreation Complex.

In front of the sold out crowd, Hillsboro picked up its first win of the season, a 12-0 victory against the Eugene Emeralds.

“It’s just really exciting,” said Allan, 61. “For me, what really makes this really good for all of us is that it’s a real sense of community here. That’s what baseball is. It brings communities together.”

The Mullens have perhaps felt the absence of professional baseball from the Portland area as acutely as anyone. The couple frequently attended Portland Beavers games before the Triple A team ended its run in Oregon in September 2010 to make way at the former PGE Park for Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers.

Dani said she and Allan were among the last to leave the stadium the day of the final Beavers game — Sept. 6 — and they took a “clump of dirt” from the field with them. When no suitable venue for the Beavers emerged, the team was sold and relocated to Tuscon, Ariz.

“He’s still crushed, but this is easing his pain,” Dani, 47, said about her husband. “It was just a real fun thing for us to do as a couple. We took our friends, we took our family, so it was like our team, it was our city, and it was just a great thing to have.”

With the Hops, that great thing is back again. Scores of families turned out among the fans on Monday, the weather cooperated, and the home team won.

Among the dozens of children in attendance were members of the Glencoe Youth Baseball Roadrunners squad. The players, coached by Hops broadcast announcer Rich Burk, were easily identifiable in their maroon-colored uniforms, and they got to line up and high-five the Hillsboro players as they entered the field before the game.

“I’m watching to have fun,” said one of the Roadrunners, 9-year-old Jake Reynolds, who plays catcher for his team. “I’m watching the catcher to learn how to block more and stuff like that.”

Jake’s mom, Jennifer Reynolds, is the team statistician. She enjoyed the experience of spectating in a somewhat smaller crowd rather than that at a Major League ballpark and noted the quick drive home to North Plains. Not to mention, the kids were having, well, a HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - A young Hillsboro Hops fan celebrates after catching a baseball during a promotional giveaway at the new minor league baseball team's first home game on Monday evening.

“This has been fun, just to see all the kids having such a blast, with a baseball stadium here,” Reynolds said. “Just fantastic.”

Like Jake, 10-year-old teammate Karen O’Neal was soaking in the experience.

“I’ve never been to a real baseball game,” said the girl, who is playing her second year of baseball. “It’s really special, and I get to be here with my whole team.”

She was also there with her parents and an older brother. Her father, Chuck O’Neal, mentioned the giant, gorgeous rainbow that draped over the stadium partway through the evening, interpreting it as a good omen.

“This first game, this inaugural game, to have that double rainbow,” O’Neal marveled. “That’s like a stamp of approval from the hand of God.”

Allan Mullen caught sight of the rainbow as well, during the interview for this story. He and Dani have faithfully followed the developments with the team and stadium since they found out baseball was coming to Hillsboro, and they bought season tickets for this year. For them, the Hops’ opening home stand was so meaningful that they flew out Dani’s father, Ron Imel, from Indiana to attend.

As Dani described it, her dad is a “diehard Cubbie,” a Chicago Cubs aficionado. Allan cultivated a love of baseball thanks to his own father, Daniel Mullen, whom he said once played semi-pro ball and used to take him to ball games. That tradition seemed to continue on Monday, as Allan mentioned he had seen what he assumed were a number of father-son pairings doing just the same PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Hillsboro's Josh Parr celebrates in the dugout after scoring the first run on Monday in the Hops' home opener at Hillsboro Ballpark.

On Thursday, with the home opener just a few days away, the Mullens dropped by the ballpark for the Hops’ open house. On Saturday, they returned. Their plan was to drive by the stadium, to show Dani’s dad. The gates were open though, so they went inside the park, sat down in their seats and took a look around.

Said Allan: “It just felt right to sit here and look at this ball stadium, this ballpark, and say, ‘This is it. We’re back.’”

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