A week ago, history was made as the Hillsboro Hops played the opening game of their inaugural season, battling down to the wire in a 3-2 loss to the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. Monday night marked another milestone as the Hops opened their first homestand with a 12-0 shellacking of the Eugene Emeralds.

Wrapping up their first week, the Hops are struggling to get to .500, but it’s already clear that the success of the team will be measured far beyond the diamond at Gordon Faber Recreation Complex in Hillsboro.

According to an economic and fiscal impact study from Johnson Reid, LLC, a Portland-based real estate development consultancy, construction of the new ballfield has pumped roughly $2.6 million directly into Hillsboro’s economy, while visitors coming to the games are expected to provide about $7.1 million in direct and indirect economic benefits in 2013 alone.

Even beyond the economic value, having a baseball team with Hillsboro in the name is likely to spark a stronger sense of identity within Oregon’s fifth-largest municipality. The new team will become another symbol of our city, and local citizens will enjoy getting together and cheering for the home team.

That brings people and communities closer. Indeed, we’re already seeing examples of this, as Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey and Forest Grove Mayor Peter Truax attended the team’s first home game together on June 17. And having a team here is sure to inspire some friendly rivalries with other Northwest cities, such as Salem, Eugene, Everett and Boise.

Further, there is something special about having a baseball team with direct ties to Major League Baseball right here in our city.

The cliches about sports teaching values of discipline, self-sacrifice and teamwork often seem idealistic at the professional level, but there is something pure about watching these “kids” play in what usually is their first professional season. (The oldest Hop is 24-year-old outfielder Yogi Perez-Ramos. Two of his teammates are still teenagers.)

They hustle for every ground ball, and are still thrilled when someone asks for an autograph after the game. In a state where collegiate baseball is on the rise, the Hops could provide a little extra inspiration for the many teams around the area, from Little League to high school, as the opportunity to take in a live game and chat with minor league players can make the dream of perhaps someday starring in the World Series more tangible for a young athlete.

Not surprisingly, local high school baseball coaches are excited about having a minor league team in town. The players can be role models for young baseball players, and also provide a valuable teaching opportunity.

Liberty High School baseball coach Jackson Gillett, for example, said he is looking forward to taking his team to some of the games as a coaching tool.

“I’ll sit behind my players and point things out,” Gillett said. “Our kids are super-excited, and have been buying Hops’ gear.”

What we’d love to see — and the coaches we’ve talked to say they would “absolutely” relish this opportunity — is for the Hops organization to consider setting aside one day each year to practice with kids from the local high school teams. There’s not much wiggle room in a 76-game “short” season, but if the team could pull it off, it would be a wonderful gift to the young players.

Before the Hillsboro Hops’ first game was even played, the new baseball team had nearly 5,000 “likes” on Facebook. Clearly, the team is doing a lot of things right, and making a positive impact in a way that transcends athletics. For instance, a local Boy Scout troop is already making plans to camp out at the stadium after an upcoming game. Given the enthusiasm level, it looks like the Hops’ players may already be providing positive role models for young people in a world that sorely needs them.

With all the positive energy this organization is creating — and because so many of us grew up enjoying the game of baseball — we want to express our appreciation to the Hillsboro Hops as we enthusiastically welcome the team to our community.

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