Road trip! Hawks' latest foe provides combination of brews, baseball

Hillsboro Hops have a new look, a new stadium, and their own special beer

clangrill@idahostatesman.comJune 28, 2013 

The Hillsboro Hops arrived in Boise on Tuesday and completed their first-ever three-game series at Memorial Stadium on Thursday night. After Tuesday's scheduled game was rained out, the Hops and Hawks split a doubleheader Wednesday, then Boise took the rubber match Thursday.

KYLE GREEN — kgreen@idahostatesman.com

— The Hillsboro Hops aren’t just another baseball team in the Northwest League — they’re new, with a new stadium, they have their own beer and they’re just down the interstate from Boise.

Hillsboro was the Yakima Bears last season - the longtime NWL franchise made the move in the offseason because of an aging ballpark and declining attendance.

"The franchise was suffering as a business,'' Hops General Manager K.L. Wombacher said. "The city of Hillsboro stepped up. It was just perfect timing for the franchise."

THE NAME

"That was a fun process, picking the name," said Wombacher, who has been with the franchise for 13 years and the general manager for the past nine.

"We settled on hops (a plant used to brew beer, and widely grown in Oregon) for many reasons,'' Wombacher said.

"The Portland area has become the top craft-beer area in the country. … And tying it into the agricultural roots of the Hillsboro was part of it. The baseball terminology with Hops (bad hops, etc.) has been fun, too. Our kids club is called the Short Hops."

There were a few people scratching their heads in the beginning, but the overall response has been positive.

"Our merchandise sales speaks for itself," Wombacher said.

THE BREW

If all this talk about beer is making you thirsty, you're in luck: The Hops have their own brew. That's because BridgePort Brewing Company, one of the Hops' founding partners, has stepped up to the plate.

After a name-the-beer contest, Long Ball Ale was born.

The beer, a light-bodied ale, is available on tap at the Hops' ballpark and BridgePort BrewPub in Portland.

THE MASCOT

The team's logo features a hops plant, but the team's mascot remains a mystery … until Friday night, when it is revealed at a game with the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes.

A kangaroo perhaps?

THE STADIUM

They can play two at the $15 million Hillsboro Ballpark, which is 14 miles west of downtown Portland. And not just two baseball games.

The new sports facility, which was completed June 10, is attached to a football stadium that previously existed.

"We actually tied the football stadium concourse to the baseball stadium concourse," Wombacher said. "It's a really cool design. There were challenges to blending the two facilities together, but the end result was fabulous."

And while it won't be a regular occurrence, two-sport fans in Oregon will be living it up later this summer, when a high school football game will be played at the same time as a Hops game.

Watch a touchdown, walk across the concourse and see a home run. Now that's playing two.

• Hillsboro Ballpark is located at 4460 NW 229th Ave. in Hillsboro. Individual game tickets range from $7 to $16 and can be purchased at hillsborohops.com or by calling 503-640-0887.

FOLLOW THE HAWKSTO HILLSBORO

The Hawks play two three-game series at Hillsboro this summer: July 15-17 and Aug. 24-26. If those dates don't work, consider a roadie for Aug. 8, which is Koozie Giveaway Night, presented by BridgePort Brewing.

• The Hops return to Memorial Stadium in Boise for the final series of the regular season Aug. 31-Sept. 2.

OTHER REASONS TO VISIT HILLSBORO

Laura Baxter, the visitor information specialist with Hillsboro's Chamber of Commerce, said there are reasons other than baseball to visit the Oregon city:

• Washington County Fair, July 25-28.

• Oregon International Air Show, July 26-28.

• The Washington County Courthouse grounds feature giant sequoias planted in 1880.

• There is a walking tour of the historical downtown area.

THE TEAM

Shortstop Josh Parr spent last season playing for Yakima. He said going to work at his home stadium will be a pleasure this season.

"(Hillsboro's) facility blows a lot of minor-league facilities out of the water," Parr said. "It's first-class, and they did it right."

Manager Audo Vicente said those facilities will help his young players in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization develop, as will playing in front of larger crowds.

The Bears played in front of sparse crowds last season in Yakima (the final home game drew 368 fans), but Vicente is looking forward to his players seeing bigger crowds in Hillsboro this season.

"The players, they're happy to be in that stadium," Vicente said. "Players show up really early, and that's because of the facility … and it's more fun for them to be playing in front of a big crowd."

THE BOISE ANGLE

While the Hawks are pursuing the possibility of a new downtown stadium, Hawks President and General Manager Todd Rahr said the situation in Yakima was far different than Boise's.

"Yakima's situation was more dire," Rahr said. "It's really apples and oranges. They really were forced to move, more than anything else. For us, we've got a home and we can put money into it, if we want to. But certainly, a multipurpose stadium, we think it would be a great thing to have. So, yeah, it's different."

THE BENEFITS OF THE MOVE

Rahr said all the teams in the Northwest League will reap the rewards of the franchise in Hillsboro.

"The league's footprint just got bigger from a population standpoint," he said. "You're going from a population of 70,000 to, basically, Portland. And from a travel standpoint, you've got three teams lined up: Eugene, Salem and Hillsboro. That's going to create a nice little rivalry."

HAWKS TAKE RUBBER MATCH

Shawon Dunston Jr. made a diving catch in left field for the final out as the Hawks defeated the Hops 5-3 on Thursday night at Memorial Stadium.

Boise outfielder Yasiel Balaguert drilled a tie-breaking two-run home run over the left-center field wall in the bottom of the eighth inning, and Michael Hamann pitched the ninth, nailing down his third save of the season. Jasvir Rakkar pitched the seventh and eighth to earn his first victory for the Hawks.

The teams split the first two games, and Thursday's victory gave Boise (6-8) its first series victory at home this season.

Hillsboro dropped to 4-10 and heads home to play its second series at its new ballpark.

"I think we're going to have a lot of people coming here this summer to check out the ballpark and enjoy this great region," Wombacher said.

Chris Langrill: 377-6424

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