Triple-A Beavers say goodbye to Portland

Sep 7, 2010 - 1:09 AM By ANNE M. PETERSON AP Sports Writer

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- The Portland Beavers played their final game at downtown PGE Park on Monday with an uncertain future ahead.

The Triple-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres was left without a place to play when the city won a bid to attract Major League Soccer. After renovations to the stadium, the Portland Timbers begin play next year.

Except for a few scattered years, the Beavers have been a part of Portland since 1903. But because MLS wanted a soccer-specific stadium, that meant the Beavers were without a home.

And now they are up for sale.

Some fans wore black to Monday's season finale against the Las Vegas 51s, which the Beavers won 6-5.

"It's a cliche to say this is a celebratory event of history and you hope people view it in that light," Beavers owner Merritt Paulson said. "But there's a sense of loss. That's real. I get it, I feel it and I feel for the fans."

The ballpark, with its ivy-covered outfield wall just below 18th Avenue and the frequent rumbling of passing streetcars, was packed with more than 15,600 people for the final game.

The first pitch was thrown by 84-year-old Alexis Bishop, who used the same ball that she used when she threw out the first pitch at then-Multnomah Stadium's opening game in 1956.

Longtime radio announcer Rich Burk said fans streamed by to wish him well.

"I am going to hold it together," he said on the air. "I can cry later." But he was choking back tears as he said his goodbye on the post-game show.

There were rampant rumors in the past month that there might still be a chance for the Beavers to stay in the Portland area, but none panned out.

Paulson said he's entertained several potential offers from different cities, but would not comment on specifics. The frontrunner appeared to be a group that would relocate the team to Escondido, Calif.

"This wasn't a situation of moving a team for greener pastures," Paulson said.

When the plan to lure MLS to Portland was hatched, the idea was to build a baseball-specific stadium for the Beavers. Paulson was adamant that any deal with the city for MLS include provisions to retain the Beavers, and he even offered to put up $25 million toward a new ballpark.

But then the economy tanked and a series of proposals were nixed for various reasons.

One of the first called for a ballpark in the Rose Quarter, where the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers have the Rose Garden. But the endeavor died when historic preservationists protested because it would have meant the demolition of the old Memorial Coliseum - the Blazers' home when they arrived in the city in the 1970s.

Another proposal to move the team to the city's Lents neighborhood was met with resistance from some residents. Interest from nearby cities of Beaverton and Vancouver, Wash., did not go far.

Baseball came to Portland in 1903 with the Browns, renamed the Beavers in 1906. In 1956, the team moved to Multnomah Stadium, now PGE Park.

Over the years the team has been the farm club of some 15 major league teams, mostly as a part of the Pacific Coast League. The team moved to Spokane for a time in the 1970s, and then left for Salt Lake City from 1994 to 2001.

Satchel Paige, at the age of 55, pitched 25 innings for the Beavers in 1961, going 0-0 with a 2.88 ERA. And during an exhibition series for parent club Pittsburgh, Willie Stargell hit a towering home run that landed on the balcony of the adjacent Multnomah Athletic Club.

The Beavers were purchased - along with the Timbers - in 2007 by Paulson, son of former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

The younger Paulson said he believes that some day baseball will return to Portland.

"It's too good a market not to have baseball," he said hopefully. "So its really a question of when, not if."

After the final out, manager Terry Kennedy helped dig up home plate to give to Friends of Baseball, an organization that brings the game to the city's youth, for safekeeping. He also took a swipe at the political process.

"It's you the fans - not the politicians - who will get (baseball) back," Kennedy told the crowd.

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