|Walt McCredie, former Beaver owner/manager, in Vaughn Street Park|
After more than a year of profound disagreement, Oregonian columnist Anna Griffin and I have reached a similar conclusion about what to do with Memorial Coliseum. Fix it up. And although she doesn't say what we might actually do with the refurbished "Jetsons"-era architectural marvel, at this point, that's enough for me. Take care of what we have.
That also happens to be Mayor Sam Adams preferred option at this point, and the mayor and I have disagreed profoundly about what to do with the building at various times, too.
This is the beginning of what used to be called "common sense" -- a conclusion (or "sense") that many people of different persuasions have reached in common, whether by power of argument, evidence or compromise. The three of us aren't enough, of course -- we'd need another 300,000 or so of you to agree with us. But when it emerges, this version of "common sense" is the most powerful force in a democracy (at least one not corrupted by money and the propaganda that money can buy). From this place, we can go forward, and democracies that work eventually decide on a way forward.
In the past, Griffin has been an adamant supporter of demolishing the coliseum and replacing it with a minor league baseball stadium to house the Portland Beavers. She makes the point again in her column. And she says that trading baseball for soccer (you know about this right? PGE Park, which houses both the Timbers soccer team and the baseball Beavers, is about to undergo a major renovation to prepare it for the Timbers' entry into Major League Soccer and that means the Beavers can no longer play there) "stinks." I'd like to make the other case, just for the record and as someone who watches about as much baseball as soccer and far too much of both.
Not that I hope to or even want to convince Griffin. "Stinks" is an emotional verb, and I respect the well of feeling it represents. In fact, I have my own nostalgia about the passing of Portland's Pacific Coast League team. The PCL once was considered the "Third Major League," when the West Coast didn't have teams in the other two, before air travel made a continental league possible. It connected us with the other great cities of the West Coast -- Seattle, Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles -- and that was important company to keep, even just for baseball.
In those days, the Beavers played in the old Vaughn Street Park, and when they left, in 1956, that was the end of the old PCL -- the Dodgers and Giants were soon on their way westward, and baseball was about to lose its sports hegemony in the TV era. What I miss about the Beavers leaving, really, is this older time, which I didn't even experience myself, at least not in Portland, the days when a baseball game could be EVERYTHING.
Who plays in the Pacific Coast League now? Let's see. Reno, Fresno, Tacoma, Salt Lake City, Colorado Springs, Sacramento (the only other charter member), among others teams in the West, and several eastern teams -- Nashville, Omaha (OK, not SO far east), Memphis and New Orleans among them. Fine cities, all, but not the ones in our league: Of all the country's minor league baseball cities, Portland is the largest.
In Major League Soccer, we will re-join our West Coast peers (or those we like to think of as our peers, anyway) Vancouver and Seattle in the Northwest, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and play in the same league as New York, Boston, Houston, Chicago and Washington, D.C. OK, Columbus, Ohio, too, but you get the idea. More importantly, we will be playing in the same league with Barcelona and Madrid, London and Munich, Amsterdam and Milan, Tokyo and Beijing. Not exactly the same league, but close enough -- the MLS Timbers allow us to join the world.
Why is this important? Numerous studies have shown that the link between sports teams and economic development is tenuous. Once we have an MLS team, our economy won't suddenly blossom. But a team in MLS will give us a common language, at least, to share with Barcelona or Tokyo. It allows us to think of ourselves as a major league city. I use "major league" here not as a sports metaphor but as a cultural one. In fact, we are starting to have global impact in some areas -- from sustainability and apparel design to indie music and food. It's time we started acting like it. Weirdly perhaps, it's easier to think you're world class when your sports teams play Milan than when they play Fresno. No offense to Fresno.
And what does that have to do with a potential investment in minor league baseball? Well, it means that outside of baseball fans, it's hard to make a case, any kind of case, for a public investment in a minor league team. If the Beavers were truly central to our cultural present and future, we wouldn't be so nonchalant about losing them. And if neither Lents nor Beaverton project the team as a positive part of their civic identities -- and they both rejected siting proposals for a new minor league stadium -- that says a lot.
This is cultural, not political. If you go to lots of Beavers games, you'll object to their loss -- to Tucson, it seems now. It does indeed stink that you won't be able to watch a high level of baseball played in the city. If not, it's a matter of small consequence, because the charge of a packed PGE Park for MLS games will quickly become part of our summer life, more than the Beavers have been since the 1950s.
I'm glad that Adams and Griffin and I have converged. I wouldn't have thought it possible even six months ago. Changing positions for columnists, mayors and bloggers can be a difficult thing. You are presumed to be fickle in your opinions or worse, prey to the pressures of powerful interests. I think that's too bad. Of course we change our minds. Politics is about the possible, about better not best. None of us comes to the discussion table with all the information we need, with the perfect description of the situation as it stands or the perfect plan for going forward. We need each other's help.
My disagreements with Adams and Griffin have taught me a lot, helped me clarify and improve my position, I think. And I hope our convergence is a small signal that the city as a whole is about to move on -- both to new problems and better solutions in the Rose Quarter.