PORTLAND, Ore. — The Knicks visited Portland on Monday night to play the Trail Blazers. One day in the not too distant future, the Yankees and/or Mets could be visiting the Rose City, too.
A movement is afoot to bring a Major League Baseball franchise to America’s sneaker-industry capital, whether it’s an existing franchise that wants to move or an expansion team.
With the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays continuing to have decades-old issues getting new stadiums funded and built, moving could be an option.
Also, MLB’s collective-bargaining agreement expires after the 2021 season, and some have said baseball could expand by two teams to 32 to bring more balance to the schedule with eight four-team divisions — and of course the owners would profit from massive expansion fees.
In July, commissioner Rob Manfred ticked off a list of possible expansion cities, and Portland was the first one he mentioned.
“Portland, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Nashville in the United States, certainly Montreal, maybe Vancouver, in Canada,” Manfred said in an interview on FS1. “We think there’s places in Mexico we could go over the long haul.”
All of which brings us to Seattle’s drizzly sister city, which in late November settled on a site for a possible new ballpark in an agreement with the group Portland Diamond Project.
The Portland area is home to Nike, adidas, Under Armour and Columbia Sportswear, to name a few. Portland Diamond Project was formed to not just clothe and shoe an MLB team, but also to have it play 81 games a year in a 32,000-seat retractable roof stadium in a marine cargo site in what is now an industrial district.
Portland Diamond Project was founded 18 months ago by Craig Creek, a former Nike executive. Its web site has gorgeous color renderings of the proposed stadium, a petition for those who want to see “MLB in PDX,” and a shop to purchase gear (with 100 percent of the profits going to charity — this is the Pacific Northwest).
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his entertainer wife, Ciara, are the group’s most well-known investors. Two-time National League MVP Dale Murphy, a Portland native,is listed as a “baseball consultant.” Former Trail Blazers announcer Mike Barrett is the managing director. But the real money people behind the bid have yet to be revealed.
The effort to bring a team to Portland is still on first base. But if baseball is going to move a team or add two teams, Portland wants to be in the game.
“We led off and got on with a single,” Creek said on Monday. “We’re still very much in, just doing all the right things. It’s a big, big project. It’s bigger than just baseball because we’re talking about a development transforming a downtown urban area of Portland. But we do believe that we’re doing all the right things to put Portland in a position to say, ‘Hey, we’re open for business.’ ”
Portland has been through this before. The city tried to lure the Montreal Expos to town before that franchise moved to Washington and became the Nationals. The good news from that failed effort is the Oregon state legislature passed a bill that allocated $150 million toward a new stadium, and that money is still available.
Of course, the effort would take more than millions. It would take billions. That’s a lot of sneakers.
Whether it’s an existing franchise or baseball’s first expansion since 1998, “We would take either,” Creek said. “We just want baseball to happen here in Portland . . . We know we’re kind of creating something special here. There’s a movement kind of happening.”