Designing the Future of Portland Baseball

If the city ever gets its own franchise, this is what it might look like.

One sport inching closer and closer to expansion is Major League Baseball (MLB), and in particular, a possible expansion to Portland. The MLB to PDX movement has been getting better traction by the minute. It’s never good to assume, but without a little imagination and belief, these dreams and proposals would seem doomed from the start. That’s something the Portland Diamond Project (PDP) is trying to balance.

Portland offers a unique package as a potential MLB host city. The history of baseball in Portland is pretty palpable. If you’ve seen Netflix’s documentary, The Battered Bastards of Baseball, then you already have a little taste. If you haven’t, you definitely should. It’s great, but please finish reading this before firing up Netflix.

Commissioner Rob Manfred mentioned Portland on the shortlist of possible expansion teams earlier this year. That list also included Las Vegas, Charlotte, Nashville, Montreal, and Vancouver. While Las Vegas just got an NHL team and will be getting an NFL team in 2020, their professional baseball team is going through a similar process facing the PDP.

The Las Vegas 51s have just partnered up with the Oakland Athletics in a two-year Player Development Contract, moving the A’s Triple-A club from Nashville to Vegas. This is a huge deal for the 51s as they are going from one of the oldest stadiums in the minors to opening the brand new, $150-million Summerlin ballpark. Their Twitter is currently on fire with talk of the updates and surrounding amenities.

- Advertisement - 

While the stadium is a huge component, the 51s are doing a total reboot that includes a new name, new color scheme, and a new identity. Luckily for the 51s’ ownership team, they can take a direct look at the Golden Knights, who just went through the same process, and learn from some of their mistakes.

The 51s’ team president Don Logan recently told KNPR that the team’s direction would be more “compatible” with that of the A’s. While a vague statement, the 51s have actually been going directly to the fans to find the right inspiration for their rebrand. They were temporarily inspired to honor Hispanic heritage throughout last season, transforming into the “Reyes de Plata,” or “Silver Kings” eight times last season. Silver Kings merchandise continues to fly off the shelf better than the 51s branded gear thanks to a sick logo:

The 51s also ran a “Name The Team Sweepstakes,” where fans who visited their website would be redirected to enter their own ideas for future names. They received around 2,500 entries to the contest and chose five finalists to be unveiled in the future. One of the possible finalists is almost assuredly the Aviators given Nevada’s aviation history. It is home of the flight school known as Top Gun, having moved from Marimar in San Diego to the Naval Strike and Warfare Center (NSWC) in 1996.

So far it seems like the 51s have a good handle on their rollout, unlike some recently relocated teams. The move from San Diego to Los Angeles hasn’t been the easiest for the NFL’s Chargers. For one, the people of San Diego (and maybe everywhere) weren’t too thrilled. Secondly, even the unveiling of possible logos went over horribly. Nothing is safe on social media, so as soon as they dropped ideas, the Chargers were absolutely roasted—even by other sports teams. Timing might have been an issue given the team had only just announced the move prior to releasing new logos, which were changed three times in under 36 hours.

The 51s are doing everything with the fans firstly in mind. You also have to respect the history of your organization and city. The colors and logo are a moot point unless the city and fans are able to form a connection and identify with the team name. Las Vegans don’t identify with the 51s anymore, and the 51s are addressing it at an opportune time. Portland hopes to avoid rebranding altogether and can learn from the mistakes of both the Chargers and 51s.

Baseball in Portland has always felt like the underdog, and that’s why the PDP has been working so hard to create buzz. Despite its 22nd-ranked and growing media market, Portland is only home to three professional sports teams: the Trail Blazers, Thorns, and Timbers. The latter addition in 2011 shows strong signs of expansion success in the PDX. The Timbers have a very solid attendance record, which has moved Providence Park to start working on a stadium expansion that will add 4,000 more seats by 2019. Why wouldn’t Portland work for baseball?

In building up steam for baseball to come to Portland, the PDP has been heavily branding their “MLB To PDX” movement. Founder and President Craig Cheek has experience in this area, previously working for 26 years at Nike, most recently as the VP/GM of Team and Licensed Sports. Part of selling this movement includes a line of merchandise that even made appearances at this year’s World Series.

PDP is branding the team before getting the team, which will ultimately be just as crucial for their potential case. It’s become clear that the PDP wants to create an organization that is unique and special to the PDX. From the talks of an environmentally friendly stadium to the prospect of adding to the community in a way that represents the historical culture of Portland, the focus, like the 51s’ focus, is on the fans.

Typically the fans in Rip City are pretty passionate, and if a team did come to Portland they would have a rival just a couple of hours north in the Seattle Mariners. Another big-time rivalry would be great for baseball and for a lot of fans in the Pacific Northwest. It also helps that this movement is now backed by two huge figures in Seattle, Russell Wilson and Ciara. A power couple becoming co-owners of a team not yet in existence helps build Portland’s case for contention.

Another recent addition to the team is Darwin Barney as an investor and advisor. Barney is an iconic figure for baseball in Oregon, winning back to back NCAA Championships with the Oregon State Beavers and earning a Golden Glove award in 2012 playing for the Chicago Cubs. There are other figures involved with the ownership group, according to the PDP, not all of whom have been formally announced.

The PDP has also made bids on different areas of land for a possible stadium. One is 10 acres of property currently owned by Portland Public Schools, located on North Dixon Street. The other is around 20 acres on Northwest 24th Avenue and Northwest Vaughn Street currently owned by Esco. But there are still other options the PDP has in mind as well. Their potential stadium designs could add 8,000 apartments to the area as well, using the ballpark in a way that also contributes to the community while building its own. The PDP also wants the stadium to be used as a major entertainment venue, which would fit right in with the city’s live music scene. For this process, they’ve partnered with Populous, the architectural firm that has built 22 of the last 27 MLB stadiums, and Robert Thompson of Portland’s local firm, TVA.

The city is slowly developing its vision for the future, and it’s important to have certain things in place if a team does come looking for a place to call home. People were hoping for a more serious announcement as of late, but with the end of this MLB season upon us more information will hopefully come to light.

The slow movement shouldn’t be cause for concern either. Just as the 51s haven’t unveiled all their plans with the team’s redesign, the PDP has a much longer timeline ahead of them before anything even becomes set in stone. As Managing Director Mike Barrett told KOIN 6 News last month, “Right now it’s about making sure we have all the hay in the barn before we come out with something public.”

View this post on Instagram

What a beauty! Thanks to our friends at @bellaorganicfarm, we can’t wait to check out this corn maze in person! #MLBtoPDX. #Repost @bellaorganicfarm with @get_repost ・・・ Announcing our 2018 Corn 🌽 Maze!!! Our theme this year is MLB to PDX! We have partnered with Portland Gear in support of The Portland Diamond Project. Whether you are a baseball fan or not, the economic benefits of a Major League Baseball team to a city is undeniable! We hope you come visit us and GET LOST this season! Corn maze will be open Aug 31-Oct 31! Check out our website for hours! . . Bella Organic Farm 16205 NW Gillihan Rd., Portland, OR 97231 @portlandgear @portlanddiamondproject @portland #portland #pdx #pdxpipeline #espn #sportscenter #oregon #oregonian #portlandoregon #sauvieisland #bellaorganic #bellaorganicfarm #cnn #baseball #mlb @mlb @mlbnetwork @ciara @dangerusswilson

A post shared by Portland Diamond Project (@portlanddiamondproject) on

If a team does come to Portland, what will they be called? The Lumber? What will they wear? Lumberjack plaid? Lumberjack mascot? Will their field be as iconic as Fenway or Wrigley? Letting that imagination fly really gets the baseball fan in me excited, as it does for a lot of Portland sports junkies.

Expansion teams have definitely brought the creativity in the past. You have Stuff the Magic Dragon representing the Orlando Magic, while the Vegas Golden Knights chose to use a mascot that ended up not being an actual knight. Both of the NFL’s 1995 expansion teams, the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars, used unique color schemes. The possibilities are endless, as are the potential failures. Even something small like a logo change, as was recently done by the Minnesota Timberwolves in an effort to mark a new, modern era, can draw criticism.

Fans take team logo and colors seriously because they wear them. But they take team mascots seriously, too. Just look at the attention that the Philadelphia Flyers’ new mascot Gritty has received. He’s already one of the most talked about mascots ever and was literally just born a couple of months ago. Fans can take some comfort in knowing that the PDP is built not only with former athletes but with a group of people who love baseball and the Pacific Northwest.

To get some extra insight I reached out to a few Portland sports figures and fans to see how they would design a potential MLB team. Here are their wonderful answers:

Rick Gilbert - Founder of Grafletics

Team Name: Portland Plaids

Uniform: Primary would be blue and green, the secondary would be cool grey, tertiary would be red. As for uniform elements…I think it would be cool to create a modern-heritage feel by combining technical fabrics along with wool, felt, and vegan, leather branded patches and logo marks.

Mascot: A big plaid sock named Peter who wears selvedge denim and custom made leather boot cleats. He also wears a cape that doubles as a rain jacket…riding a tall bike through the city as he commutes to work for every home game.

Ballpark: I’d love to see the stadium situated in the Northwest industrial area overlooking the city, bridges, and river along with a view of Mt. Hood in the distance. As for making it uniquely Portland…hyper-local food and beverage options, hand-painted signage, custom-made fixtures and kiosks, and local apparel options provided by Grafletics.

Shain Brenden - Comedian & Host of Blazers Outsiders on NBC Northwest

Team Name: I say we pay homage to the “Battered Bastards” of old and bring back the illustrious title of Mavericks! Think about it, Bing Russell was the original owner and now we have the opportunity to get former Maverick and star of the most undisputed action/sci-fi film of all time, Big Trouble in Little China, Kurt Russell, to come back and throw the first pitch! Are you sh*tting me?! You call Ciara up right now and tell her Kurt Russell is ready to dawn his old jersey for what I’m almost certain will be a laser beam right down the middle of an inaugural pitch. Also, I think this would ignite a Big Trouble reboot with Kurt revising the role of Jack Burton (mostly a body double, of course, lots of CGI to add his face to the body actor), Ciara playing the role once held by Kim Cattrall, and Russell Wilson playing Jack Burton’s sidekick, Wang Chi! You’re welcome, Hollywood!

Uniform: In keeping with the Mavericks’ return, I say we keep the O.G. color scheme. Updated ‘Woke’ Note: the original shade of red in the uniform was “Streetwalker Red.” Out of respect to sex workers I motion to just call it “Red” or “Same Kinda Red the Blazers Have, Red.” You know, something like that.

Mascot: Our perfect mascot need not be built. We don’t need to draw up concepts or look for inspiration. Our mascot has been here all along. Much like Batman, the Will Arnett-voiced Lego Batman, of course, this mascot may not be the hero this city asked for but the hero we need. I’m talking about the one, the only, Unipiper. That’s right, the Unipiper. What is America’s Pastime without a dude riding a unicycle wearing a Darth Vader mask while playing a bagpipe that also doubles as a flamethrower?

Ballpark: Portland is Bridgetown. This is simple. Actual functioning bridges crisscrossing over the field from one side of the stadium to the other. Here’s the catch, the bridges are only accessible via those rental scooters we see all over town AND if you get hit with a ball while crossing, everyone in attendance that night gets free chalupas from Taco Bell. This will help with all the tension some fans are experiencing since the Trail Blazers decided to move on to McNuggets once the 100-point mark is reached. Everybody wins.

Nathan McKee - Artist & Illustrator

Team Name: Def would have to be North Westy. How bout the Portland Mountain Tops or maybe the Portland Stumps. Gotta keep the old lumberjack life alive out here.

Uniform: Earth tones all the way. Light browns and dark greens. Almost like camo. Light brown leggings topped with some forest green tops. Basically, all our players are gonna look like pine trees out there on the field.

Mascot: Is there a yeti mascot yet? I know the Sonics had Squatchie. How about a snow squatch. The Portland Yeti. Abominable snowman but wearing full rain gear.

Ballpark: They need to bring back the 24-hour church of Elvis. Let people get married in there like the old storefront use to let people get married on the street on Ankeny.

Isaac Biehl
Isaac Biehl
Isaac is a sports and culture writer at Grandstand Central. He got his start while attending Iowa State University, where he graduated from the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication while being a photographer and online editor for Ethos magazine. In his other works Isaac is a devoted music writer; with bylines at Passion Of The Weiss, True Too, and ALARM magazine.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


The Latest

cupping therapy

What is “cupping therapy” and does it actually work?

Cupping therapy came into the public eye when Olympian Michael Phelps was seen with circular bruise-type marks on his scapula (shoulder blade), neck, and shoulder. 

U.S. Women’s Soccer Wouldn’t Be Where it is Today without Jill Ellis

Jill Ellis has the most successful coaching career in all soccer history and after two consecutive World Cups, she's saying goodbye.
wendy hilliard gymnastics

Wendy Hilliard On Making Gymnastics Accessible

Plus, the meaning of life after sports.

The Rise of Major League Eating, America’s New Favorite Pastime

Major League Eating made competitive eating a successful, nation-wide sport and it all trails back to a hot dog eating contest from way back when.
Art Shamsky Amazin' Mets

Art Shamsky on Aging and the Amazin’ Mets

Plus, his thoughts on the Hall and missing out on the Big Red Machine.
The Saints Entertainment All-Stars

The Circus Surrounding Baseball in St. Paul

Don't be surprised if the Saints' Entertainment All-Stars steal the show at the 2019 American Association All-Star Game at CHS Field in St. Paul.

get the latest stories about the intersection of sports with money, power and media.