The Yakima Bears, Class A Short-Season affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, are slated to relocate to Hillsboro, Ore., in time for the 2013 campaign. Hillsboro, Oregon's fifth-largest city, is situated approximately 20 miles west of Portland proper. Earlier this month, city council approved a deal that would finance the construction of a new stadium. Groundbreaking is planned for September, with completion in time for the start of the Northwest League season in June 2013.
The Northwest League has already approved the relocation, and Yakima Bears president K.L. Wombacher said on Monday that the club is "getting very close" to receiving approval from Minor League Baseball as well.
"We've signed the [stadium] lease, the city has signed the lease, and it's received unanimous [city council] approval," said Wombacher, who is also a member of the Bears ownership group. "Everything is done now, between the city and the team."
Yakima's professional baseball history dates back to 1920, and the current Northwest League iteration played its first season in 1990. However, it has been no secret in recent years that the Bears were interested in leaving Yakima as a result of being unable to finance an upgrade or replacement for their current Yakima County Stadium home. Though the team had been in discussions with other Portland metropolitan area locales, Wombacher said that Hillsboro distinguished itself due to the "energy and enthusiasm of the local community."
"[Hillsboro is] extremely excited about having professional baseball in the city, and excited about building a state-of-the-art facility that they can use in the offseason. It just felt like a perfect fit. Teams want to be where they are wanted -- not that we aren't wanted in Yakima, but we really felt wanted in Hillsboro."
The new stadium would have the openness and accessibility that has become a hallmark of the 21st-century Minor League Baseball experience, with an open concourse, sightlines from all angles, and easy access from the freeway. As for Hillsboro itself, Wombacher describes it as an "affluent, high-tech area." Intel has a facility there that employs approximately 16,000 people, and Nike headquarters are located in the adjacent town of Beaverton.
Wombacher, in his 12th season with the club, will remain at the helm in Hillsboro.
"We'll take our existing staff to Yakima and get a feel for the demand once we get there," he said. "If the demand is what we expect it to be, then we'll add to the staff at that time."
For the staff that is in place, one of the first orders of business will be to oversee a complete overhaul of the current team identity. The "Bears" name and logo will not be used in Hillsboro, and Wombacher hopes to have a new franchise moniker announced within four to six weeks of receiving Minor League Baseball approval to relocate.
But, for now, there's the matter of finishing up the Bears' 23rd, and most likely final, season in Yakima.
"The goal now is to deliver a playoff team," said Wombacher. "That'd be the way to go out."