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Hops get perfect inaugural home game06/18/2013 3:33 AM ET
By Jared Ravich / MLB.com
HILLSBORO, Ore. -- A new stadium, a sellout crowd, a dominating three-hit shutout victory. ... If the inaugural game at the Hillsboro Ballpark were any more magical, a double rainbow would have appeared over the game.
Actually, they had one of those too.
"They couldn't have timed it any better," said center fielder Brian Billigen, who recorded the first home hit in Hops history. "Other than not being able to see fly balls too well, couldn't have asked for a better night."
Hops starter Jose Martinez allowed two hits over five innings en route to the win as Arizona's short-season affiliate shut out the Eugene Emeralds, 12-0, in its inaugural game before a capacity crowd of 4,710. The win, the Hops' first of the season, capped an atmosphere of excitement and celebration on a spectacularly beautiful Oregon evening.
"I don't think there's a person who doesn't want to be here right now," said Jordan Parr, who belted a two-run homer in the second inning. "You get an opportunity to come out to a new ballpark, a lot of us guys have just been drafted, younger guys still in the system trying to work our way up. ... You get to play in a place like this. It's so cool and every guy here is excited about that. It's just really humbling."
For a front-office team who only broke ground on the new ballpark eight months ago, Opening Day came quickly.
"Overall, this is like Christmas Day for us," said Hops general manager K.L. Wombacher. "Everything's been awesome. The players, coaches. We've got some D-backs brass here. ... Luis Gonzalez, Roland Hemond, Bob Gebhard. ... Legends of baseball and all of them are really impressed. It just confirms what we were hoping would be the feeling."
Gonzalez, a special advisor to D-backs president and CEO Derrick Hall, watched the young prospects take batting practice from behind the cage.
"We're excited to have the organization here in Oregon, in Hillsboro," said Gonzalez. "The community is excited. The fans are excited. It's a great fit for us to be here. It's an incredible facility. This is the first time coming out for a bunch of us from Phoenix. I know the players are excited and we're excited to have a project here in Oregon.
"That's a plus when you have a facility like this, players are excited to come play and tonight's going to be a sellout crowd. It's up to the players to go out there and perform well. The community has done their job by bringing this beautiful stadium here. Now it's up to the players and the organization to go out and try to bring a winner here. I think it's a testament to our organization and to the players, because of the fact that they want to begin their professional careers here. ... This is a great ballpark and facility to begin their journey to the Major Leagues."
There hasn't been professional baseball in the Portland metropolitan area since the Triple-A Beavers moved to Tucson in 2010, and the Hops fill a void that has rarely existed in this region since the first pro team played here in 1866. For the franchise, it's actually a return to Oregon, where the team played in Salem until moving to Yakima in 1989.
"It was all worth it," Hops announcer Rich Burk said. "The Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2004. The way they did it, coming from behind, beating the Yankees in four consecutive games after being down, 3-0. Winning four games against St. Louis, winning eight straight. The way the whole thing came about almost made the previous 86 years worth it. ... The past two-and-a-half years have been tough without baseball in Portland. But when you look at this ballpark, what they've built here in Hillsboro, this is amazing. It makes it worth it."
In a pregame ceremony, Hops owners Mike and Laura McMurray received the home plate that was salvaged from the Beavers' PGE Park after their final game in 2009.
"We're carrying on the tradition of baseball in the Portland area, but in a whole different way," said Mike McMurray.
Minor League Baseball president and CEO Pat O'Conner was on hand for the game and celebration, along with Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey and Northwest League president Mike Ellis.
"I lived through much of the trials and tribulations of the whole baseball issue in Portland and we never gave up on the market," said O'Conner. "I really gauge municipalities and markets by 'unwilling' and 'unable' and we were just unable to get something done here. I think what the people in Hillsboro did by stepping up, the city council, the citizens of this community showed that they are willing and they're going to come out tonight and every night this summer and show just how willing they are.
"Nothing like Opening Day in a brand new ballpark in a brand new city. I think this is just going to be a gem in the Northwest League and the country in general. The fans are going to absolutely enjoy using this facility, the openness, the sight lines, the wide concourse. ... They've got over 30 points of sale for concessions. I think it's got all the elements to be a great venue."