Hillsboro club breaks ground on park

Stadium will be ready for start of 2013 season in June

By Benjamin Hill / MLB.com | September 21, 2012 11:30 AM ET

The 2013 Minor League season will feature one brand-new entity as the Northwest League's Yakima Bears have relocated to the Portland suburb of Hillsboro, Ore. On Friday, a significant step occurred in this fledgling franchise's fast-moving development: a stadium groundbreaking.

This yet-to-be-named facility -- which, fittingly enough, is hosting a yet-to-be-named team -- will be completed in time for the start of the Northwest League season in June. The city-funded stadium is being built at an estimated cost of $15.2 million via a tentative financing plan that was approved by the Hillsboro City Council earlier this week. As reported in the local Oregonian, the construction expenses will be covered through "funds generated from a recent land sale paired with issuing full faith and credit bonds sometime in the next few months."

The 4,500-seat stadium is being built within an existing city parks and recreation site, surrounded by football, soccer and auxiliary fields. As such, it is well-positioned to host events on a year-round basis. Hillsboro general manager K.L. Wombacher, who held the same position with the Yakima Bears, said that the new stadium is in line with recent Minor League ballpark trends. The first feature that he extolled was one that has become de rigueur for any new facility: the 360-degree concourse.

"The open concourse, that's the biggest thing," said Wombacher, speaking from the temporary office that will house the team's employees until the stadium is complete. "It's very convenient for the fans. It includes concessions, restrooms and plenty of gathering spots, offering sight lines to the field from all angles."

Wombacher remarked that the stadium's design calls for the concourse to be especially expansive down the left-field line, which will feature a kids play area, wraparound grass berm seating and an array of "quirky food carts" that will offer comestibles with a local flair.

Such features should go a long way toward providing the type of affordable, family-friendly entertainment that has become synonymous with Minor League Baseball, but, of course, the area's corporate clientele will be catered to as well. (Hillsboro is home to numerous companies from the tech sector -- Intel, most notably -- and Nike headquarters are located in the adjacent town of Beaverton.) To this end, there is an open-air party deck on the stadium's upper level, which boasts a view of the field that Wombacher characterizes as "spectacular." There will also be a glass-walled club area behind home plate, offering an unobstructed field-level vantage point.

The new ballpark should also be a significant boon to the parent Arizona Diamondbacks, as players will now have access to perks that weren't available within no-frills Yakima County Stadium.

"The dugouts are expansive and attached to the clubhouses. And behind the dugout are covered indoor batting cages," said Wombacher, who also noted that there will be a large weight room and a spacious office for the coaching staff. "From a player development standpoint, this is great."

With construction on the stadium commencing, the next step for Hillsboro is to announce the team name and unveil the corresponding logos designed by Louisville-based Studio Simon. The franchise is waiting for final Minor League Baseball approval on that front, with Wombacher remarking that this news should be delivered within the next three weeks.

Friday's groundbreaking in Hillsboro marks the continuation of what is shaping up to be a busy offseason in Minor League Baseball. The International League's Charlotte Knights broke ground on their center-city facility last Friday, a stadium that is scheduled to open in 2014. Joining Hillsboro on the slate of 2013 openings are the Birmingham Barons, who broke ground on a downtown ballpark this past February.

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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