Posted by: bkivey | 23 July 2013

No Pop from the Hops

My day off was Monday, and I wanted to take advantage of the Northwest summer. Any business owner knows the term ‘day off’ is relative: there’s always some housekeeping to be done, even if you’re not doing any remunerative work. I don’t mind doing this work on my putative days off, because that effort ensures that there will be paying work down the road. Still, I’m really looking forward to vacation later this year.

I noticed that the Hops, the local Single A baseball team, had an evening game. I really like baseball, and I’d never been taken in a Hops game. This is their inaugural season, and they’ve been struggling, but baseball is baseball.

The Hops don’t do themselves any favors during the ticket purchase experience. To start, prices are spendy for a Single A (short season) team. This level of pro baseball is nearly the lowest level there is; only Rookie league is lower, yet ticket prices are similar to those for good Portland Thorns seats. I threw fiscal caution to the wind and bought a seat in the third row behind home plate. At $16, this wasn’t going to break the bank, but then came the fees. There is an ‘order fee’ of $3. Apparently one has to pay for the privilege of spending money with the organization. There’s a ‘convenience fee’ of $3, because saving an employee the hassle of selling a ticket should somehow be worth money to me. But the most egregious fee is the $1 dollar to print out my ticket. Really? You’re going to charge me to use my own resources to print out a ticket? So the ‘$16’ ticket really costs closer to $23. That’s a lot for a Single A game.

Hops Stadium

This is Hillsboro Ballpark, home of the Hops. The structure in the foreground is Hillsboro Stadium. The architects cleverly used the back of the stadium to form one side of the ballpark structure. For a Single A ballpark, the Hops facility is pretty nice.

Hops Stadium First Base Line

This is the view from the 1st base side. There isn’t a bad seat in the house. There isn’t a cheap seat in the house, either. These seats run $14 (before fees), only $2 less than I was paying to sit in the shadowed area in the left center. The grassy area beyond left field in the middle right is a berm where you can sit for $7.  One of the curiosities of the park is that the box office keeps regular business hours during the week, and most games start at 7 PM. If you also work regular business hours, you’re pretty much forced to buy tickets online, with the attendant fees. I don’t think this is coincidence.

Hillsboro ballpark has a capacity of 4500, and on this night by game time it was maybe 85% full; not a bad crowd for a weeknight game. I was surprised that with the exception of the pitcher’s mound and the home plate area, all of the surfaces are artificial. There are actual bullpens beyond the fences: not the usual set-up for Single A facilities. Most Single A stadiums I’ve been to have the relief pitching staff working in foul territory next to the dugouts. It is a nice ballpark.

Hops Mascot

If you’ve ever wondered what a Hops mascot looks like, here you go. It’s . . .  a hop.

View From Seat

This was the view from my seat. The camera overemphasizes the netting and makes the action look further away than it was.

The game started well for the Hops. There was some hitting from the position players, and starter Ben Eckels turned over a 3 -2  lead to the bullpen in the 7th. Reliever Chase Stevens didn’t have a good outing. After inheriting two runners from Eckels, he allowed the Spokane Indians to put up crooked numbers. Eight more runs crossed the dish before he could get out of the inning. The Hops wouldn’t recover.

At this level wins and losses are almost incidental. The team is made up of kids under 25, and most are barely out of their teens. Player development is the name of the game. One player who looked ready for the next level was catcher Yosbel Gutierrez. He got on base; once after getting hit, and then scored two batters later. He has some speed. Defensively, he gunned down runners at first and second, and made a heads-up play in foul territory for an out. During one memorable play a ball got away from him, and he seemed to forget there was a runner on first. He didn’t make much of an effort to recover the ball, until the crowd started yelling as the base runner took off. He finally retrieved the ball, and made an on-target throw to third to get the runner and end the inning. It was a lucky result to a mental lapse, helped along by the runner’s greed. But those kinds of things are why you go to the ballpark.

It’s nice to have a pro baseball team in the area to watch again, although I think the front office takes advantage of the market a bit too much. I’ll attend a few more games before the season ends in September, but next time I’ll buy directly from the box office and see if I can avoid the invidious fees. Still, it’s hard to beat a baseball game in a nice park on a summer evening.

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