Houston, We Have Indoor Baseball

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Take some time to imagine this. Playing baseball where the sun doesn’t shine. Now imagine playing baseball in a place where no kind of weather takes place, only that which HVAC controls. Mom always said don’t play ball in the house. But imagine that your house is wider than a baseball field and 18 stories high.

Well, in 1965, such a place would come to fruition. The place: Houston, Texas,USA. The Astrodome. During the 1960s, man would be trying to reach the moon, and eventually got there by decades’ end. Closer to Earth, humans were trying to figure out how to attract Major League Baseball to Houston, and cope with Houston’s hot, humid, mosquito-clad environment.

In 1962,  baseball would come to Houston in the form of the Houston Colt .45s, named for the gun that would epitomize the west. This is Texas. With Houston growing as a city, it seemed fitting that Major League Baseball would have a team there. However, Colt Stadium was an outdoor stadium. And Houston’s geography made it difficult to play baseball. Heat and humidity, mosquitoes (Houston is located on Buffalo Bayou), and the afternoon thunderstorm during late afternoon.

How does one respond to such geography and weather? Go inside. And with that, a stadium was constructed for that purpose. By 1965, it was named the Astrodome, and would be the new home of the newly named Houston Astros for the next 35 seasons. And this home was complete with air conditioning.

This will not get into the architecture of the Astrodome or its putt-putt playing surface. This however, will get into the geography of baseball in Houston. It is fitting that the Astrodome was built in Houston,TX. Before 1962, Major League Baseball never went that far South.  Anaheim, a Los Angeles suburb in Orange County, was the furthest south baseball went. However, being so far west, and being on the chilly eastern Pacific Ocean, summers were relatively cooler, and drier. More comfortable for the players.

In many ways the Astrodome represented a new frontier for baseball. A growing city in the sunbelt region. Houston was beginning to throw off the shackles of Jim Crow. It would also represent the hottest place baseball would be played, until 1972 when an a metro with even hotter summers, the Dallas-Ft Worth region, would be given the Texas Rangers baseball team. It represented the first time baseball would go indoors because of the climate/geography of the local area. It is fitting that a Houston baseball team is called the Astros. With the NASA space program making its home in Houston, and baseball having to be on the cutting technology to respond to the geography of Houston, this was very fitting. Houston Astros would reiterate this  in 2000, when it moved into Reliant Stadium, an indoor stadium with a retractable dome.

Portland’s Chances of Getting Major League Baseball

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Photo by Brian Halvorsen

Today, the Seattle Mariners exist as the most remote Major League Baseball team. It is the only MLB team in the Pacific Northwest. This presents some travel problems. The Mariners fly more miles than any other baseball team because the nearest team is 700 miles away, in Oakland,CA.

Seattle-Tacoma-Everett metropolitan area is the largest metropolitan area in the Pacific Northwest USA, with 3.4 million people.

With 2.3 million people, Portland’s metropolitan area is the 2nd largest in the PNW. This is larger than other MLB markets, such as Cincinnati, Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Cleveland. An MLB team could create a geographic rivalry in the Pacific Northwest.

The question is, could an MLB team flourish in Portland, Oregon,USA?

Consider the geography. The Seattle Mariners don’t have much a rivalry with other teams. Part of its TV market it is Oregon. In theory, Portland metro has a population size necessary to support a team. Portland metropolitan area has grown in population close to 9% between 2010 and 2016. Portland came close to getting the then-Montreal Expos in 2003. The Expos relocated to Washington,DC in 2005 instead. Portland, however, had the stadium available, Providence Park. Between 2006-2007, the Florida Marlins had a possibility of relocating to Portland. There was doubt about whether the Marlins would get a new stadium or not. The Marlins would get a new stadium and were renamed the Miami Marlins.

In a financial climate where corporate support is needed, Portland might have an issue. However, it certainly has the population, and the growth needed to support an MLB team. And with the Portland Trail Blazers and Portland Timbers FC being the two professional teams in Portland, there is still room for another sports team. A stadium capacity of 37,000 would be adequate in the beginning. However, Providence Park would have to be used as a temporary home, where the Portland Timbers FC play. This would be an issue for having a soccer specific stadium.

Here is the geographic issue. Territory rights. Portland metrpolitan are includes Clark County,Washington. This is where Vancouver,Washington(not Vancouver, Canada) is located. Seattle is 180 miles north of Portland, along Interstate 5. One the one hand, the proximity could be an advantage for Portland, as it can create a rivalry. On the other hand, this could cause some territory issues. There would be concerns of the Mariners losing exclusive territory rights in Oregon, and part of its own state. The Mariners have been adamant that Oregon is part of their territory. The Mariners also share territory rights with the Toronto Blue Jays, as the state of Washington borders the Canadian province of British Columbia. With Victoria,BC being a 3 hour ferry ride from Seattle, this leaves to consider. British Columbia, being in Canada, is more likely to give priority to the Blue Jays.

There is another factor to consider. The San Francisco Giants cast a shadow into Oregon as well. The Giants have territory rights in Oregon, mostly outside of the Portland area. It certainly covers a larger area than the Mariners currently have.

Another territory issue is Idaho. Idaho borders both Oregon and Washington, as well as British Columbia in Canada. The Mariners have territory rights in much of Idaho, including Boise, the capital and largest city. Part of Idaho is in Colorado Rockies territory. The Mariners would have plenty of reason to fight for Idaho. Boise is located closer to Oregon than to Washington state. If Portland gets a team, territory rights for southwest Idaho would go to a Portland MLB team. The Mariners’ territory rights in Idaho could be reduced to the Pandhandle region.

Portland certainly has the population to support a team. It would spark a geographic baseball rivalry. It can also spark other issues. Two teams might have issues with territory rights in terms of the fan base and broadcasting games over television and radio. Demographics certainly favor Portland. It could also spark a geographic challenge. Currently, no teams are seeking relocation, and expansion is not in the current future. Portland will likely not get a team unless one team decides to move. However, Portland still has a chance.