COVID-19 could force MLB expansion, is Portland Diamond Project ready?

COVID-19 could force MLB expansion, is Portland Diamond Project ready?

COVID-19 has cut a wide path through professional sports and pro leagues are still not sure what they are going to do in order to get started again.

Foremost of these is Major League Baseball, the true “Boys of Summer” sport. Owners and players are still negotiating terms for kickstarting an aborted season and whatever happens, there is no question that both sides are losing a lot of money.

Which is very bad for them but could prove to be very beneficial for the Portland Diamond Project.

Expansion in baseball over the years has often not been about the simple need for adding worthy cities or creating more jobs for players. It’s frequently been used as the quickest and best cash grab for owners facing big debt.

Which is exactly the situation those owners are going to be facing soon -- whether they play a shortened season (likely without fans in their ballparks) or not.

Time for a quick look back:

The players’ strike in 1994, which cost millions, sparked an expansion wave in 1998, with the new franchises having to begin paying their franchise fees in 1995. A previous expansion followed a collusion settlement with the players’ association that meant owners needed to come up with a lot of quick cash.

There hasn’t been expansion in 22 years because baseball owners have been running a money machine, with rich revenue from television (regional sports networks, especially), merchandise and their successful digital presence. They didn’t want to share their pot of gold and didn’t need the quick cash infusion.

Now, though, those expansion fees are going to look very tempting to owners who are likely going to be decimated by the pandemic.

It is estimated an expansion fee these days would be priced somewhere between $1 and $1.5 billion. Adding two teams at $1.5 billion would net the 30 existing franchises $50 million apiece -- which would do a lot to take the sting out of the expected losses this summer.

It would also mean MLB could go with a sensible eight-team, four-division setup that could mean less travel for each team, appeasing players and saving money.

Of course, realignment like that would require progressive thinking baseball may not be capable of conjuring. More likely they’d try eight, four-team divisions -- so more teams could win “pennants.”


Could the Portland Diamond Project handle that sort of heavy expansion fee, then build its own ballpark, too?

It is believed the answer is yes. They seem confident -- they were likely going to have to pay in the neighborhood of a billion dollars (or more) for an existing team. The Miami Marlins sold for $1.2 billion in 2017.

The PDP has been quiet of late but very active behind the scenes, staying in touch with its contacts inside MLB and continuing to do its due diligence on local ballpark sites.

But competition for those expansion teams is expected to be heated, with new cities popping up all the time. Lately, Charlotte, Vancouver, B.C., Nashville and even New Orleans have been mentioned along with standbys Portland, Montreal and Las Vegas.

But in a time when the Oakland A’s can’t even make their stadium rent payments and a lot of teams are going to be going from riches to rags, expansion seems to be the easiest and quickest way to solve MLB’s looming financial problems.

It’s up to the PDP to be ready when the moment comes. And I believe it is.

Can you play baseball without spitting? That may prove to be a tough task

Can you play baseball without spitting? That may prove to be a tough task

Major League Baseball has a plan to begin play this summer and it includes all sorts of safety measures to protect players from acquiring COVID-19.

They have thought of just about everything, including:

  • No fist bumps, high fives or hugs.

  • No exchanging of lineup cards prior to the game.

  • No showering at the ballpark.

  • No eating in restaurants on the road.

  • No touching the face when giving signs.

  • No mascots.

  • No bat boys or girls.

  • No licking your fingers.

  • Players not in the game must sit in the stands, apart from each other.

  • No spitting.

OK, that’s not all the rules, but I had to stop there, because that last one is going to be the most difficult to enforce. It means no chewing tobacco, no sunflower seeds and just NO SPITTING anything!

I don’t know how you can play baseball without spitting! It’s ingrained and been a part of the game since Ty Cobb.

In the old days, I couldn't COVER a game without chewing seeds or tobacco. It was sunflower seeds as a kid, graduating to chewing tobacco later, even as a baseball writer. Can you stand around a batting cage without a chew? Pretty hard.

And do you know how difficult it is to quit chew? Very, I can say as someone who used to go through a tin of Skoal a day. Don’t hate me, I know attorneys and businessmen who do the same thing.

If you don't chew tobacco now -- good for you. And don't ever start! I'm warning you, it's nasty stuff that can kill you. Stay away!

But even if you don’t have something in your mouth, spitting just seems to be what you do on a baseball field. I don’t mean to be gross, but you know what I mean. Little Leaguers do it.

The only thing that will save the situation is the product developed by Portlander Rob Nelson -- Big League Chew. It's bubblegum that comes in a pouch and is shredded. And the best part, it's good bubblegum in a variety of flavors.

Chew the gum and don’t spit it out. That’s my recommendation.

OK, so seed- and tobacco-free, we've got that solved -- so now go play the games!

Mount St. Helens: 40 years ago to the day and not much has changed

Mount St. Helens: 40 years ago to the day and not much has changed

It was shaping up to be an eventful Sunday in Portland on May 18, 1980. I just had no idea, early that morning, how eventful it would be.

I was covering the Portland Beavers for the Oregon Journal in those days and had an afternoon game to write about, in what was then Civic Stadium.

But that wasn’t what I was looking forward to on that Sunday afternoon. My son, Will, turned six on May 18 and his birthday party was scheduled to take place in the left-field bleachers at the ballpark. I was excited about seeing all those six-year-olds scrambling around the roomy bleachers having a good time.

But you know by now, that day turned dark. Literally. And of course, that game was postponed because Mount St. Helens -- which had been ominously angry since late March -- finally exploded. And I mean REALLY exploded.

It sent a plume of ash 15 miles high. The top 1,300 feet of the mountain was blown away -- gone. A lethal flow of searing hot ash and gas flowed down what was left of the mountain.

Ash turned day into night all over the Pacific Northwest and managed to hit 11 states. The direct death toll took days to figure, but the final number was set at 57.

And the aftermath was pandemic like. The ashfall was everywhere -- and dangerous. Some of the ash contained glass shards and pumice, making masks mandatory for those outside in the midst of it.

It was all over roads and cars and I recall how careful you had to be about getting it off your car because of the scratches it would cause.

Portland wasn’t the hardest hit area, though. We were lucky. Winds carried most of the ash in a northeasterly direction, with Yakima and Spokane hard hit.

And there was a psychological toll, too. Nobody was quite sure what would happen next. Would Mt. Hood blow? Or of more concern to Portlanders, what about Mt. Tabor? Would there be some sort of chain reaction there, causing it to erupt?

Or did you not know that Portland is one of only six cities in the country with an extinct volcano within its city limits?

For a while, the Pacific Northwest lived with tragedy of lives and property destroyed and even longer with the worry of another eruption, either at Mount St. Helens or somewhere else.

It eventually went away, though, just as the ash did.

The Beavers took a few days off before resuming their schedule. The birthday party eventually happened, too, at home a few days later.

The 6-year-old has turned into a 46-year-old, to be celebrating tonight with Mexican food, a brownie sundae and his family, socially distancing far away, in Kentucky.

Again, though, with no baseball game to watch. And I think we both are a bit sad about that, just as we were 40 years ago.

MLB players: This one time, it's not about you, it's about the fans

MLB players: This one time, it's not about you, it's about the fans

In a time when people are getting laid off, furloughed or taking pay cuts, major-league baseball players are on the verge of making a mistake that would surely push their sport further toward irrelevance.

Baseball owners have a plan for starting a season in July, with regional locations for games, universal designated hitter, an expanded playoff system, an 82-game schedule and plenty of safety measures for participants.

Owners, though, want to go back on a deal with the players signed in March that includes $170 million in advance payments and prorated pay for however many games are played.

The owners, now facing games without fans in the stadiums, are asking for the players to instead accept a one-time 50-50 split of revenue, which the players say they won’t accept, because it’s a form of salary cap.

Which they’ve never accepted.

And if they can't reach some sort of compromise, a much-needed season will be lost.

While I would always side with the players under normal circumstances, I can’t do it this time. It’s just not the time for the players to be fussing and fuming over millions of dollars during not only a global pandemic but an economic depression.

And it’s the perfect time for baseball to resume -- when it could take center stage, at least for a while, in the sports landscape.

This is an opportunity to breath new life into the game. Put microphones on players and let them talk to the TV and radio announcers during the games. Let them show some personality. It was a smash hit in spring training this year.

Show the nation, and the world, that the sport can adapt and evolve. I think it’s a rare chance to capture new fans and re-energize the old ones.

Fans want bat flips? Give ‘em bat flips. Give them what they want -- if you can find out what they want.

If baseball is going to continue with an idea that I think is a bad one -- to play in existing regional ballparks, rather than one or two hubs, with no fans in the seats -- let one fan from each team into the stadium and give that fan a spot up in the cheap sets.

And put a mic on them, too. Obviously, you need to pick the right fan, but teams know who they are.

All I’m saying is, let it all hang out. Have some fun at the ballpark. Give viewers a reason to watch.

And players, you’re building a future for your sport and investing in yourselves. Show people how much fun you have playing! You’re only going to play 82 games so have some fun with it and don’t be afraid to show it!

I know players and I know that most of them love their game. They have to stop hiding that love. They need to share that joy, put it out where we can see it.

People need to view that happiness, now more than ever. They need reasons to smile. And they need your game.

This is not the time for you to let a pile of money keep it from happening. And it's not about you this time. It's about the fans.

Report: Mariners to cut staff salaries to avoid layoffs


Report: Mariners to cut staff salaries to avoid layoffs

COVID-19 has been tough on a lot of businesses around the world, and the business of sports has not been exempt.

Many leagues have canceled or suspended play in an attempt to keep those involved with the sports safe from the virus.

As MLB continues to weigh its options for the 2020 season, teams around the league have to deal with the loss of income that becomes greater with every missed game. 

According to a report from Corey Brock of The Athletic, the Seattle Mariners will cut staff salaries in an attempt to avoid layoffs and furloughs. 

Starting June 1st, the organization will implement a 20 percent cut for baseball operations and field staff who make $60,000 or more. The cuts will last through October.

General manager Jerry Dipoto told The Athletic that the Mariners "wanted to make sure we did the right thing and kept people afloat during a difficult time." Added Dipoto, "Our people understand the need to make adjustments and the responses have been genuinely positive.”

According to Brock's report, "The Mariners’ baseball operations staff met online and were assured no cuts or layoffs would be made before the end of May, if at all. This week, Dipoto and other members of his staff had calls with members of their staff to explain the cuts. He said the news was largely met with a sense of relief, especially with the possibility of layoffs and furloughs off the table for now."

While pay cuts are not ideal, they are the best-case scenario until the game itself returns. It may be less money, but it ensures that those on staff will continue to see paychecks during these trying times. 

According to multiple reports around the league, MLB could be eyeing a July start. 

Sports on TV without the fans sounds like a better viewing experience

Sports on TV without the fans sounds like a better viewing experience

A lot of people are talking now about the pros and cons of having sporting events without fans in the arenas or stadiums. And with good reason, because it seems that’s the only way live events can resume anytime soon.

I’ve heard a lot of people say they will have trouble watching the games on television without the crowds being a part of the broadcast.

Not me.

I sympathize with the people who are deprived of a chance to actually be there, witnessing the games live. That stinks. But the telecasts are a different story. They will be just fine -- maybe even better in some cases -- without the crowds.

The pleasure of watching a football game on TV without the constant camera shots of face-painted adults, proudly adorned in player jerseys that don’t fit, will be unsurpassed. Nor will I miss camera shots of fans waving at a camera during basketball games while someone is stealing a pass or making a shot. The game action is often too quick for the camera view of yet another kid at a college game waving a “Hi mom, send money” sign.

I noticed many years ago that when I go to games, I seldom pay much attention to other spectators while the game is underway. Why would I want my TV screen to do that?

A little artificial fan noise in the background for atmosphere? Sure, I can deal with that. As long as it doesn’t overpower the announcers.

And without crowd noise, I’m hoping microphones can be placed close enough to the action to pick up coaches and players communicating during the game. I will take that over random crowd chants, prompted by overly loud public address systems.

Baseball, in fact, would profit a lot from putting mics on players during games. It would set the game apart from any other sport if players actually communicated with announcers during the action -- as they did during some spring training games this year.

For sports, this is a big opportunity. For TV, too. It’s a chance to re-imagine their product and present it in new ways. All the window dressing will be removed. The extraneous “atmosphere” of these games will not be there.

It’s going to be just the games. Pure games. And for TV, a blank canvas around the edges.

And will those events have the same appeal without all the noise -- literal and figurative -- that has surrounded them?

We are going to find out.

NBA 2K League to start season remotely on May 5th

NBA 2K League to start season remotely on May 5th

They're back!

On Tuesday the NBA 2K League announced they its season would officially start back up with remote play on May 5th.

The season was originally slated to begin on March 24th, but like the real sport it emulates, it was postponed due to the coronavirus. 

Now, rather than all meeting in New York, the 23 teams will play each other remotely from the comfort of their home studios. 

In the official press release, the league announced that:

- Games will begin at 7 p.m. ET every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with four distinct matchups each night. 

- Each team is scheduled to play at least eight matches that will count toward its regular-season record

- Games simulcast live on the NBA 2K League’s Twitch and YouTube channels.

- The 2020 season will once again include three in-season tournaments - THE TIPOFF, THE TURN and THE TICKET

- The NBA 2K League will implement an innovative production model that allows for a remote broadcast in all 23 team markets and NBA 2K League broadcasters to announce games in their homes from a virtual NBA 2K League Studio while switching between games occurring at the same time.

We are very excited to get the 2020 NBA 2K League season started. Blazer5 has something to prove this season on the court, and we hope the competition provides entertainment and allows for a feeling of community and connection during these unprecedented times. - Cameron McAlees, Blazer5 Operations Manager. 

The first week will take place from May 5 through May 8, while the Blazer5 game schedule will be released at a later date. 


Former Portland Fire guard Jackie Stiles reminisces about her 2001 WNBA draft experience


Former Portland Fire guard Jackie Stiles reminisces about her 2001 WNBA draft experience

Former Portland Fire shooting guard Jackie Stiles opened up about her WNBA Draft experience and the pressures that come with being a franchise player. 

On April 20, 2001 Stiles was selected No. 4 overall by the Portland Fire. 

Even when she heard her name called on draft night, she was still in disbelief that she was now a professional basketball player.

“I was like, ‘Wow. I made it, I’m playing professional basketball, I’m going to be in the WNBA?’"

To be surrounded by my family, my college coach -- it was just a moment I’ll never forget,” Stiles said.

The 2001 WNBA Rookie of the Year had her professional career cut short due to so many serious injuries and a total of 13 surgeries.

In 53 career games played, Stiles scored 603 points on 38.2 percent shooting including 40.6 percent from three-point range. 

Stiles put up her best numbers during her rookie season, averaging 14.9 points per game on 40.5 percent shooting to go along with 2.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists. She also shot an efficient 43.1 percent from long distance that year.

Stiles recalls draft night as having such an overwhelming and amazing feeling come over her.  

To get paid to play basketball and then to go to Portland to play for Linda Hargrove, it was just an incredible blessing and a moment I’ll never forget. -- Portland Fire guard Jackie Stiles

Stiles has always appreciated how the Portland Fire organization was run and how much they made her feel welcome in Portland.

“It was just a First Class run operation,” Stiles said of the Portland Fire. “It was such an honor to be a part of their organization, the way they did everything was just phenomenal and I was just blown away. The city of Portland was so welcoming to me. It’s crazy that you’re suddenly getting told where you’re going to live for the next couple of years, or however many years, and you don’t really know anybody, but they made me feel right at home. They were just so personable, so welcoming, and I’ll never forget how they made me feel.”

Stiles was thankful for the Fire's support, but also mentioned, “I had kind of the pressure on me, being the quote, ‘franchise player.’ I’m like, they are calling me that?'"

But Stiles, realizes she put a lot of extra pressure on herself.

"I never told people this because they would think I was crazy, but internally I wanted to be the best that ever played the game. And that’s so crazy looking back, but that was my internal goal and that’s why probably my body broke down because I was like ‘other people take days off, I’m not gonna take a day off.’ I just had the extreme drive to do that. And, really I feel like in college when I played USA Basketball and made different USA Basketball teams that kind of showed me that hey, this is possible [of making it to the WNBA] if I continued to keep working and learn as much as I can from my coaches, but I knew it was going to be really difficult."

At the age of 41 now, Stiles is an assistant coach for the University of Oklahoma women’s basketball team. Her heart goes out to this year’s draft class who don’t get to experience the full-blown draft night and will have a virtual draft instead due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It breaks my heart that they don’t get to experience the live draft in person, to get to feel the emotion and you just don’t get to feel the emotion as much when it’s virtual, but that being said at least they have an opportunity and at least they have their health right now, knock on wood. Hopefully things will get back to normal soon, but it does break my heart that they don’t get that opportunity to be there in person and experience a live draft because it’s something that I will never, ever forget."

Stiles said she is still extremely grateful for everyone in her life that made so many sacrifices for her to be able to live out her basketball dreams.

Now the 2020 WNBA draft class is about to feel that same sense of gratitude. 

Major League Baseball heading into 'massive' nationwide COVID-19 testing

Major League Baseball heading into 'massive' nationwide COVID-19 testing

Major League Baseball has signed on to become a major part of a massive research project designed to give scientists a better picture of how widespread COVID-19 is throughout the country.

As many as 10,000 people, according to ESPN, are expected to take part in testing, in which 27 of baseball’s 30 MLB teams are expected to participate. It will include a variety of people, including players, front office staff, concession workers and others.

The testing is being done by Stanford, USC and the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory. A 10-minute testing kit will detect the presence of antibodies that would indicate whether people had contracted the virus, even if they were asymptomatic. The goal of the study is to get a better picture of the virus’ true infection rate.

"This is the first study of national scope where we're going to get a read on a large number of communities throughout the United States to understand how extensive the spread of the virus has been," said Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a professor of medicine at Stanford University who will assess the data gathered this week and write a peer-reviewed paper he hopes to publish as early as next week. "This will be the very first of those. Why MLB versus other employers? I've reached out to others, but MLB moved by far the fastest. They've been enormously cooperative and flexible. We're trying to set up a scientific study that would normally take years to set up, and it's going to be a matter of weeks."

And this is not a case where tests are being diverted from those who need them more urgently.

"These tests are absolutely not getting redirected from any kind of frontline testing programs," said Dr. Daniel Eichner, the president of SMRTL, who has worked extensively with MLB and other sports leagues on antidoping testing.

"MLB did not partner with us for any selfish reason to get their sport back sooner. They jumped in for public health policy. That was their intention and their only intention."

NHL Seattle, Oak View Group donates $1 million to United Way for COVID-19 relief

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NHL Seattle, Oak View Group donates $1 million to United Way for COVID-19 relief

The NHL’s 32nd expansion team hasn’t taken the ice yet, but they are already engraved in the Seattle community. 

NHL Seattle and Oak View Group announced Tuesday that their leadership, staff and partners have raised $1 million to support local at-risk families in the Seattle area, as well as nonprofit organizations on the Seattle Center campus.

"Our NHL and New Arena dreams for Seattle were born out of a strong collaboration and partnership with the City to create something powerful and lasting for our community," NHL Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke said in a release. "In that spirit, we are committed to giving back to those among us with an urgent and immediate need."

The donation will benefit the United Way of King County, who will distribute $800,000 in grocery vouchers to individuals who have recently lost their jobs or seen a significant reduction in their hours due to the coronavirus pandemic

"These grocery vouchers will be critical to helping workers put food on the table,” Mayor Jenny A. Durkan said. “I'm deeply grateful to our partners at OVG and NHL Seattle for their donation to support these efforts."

The remaining $200,000 will help create grants for nonprofit resident organizations on the Seattle Center campus. Organizations include Seattle Children’s Museum, Pacific Northwest Ballet, KING-FM, Pacific Science Center and more. 

"The scale of their losses dwarf what we are able to address," NHL Seattle Vice President of Community Engagement and Philanthropy Mari Horita said. "But as a future neighbor, we made these gifts as a heartfelt gesture of support and solidarity. Also, if we can raise awareness of their plight and encourage others to support, that helps too."

NHL Seattle will drop the first puck in 2021, but preparation for the first season has already begun for the team. Despite the league being paused due the coronavirus pandemic, the Seattle team is working diligently on logos, colors and of course, the team name.

General manager Ron Francis said the team is waiting on an appropriate time to share the name with the public. 

“We’re still going through that process with the league, working hard on the trademark and the legal process,” Francis said. “Trust me when I say our people are really working hard on this and soon as we’ve completed it, we’ll look at how our community is doing and when is the right time to announce that name.”