Hillsboro Hops

Hillsboro Hops take home the 2019 NWL Championship


Hillsboro Hops take home the 2019 NWL Championship

The Hillsboro Hops are champions once again! It's the first title for the team since going back to back in '14 and '15. And it's been a thrilling playoff run for the Hillsboro Hops. 

After a quick two-game sweep of Salem-Keizer in the semifinals, the Hops waged their way through a five-game battle with Tri-City. 

In Game 1, the Hops entered the bottom of the 9th trailing 3-1 but put up four runs in the inning including a walk-off 3 run homer by Andy Yerzy. 

The Hops got smashed in Game 2, losing 9-1 but bounced back again in Game 3 with a two-run ninth inning rally to snag the win. 

Game 4 felt like Game 2 all over again with the Hops getting shut out this time and losing 6-0. 

The evened up 2-2 series finale in Game 5 wouldn't have the dramatics of the first two Hops wins but they spread out three runs in the middle innings and closed the door in the bottom of the ninth for the Championshp win:


Baseball isn't dying -- in spite of itself

Baseball isn't dying -- in spite of itself

It's gone on for decades now -- the idea that baseball is slowly dying and will soon be buried.

I blame the sport itself for not doing a very good job of bragging about itself. And there is plenty to brag about.

In Forbes, Maury Brown did his yearly survey of local television ratings of major-league teams and found what he seems to find every year:

When looking at cable alone, 24 RSNs that host MLB teams rank No. 1 in their market in prime time.  Major League Baseball ranks No. 1 in cable prime time in every U.S. MLB market except Miami.

And yes, you could make the claim that the game at the big-league level has become more regional. Ratings on major networks have remained flat or a little down recently -- mostly because the game has made itself so accessible via Internet, cable and satellite television that the national games just aren't that important these days. And of course, that could mean a drop in the enormous haul the clubs make off national TV contracts. But with the money they're raking in today on regional networks, so what?

And when talking about the overall popularity of the game itself, all you hear about is how slow the game is, the pace problems, etc. I think that's much more of a problem for TV viewers than those in the ballpark. And I believe more people watch professional baseball in person than any other sport. By far. Yes, because of lousy weather and the fact that several MLB teams have suddenly fallen victim to the NBA disease of tanking, MLB attendance has dropped some this season.

But when talking about the popularity of the game, nobody ever seems to mention baseball's thriving minor leagues. A lot of money is being made by owners of teams at all levels of the minors and -- in case you didn't know -- it's the only pro sport that's been capable of selling a minor league to the public. The NBA has needed a minor league for years but has been reluctant because it hasn't yet figured a way to make any real money from it. Football developmental leagues have continually failed.

Baseball's minor leagues are still spinning turnstiles. You wonder why people aren't watching MLB network games as often? They're probably at places like Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro watching teams like the Hops. Teams in the short-season Class A Northwest League, where the Hops play, averaged 3,594 fans per game in 2017.  Pacific Coast League teams -- and there were 16 of them -- averaged 6,548 per game.

All over the country -- from big cities to tiny hamlets -- fans are standing in line to buy tickets to watch baseball.

And spare me the talk about young people not being interested in baseball. Go to a game and see for yourself. Count the Little Leaguers in Hillsboro or venture out to left field during a Mariners game and check out the college kids chatting up the opposite sex. The fact is, baseball is one of the few games that young people can afford to attend.

Make  no mistake, baseball is alive and well. And I can't wait until the MLB product comes to town.

OSU's Abel taking classes -- and taking it easy -- this summer in Corvallis

OSU's Abel taking classes -- and taking it easy -- this summer in Corvallis

HILLSBORO – The Hillsboro Hops honored Oregon State’s NCAA championship baseball team Monday night and Kevin Abel, the freshman right-hander who hurled a two-hit shutout in the title game, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

It bounced.

“That’s the first pitch I’ve thrown since the final game,” he said while signing hundreds of autographs with his teammates before and during Monday's game.

Abel is taking the summer off from competition, as is the custom for Oregon State pitchers while Beaver position players scatter around the country to play in various college summer leagues.

“Lift some weights, stay in shape and get a little bit ahead in school,” said Abel, who is taking summer classes in Corvallis.

The Beaver pitcher went the distance in the title game after a relief outing in the team’s previous game. And his coach, Pat Casey, has taken some criticism for using Abel that much.

Abel bristled at the suggestion Casey did anything wrong.

“I just appreciated him giving me the opportunity to do what I did,” Abel said. “I worked all season toward that. I know how to take care of myself. I was fine.”

Abel has done extensive training with Seattle’s Driveline, a sports-science, data-driven training program that is drawing rave reviews from pitchers and hitters, all the way from big-leaguers to Little Leaguers. He is continuing with that program this summer.

“I’ve been doing it since high school,” Abel said. “It’s helped me a lot. I’ve gained velocity and stamina.”

He does not plan to pitch again until fall baseball.

“I’ve been going since school started last year,” he said. “But I feel good."

How has his life changed since that championship game?

"A lot more followers on social media," he said. "My Instagram exploded."


Blazers, Thorns, Timbers, Winterhawks, and Hops combine disaster relief efforts

Blazers, Thorns, Timbers, Winterhawks, and Hops combine disaster relief efforts

The following is a joint press release from the Trail Blazers, Timbers, Thorns FC, Winterhawks and Hops

PORTLAND, Ore. (September 5, 2017) – With disaster response and relief efforts happening in their own communities and across the country, the Portland Trail Blazers (NBA), Portland Timbers (MLS), Portland Thorns FC (NWSL), Portland Winterhawks (Western Hockey League) and Hillsboro Hops (Northwest League) will band together to raise much-needed funds and blood donations to channel through the American Red Cross.  This is the first joint-philanthropic initiative among the five local professional franchises focusing on a specific cause – to bring aid to victims of Oregon’s wildfires; Hurricane Harvey in Texas; and the potential impact of Hurricane Irma in Florida.

“The destruction we’ve seen from the Oregon wildfires and Hurricane Harvey is heartbreaking,” said Chris McGowan, President & CEO of the Trail Blazers and Rose Quarter.  “The journey to recovery will be a long one for all impacted areas. The professional sports community here in Portland is rallying our respective fan bases, employees and partners to contribute resources to assist in the effort where it’s needed most.”  

“Our hearts go out to the families and individuals affected by the devastating fires in Oregon and the communities in Southeast Texas as they begin the process to rebuild and heal,” said Mike Golub, President of Business for the Timbers and Thorns FC. “By working together with our local partners, we are able to maximize our collective impact in support of the communities affected by the devastation caused by these disasters."   

The first steps taken will be to hold individual blood drives starting tomorrow, with each team hosting its own specially-designated day at the headquarters for the Portland American Red Cross, located at 3131 North Vancouver Avenue.  The need for blood is constant and the American Red Cross is the largest supplier of blood and blood products to hospitals in the nation. 

Fundraising efforts by each team will take place in the coming weeks and months at select home games and events to be announced soon.  The Timbers, Thorns FC and Hops seasons are currently underway, with the Winterhawks and Trail Blazers beginning their 2017-18 seasons soon.  Additional information will be posted on each team’s website and through their social media channels.

“We’re pleased to be involved with the team effort to raise funds and support the relief efforts locally and nationally,” said K.L. Wombacher, President and General Manager of the Hillsboro Hops.  “Having two players on our roster that we care deeply about being from the Houston area, Hurricane Harvey hits home for us. Our hearts go out to all those who have lost so much over the last week. We hope to do everything we can to help them get their lives back.”

"Between the forest fires threatening the Northwest and the hurricanes causing catastrophic damage on the Gulf Coast, the resources of the American Red Cross are being stretched to the limits," said Doug Piper, President of the Portland Winterhawks.  "We are proud to stand with the Portland sports community and bring aid to those who so desperately need it.”

Red Cross blood donations can be conveniently scheduled online at www.redcrossblood.org for any of their blood drive locations throughout the region; or through the mobile app by texting BLOODAPP to 90999.  Here is the schedule of upcoming blood drives hosted by each Portland-area pro sports team (**Note:  Donors should use visitor parking for their vehicles, or dial (503) 528-5800 for parking guidance if visitor spaces are full):

  • Wednesday, September 6 – Hillsboro Hops; 11:30 a.m. – 3 p.m.
  • Thursday, September 7 – Portland Timbers and Portland Thorns FC; 80 appointment slots from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
  • Friday, September 8 – Portland Winterhawks; 7:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, September 9 – Portland Trail Blazers; 100 appointment slots from 8 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.

For financial donations, text REDCROSS to 90999 to give $10 to American Red Cross Disaster Relief, which helps people affected by disasters such as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, wildfires and tornadoes.  Charges will appear on your wireless bill, or be deducted from your prepaid balance. All purchases must be authorized by account holder. Donors must be 18 years of age or have parental permission to participate. Message and Data Rates may apply. Text STOP to 90999 to STOP. Text HELP to 90999 for HELP. Full Terms and Privacy Policy: hmgf.org/t.

Hops took a backward path to their latest division championship

Hops took a backward path to their latest division championship

The Hillsboro Hops needed to win a home game either Saturday or Sunday night against Spokane to wrap up their first-half division championship. But they couldn't get a victory on either night.

Yet, the Hops are celebrating the division championship, anyway, because the Tri-City Dust Devils stepped up and knocked off the Eugene Emeralds for them each night, ensuring the Hillsboro one-game lead in the division would stand up.

Here's what that sounded like Sunday night.

It's called backing in to the playoffs. But seriously, congratulations to the Hops -- who have made a recent habit of appearing in the Northwest League playoffs.

And backing in is still being in. It's a high-quality organization that deserves all the success it gets.


Hops rally from 6-0 deficit to win home opener

Hops rally from 6-0 deficit to win home opener

HILLSBORO -- It was the home opener for the Hops Tuesday night and there was a special added attraction. Right-handed pitcher Matt Koch, who has pitched in the major leagues, was the starting pitcher for Hillsboro -- the first big-leaguer to ever appear for the team.

But in the end, all Koch did was put the home team in a 6-0 hole. Which it climbed out of, thanks to a sensational bullpen performance and a walkoff single in the 12th inning by Domingo Leyba that climaxed a 7-6 victory.

The Hops loaded the bases in the ninth after a two-out triple by Eudy Ramos on a bloop that turned into a triple after a failed attempt at a shoestring catch. But after two walks, a groundout ended the inning. And in the 10th they had runners at first and third with one out but couldn't score.

Koch, a former big-leaguer with the parent Arizona Diamondbacks, was making a rehab start for the Hops and didn't’t exactly get off to a smooth start.

The right-hander allowed a long, wind-aided home run to the first batter of the game, Malique Ziegler, and then singles to the next three hitters, upping the lead to 2-0 with still nobody out in the first.

But a pickoff at second, a strikeout and a groundout got Koch out of the inning.

He retired the side in order in the second but was touched for two more runs in the third and the same number in the fourth.

Koch finished up his start after five innings, allowing nine hits and five earned runs.

But the Hops didn't quit.

Designated hitter Kyle Smith got the home team on the board with a two-run homer in the bottom of the fourth, pulling Hillsboro within 6-2.

The Hops scored in the seventh on a two-out, two-run bloop double to right field by Yan Sanchez.  The tying runs were in scoring position after that, and Bryan Araiza got one of the home on a checked-swing infield single and the tying run scored moments later on a wild pitch.

By that time the 4,537 fans were in a frenzy after watching their team rally from the 6-0 deficit heading to the eighth. But they had to hang around a while as the night turned chilly to see the end.


Hillsboro Hops lock down new coaching staff for 2017

Hillsboro Hops

Hillsboro Hops lock down new coaching staff for 2017


For the last two years of Single-A Short Season, the Hillsboro Hops have been under the capable hands of Manager Shelley Duncan. An experienced MLB outfielder, designated hitter, and first baseman, Duncan was new to his management career when the Arizona Diamondbacks organization hired him for the farm team. In his debut season in 2015, Duncan led the Hops to a Northwest League championship. Duncan has been popular in Hillsboro, with his aggressive and youthful attitude sparking late-in-the-game rallies and his successful batting career serving as inspiration to young players.

But, as any minor league fan can attest, baseball is a game of perpetual professional motion. Duncan has earned a manager position with a higher profile team within the Diamondbacks system, the Visalia Rawhide in California’s Advanced-A league. Much in the way Single-A baseball is a farm system that develops player talent for the big show, it is also a farm for coaching staff.

The next man to lead the Hillsboro Hops when they kick off the 2017 season will be Shawn Roof, a former infielder who started his career in the Detroit Tigers system after being drafted in the 33rd round in 2007. Roof played as high as Triple-A for the Toledo Mudhens in his 2010 season, but decided to pursue a coaching position beginning in 2013. After two seasons with the Orioles organization and one season as an assistant coach at Indiana University, he joined the D-backs system and coached in the Midwest League. Just as Duncan before him, this switch to Hillsboro will be Roof’s debut as a Manager.

Roof, though young and fresh-faced, will have a fountain of experience from which to draw. He will likely have an easy time connecting to his players and keeping energy up. And his staff is grounded by decades of experience, with veteran pitching coach Mike Parrot returning for his second season with the Hops and new batting coach Franklin Stubbs stepping in. Stubbs is a World Series ringholder with over 20 years in the MLB, and joins the Hops after his first season as a coach in Missoula, Montana for the Pioneer League.

The Hops had an up-and-down season in 2016, sometimes allowing sedate performances at the mound and at bat until the game was on the line. It’s no stretch to assume the Diamondbacks executives and Hillsboro’s General Manager K.L. Wombacher purposefully entrust the team to younger men just starting their careers in management. Roof’s prime directive ought to be for the 2017 Hops to fire on all cylinders right from the start and keep a culture of fun and competitive stakes. A NWL season is a meaty experience all at once, with games virtually every day and unglamorous travel and accomodations. Hops fans have more than five months to wait for Roof’s performance.

How would this have looked in the Rose Quarter?

How would this have looked in the Rose Quarter?

SACRAMENTO -- Part of the fun of traveling around the country trailing an NBA team is to survey sports venues in other towns. Tuesday the Trail Blazers will play their first game against the Kings in the new Golden 1 Center and I can't wait to see it. But there's a ballpark here that's pretty cool, too.

They used no public-sector contributions to build Raley Field in 2000 and it's been wildly successful as a Triple-A, Pacific Coast League venue for the Sacramento River Cats.

I mention this because baseball fans in Portland could have been enjoying a gorgeous, destination ballpark in the Rose Quarter if Portland's City Council had gone ahead with the proposed demolition of the money pit known as Memorial Coliseum. The idea was to level the old barn to make way for a Triple-A ballpark that would have been a showplace and a central piece in keeping the Rose Quarter lively during the summer months, when it's normally deserted.

Portland being Portland, it never happened. Meanwhile the city of Hillsboro jumped in to build a smaller, but charming, Class A ballpark to house the Hillsboro Hops and the venue -- and franchise -- have been a huge hit from Day One.

When it comes to sports, our town has always been many days late and several dollars short.


Hops take 1-0 lead in NWL South playoffs with 10-inning win

Hops take 1-0 lead in NWL South playoffs with 10-inning win

HILLSBORO --  The Eugene Emeralds may have dominated the Northwest League this summer, but if they want to win the league championship, they still have the two-time defending champion Hillsboro Hops to deal with in the playoffs.

The Hops scrapped from behind for a 4-3, 10-inning win over the Ems to take a 1-0 lead in the NWL's South Division best-of-three series. The series shifts to Eugene for the final two games (if necessary) of the series.

Catcher Jose Queliz was the hero in the 10th, lashing a run-scoring single with two out to plate the winning run.

The Hops got on the scoreboard first, when Luis Veras clubbed a solo homer deep over the left-field fence with two out in the bottom of the second inning. But the Ems tied it in the tokp of the third on Robert Garcia's solo shot to almost the same spot.

The Emeralds took a 2-1 lead in the fourth on Zack Short's two-out double but Hillsboro tied it in the bottom of the same inning on Adam Walton's run-scoring, two-out single.

Eugene took a 3-2 lead in the fifth when Yeller Peguero singled to drive home Kevonte Mitchell.

But the Hops got the game tied in the eighth when Luke Lowery scored on a passed ball. On the same play, Matt McPhearson was out at the plate on a close play, trying to score from second on the passed ball.

The teams went scoreless in the ninth, but in the Hillsboro 10th Mark Karaviotis lashed a ground-ball double down the left-field line with one out. Josh Anderson, the Hops' most reliable hitter all season, was called out on strikes on a 95-mile-per-hour fastball from Ems reliever Michael Rucker for the second out of the inning. Eugene then intentionally walked Lowery to bring up Queliz, whose sharp grounder inside the bag at third sent most of the 2,165 fans (there were some Eugene fans present, too) home happy.

It was the only at-bat of the game for Queliz. The series continues Thursday and Friday in Eugene's P.K. Park.

Dansby Swanson's hop to the big leagues was a short one


Dansby Swanson's hop to the big leagues was a short one

Dansby Swanson was the No. 1 player taken in baseball's June free-agent draft in 2015, by the Arizona Diamondbacks and when he arrived at midseason with the Hillsboro Hops, all eyes were on him.

Swanson didn't disappoint. After a slow start, he hit .289 with a .394 on-base percentage and helped lead the Hops to a Northwest League championship. The D-Backs traded Swanson, part of a deal that brought them pitcher Shelby Miller, during the off-season to the Atlanta Braves. He became a symbol of hope for the fans of the hapless Braves -- a player the franchise could build its future around.

The Braves traded shortstop Erick Aybar to Detroit Tuesday, opening the door for Swanson -- who was hitting .261 in Double-A -- to make the jump to the big leagues, where the Braves are saying he will be in the starting lineup tonight.

I hope he can handle it. Players -- even college players like Swanson -- can react in different ways to being rushed to the major leagues. Last season the New York Mets got former Oregon State outfielder Michael Conforto into their lineup in the latter stages of the season and he was a big help in their pennant push and performed well in the post season. But this year, for whatever reason, he has struggled mightily, hitting just .218, and was recently optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas for the second time this season.

Swanson is a charismatic player who exudes confidence and ability. We saw this last season in short-season Class A baseball. The fans loved him and so did his teammates. His ability to handle the spotlight mentally is probably beyond question. But his ability to handle big-league pitching? That's another matter. But this is just a six-week trial period for him to get accustomed to the big leagues and the real pressure will come next season as the Braves move into their new ballpark and more will be asked of Swanson.

Can he be the savior of what's become a downtrodden franchise? Maybe, but that's a lot to ask.

Especially when he's been rushed into this role so quickly without the lessons most players learn from a minor-league apprenticeship.