The man Portland Beavers fans call "Mister Baseball" couldn't bear to watch.
On Monday, Jack Cain stood at the edge of the batter's box until the final inning of the final baseball game at PGE Park. The 66-year-old Portland Beavers senior adviser owned a minor-league team of his own in the '90s, but sold it so the Beavers could return to Portland. On Sept. 6 he looked on as the last out was lightly tossed to first base, ending for the foreseeable future a 107-year tradition of baseball in the city.
But when Beavers manager Terry Kennedy began digging up home plate with a shovel, Cain turned away, silently disappearing into the bowels of the stadium. "I'd like to talk with you," the famously ebullient ambassador said, "but I just can't." (The team's management asked him not to comment.)
On a day so perfect for baseball it seemed designed to break your heart, the Portland Beavers rallied past the Las Vegas 51s for a 6-5 victory on Monday to split their final home stand of the Triple-A Pacific League season, in front of an unusually large crowd of 15,639. These statistics seem slightly diminished by the fact that the Beavers have effectively ceased to exist.
PGE Park is undergoing a $31 million public-private renovation to become a soccer stadium in time for the Portland Timbers to join Major League Soccer next summer. Timbers and Beavers owner Merritt Paulson, repeatedly rebuffed in efforts to seal a separate baseball stadium deal—in the Rose Quarter, in Lents, in Beaverton and in Vancouver—has begun shopping the Beavers to new ownership elsewhere. Paulson tacitly confirmed Monday that the leading bid is from Escondido, Calif.—27 miles north of the team's major-league franchise, the San Diego Padres.
TEAM OWNER: Merritt Paulson says baseball will return. IMAGE: Matt Wong
"It's a question of when, not if, baseball will come back," Paulson said in a press conference on the diamond before the game. "Absence can make the heart grow fonder.… This is farewell, but it's not goodbye."
Paulson, whose negotiations with City Council over funding and sites for possible baseball stadiums were ultimately unsuccessful, did not want to discuss whose fault the Beavers' departure might be.
"I'm not here to point fingers," Paulson said. "You can look in the mirror and say, 'I wish I'd better mobilized baseball fans.' The bottom line is, we didn't get it done."
The sellout crowd—almost four times the Beavers' season average of 4,098, the worst attendance in the Pacific League—did not include any members of the City Council. Perhaps they didn't feel welcome: Oregonian sports columnist John Canzano launched a bizarrely hostile foray into politics in the morning paper, blaming a culture of "underused bike lanes" for the Beavers' departure.
After Kennedy dug up home plate (to the public-address strains of the Forrest Gump score and scattered boos), he offered his own editorial: "If you want baseball back, it's you the fans—and not the politicians—who are going to get it back." Fans roared in approval.
The final game's majesty was marred only by the sight of a backhoe behind the center-field wall. Wily Mo Peña and Nick Green hit home runs for the Beavers, while the team's promotions department launched Cracker Jacks and T-shirts into the crowd.
"Before we go any further, Portland Beavers fans," Robert Wilkie, a promotions assistant, told the crowd in the middle of the eighth inning, "I just want to say one thing: thank you." He paused, then continued with a roar: "NOW WHO WANTS A T-SHIRT?"