Tri-City Dust Devils’ I-90 Rival Is Hitting the Road at End of Season
If you attended the Tri-City Dust Devils series Aug. 1-5 at Gesa Stadium you saw a bit of baseball history.That was the last time the Dust Devils will be matched up against their I-90 rivals, the Yakima Bears. While details are still being hammered out, the Bears are headed to Hillsboro, Oregon for the 2013 season, leaving behind Yakima County Stadium.
The Hillsboro City Council recently approved a contract with the Bears, ending several years of squabbling between Yakima and the Class A farm club for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Since 2009, reports indicated the club has been pushing for a new stadium or significant upgrades to what is the smallest venue in the Northwest A League.
All signs point to the Bears leaving town, and in doing so, will leave Yakima without a professional sports franchise for the first time since 1989. The Bears relocated that year from Salem, Oregon when they were affiliated with the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 2001, the Bears became the Short Season A farm team for the Diamondbacks.
Major league stars such as Paul Konerko and Shane Victorino learned the ropes playing in Yakima and the club did won two NWL titles between 1990 and 2001. But the last few years had seen some hard times. Despite a $750,000 renovation in 2007, the Diamondbacks complained the Yakima County Stadium did not meet minor league standards. Yakima County was one of the smallest parks, and Yakima is the smallest market in the Northwest League. Despite efforts of the team, attendance had been dwindling over the last couple of years.
The Tri-City Dust Devils, meanwhile, have enjoyed significant success on and off the field, winning several NW League Eastern Division titles, while breaking the single-season and single-game attendance records each of the last couple of seasons. Now, both Tri-City and Yakima have two of the smaller parks in the league. Spokane, playing in a “converted” AAA park that once held nearly 10,000, usually wins the attendance war every year, it’s a much larger city. But while the Dust Devils have steadily grown over the years, Yakima has seen it’s average drop from 1,916 fans per game in 2009 to about 1,751 per game last year.
But regardless of the reasons, it will be sad to see the Bears go. Tri-Cities and Yakima have had some great series over the years, and the Yakima community (the county) will lose about $50,000 a year from various revenues when the team goes.
County officials say they’ve already been approached by other teams interested in moving into County Stadium. Here’s hoping something works out for the community – and hoping it doesn’t turn out like the original tenants of GESA Stadium. You might remember the old Tri-City Posse of the now defunct Western Baseball League. Minor league baseball teams who are not affiliated with a major league club have a harder time making a go of it.
We can only sit back and watch, and hope Hillsboro OR enjoys the legacy of baseball that was built in Yakima. Perhaps the one lesson we can learn is how important it is to enjoy and support our teams while we have them.