APRIL 21. GAME 17 OF 144 SCHEDULED FOR THE SEASON, a half-hour before the first pitch of the night. Clusters of gray clouds are scudding in from the south, bringing with them a frigid wind that whips around a near-empty PGE Park, most of its green seats folded into the upright position. The digital temperature display behind the center-field wall reads 42 degrees, but by the end of the ninth inning, it will blink a bracing 38.
“This is brutal, just brutal,” says Merritt Paulson, owner and general manager of the Portland Beavers Triple-A baseball team and owner of the Portland Timbers soccer team, surveying the stadium. “You may have the distinction of attending our least-attended game ever.” He’d expected a thousand or so people through the gates by now, but by the looks of the place, the computerized ticket counters haven’t logged more than a few hundred.
No one, it seems, not even gloom-tolerant Portlanders, wants to be out in this muck.
Whether to play the game or to cancel it? Ultimately, it’s Paulson’s call to make, but tonight, with Fox Sports Northwest scheduled to broadcast the game throughout the region, a rainout is the last thing Paulson wants. Every couple of minutes, he checks the four Doppler websites he has bookmarked on his computer. His staff checks in with the KGW weather team. He delays the game once, then twice.
But like any good businessperson, Paulson does not dwell on the storm clouds overhead. A half-hour after the game’s scheduled start, he finally makes the call: Play ball.
Paulson bought the Portland Beavers in May 2007, a deal that also gave him ownership of the Portland Timbers—the United Soccer Leagues team that, like the Beavers, is but one division shy of the major leagues. Part of Paulson’s job, as it has been for all of the men who have owned the team before him, is to make sure that the Beavers, the farm team for the San Diego Padres, attract legions of loyal fans. And tonight, Paulson is getting one of the rudimentary lessons in running a successful sports franchise: No matter how good your business plan, no matter if you’ve got yourself a stadium with a $38.5 million renovation, no matter if your father is the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and the former CEO of global investment firm Goldman Sachs, no matter if you’ve got an Ivy League degree—the devil of this particular venture often lies in details you cannot control.
And in Portland, one of those details happens to be crappy weather that can last well into June.