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Timberjacks' move gains steam

Minor-league team to open office in Vancouver to promote relocation

Though no deal has yet been reached, the Southern Oregon Timberjacks appear to have taken another step toward moving to Vancouver, Wash.

National Sports Organization Inc., owned by Timberjacks owner Fred Herrmann, plans to open a local marketing office this month in Vancouver to promote the move of his team to Clark County. His son, Brent Herrmann, will move to Vancouver to staff the office.

While the opening of the Vancouver office is a clear signal that Herrmann remains intent on moving the Oakland Athletics Class A team, he denies that it marks a significant step toward the relocation.

We're just doing the same thing we've been doing for a year, Herrmann said Sunday. We're just looking things over.

Herrmann has said the Timberjacks will remain in Medford and play at 3,000-seat Miles Field for this season, but has been evasive about his future plans for the team. He declined on Sunday to discuss the situation or elaborate on the opening of the Vancouver office.

Reports in the Vancouver Columbian indicate that the city could have its own minor-league team as early as next year. All it will take is strong fan support, government interest, a stadium site and financing.

The amount of time we've been spending here has increased enough to just open an office and declare National Sports in business here, Brent Herrmann told the newspaper.

We want to get to know (Vancouver) and the business community. We need to set up more of an operation here.

Gerald Baugh, Vancouver economic development analyst, said a city panel studying the baseball issue will ignore the sales pitch and focus on the many questions that must be answered.

We really want to do our homework, Baugh said. We want to make sure the community is really behind it, and we have to figure out if there's support for a facility and a place to put it.

The Herrmanns have been interested in Clark County since last year.

At first there was hope that a stadium might be developed at the Clark County Fairgrounds. However, county commissioners nixed the idea of raising taxes or taking on debt to pay for a stadium.

Now the Herrmanns are hoping to have better luck with the city of Vancouver, which has demonstrated somewhat greater interest. Despite saying no tax money will be spent on a stadium, Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard last month formed the Minor League Baseball Task Force to test investor support and fan interest.

The task force will hold a series of public hearings on the issues later this month.

Whetting fans' appetites by bringing them to minor-league games in Portland and Seattle is one strategy Brent Herrmann plans to try.

When the Southern Oregon Timberjacks are in town we'll have a promotion to get people across the river to see the future team play, he said.

He'll also start a Vancouver A's Booster Club, give it a team logo and mascot and provide training-camp opportunities for young players.

Part of the mission and vision of our organization is to really support youth programs, Herrmann said.

About the booster club, he added, Most teams have booster club organizations. We're just going to get ours started a little early.

He'll also be testing the interest of local business by scouting out sponsors for these small-scale endeavors.

All of which is just a warmup for the really big project: finding private financing for the multimillion-dollar stadium deal that must be worked out before any team comes here.

Herrmann is looking to expand his audience with a stadium of between 6,000 and 8,000 seats.

According to task force chairman Doug Combs, at the going rate of $1,000 per seat such a stadium would cost between $6 million and $8 million and require up to 12 acres of land.

We're going to have a tough time finding that much land for a ball park, Baugh said.

The Herrmanns believe a viable site, and private financing, can and will be found.

There are many options available to us, Brent Herrmann said. There are so many issues surrounding financing and how that might work, I don't want to mention anything yet.

Baugh, who serves as the task force's staff member, said he hasn't been contacted by either Herrmann.

He said the task force will stay skeptical despite whatever marketing frenzy is whipped up.

On one hand, you've got somebody very vocal coming to town who could have some influence, Baugh said. On the other hand, we have to do a lot of homework. Is this the right thing for Vancouver? Are we willing to support it?

If we cannot come up with firm answers to those questions, we have to have the guts to say we just don't want baseball.