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Timberjacks' exodus would sadden fans

Perched way up on the top row of general admission seats behind third base, Brenda Stevens watched the 20th consecutive summer of Northwest League baseball at Miles Field come to an end Wednesday night.

Stevens has attended Medford/Southern Oregon A's/Timberjacks games almost from the time the franchise shifted to the Rogue Valley from Bend in 1979.

She used to go to the ballpark with her dad, then dated husband David at Northwest League games. Now, the Medford couple bring their three sons: Brent, 14, Mark, 13, and Chris, 12, to watch young pros trying to make their mark.

If Timberjacks majority owner Fred Herrmann gets his wish and moves his Northwest League franchise to Vancouver, Wash., it will alter the summer routine for the Stevens family and many others in the Rogue Valley.

The notion of the Class A short-season Oakland Athletics' affiliate leaving town for the Columbia River's northern shore doesn't sit well.

It's just sad, says Stevens, who dutifully wears a Timberjacks shirt. We've had season passes for the last 12 years. Let's just say it would be a pretty boring summer.

The Stevens boys play Little League, but once the all-star season ends, Miles Field is the place to be.

I don't know what we would do, Stevens says. We try to make it to every game; we don't eat at home a lot in the summer.

Lengthy concession stand lines indicate that might be true for a lot of other fans, who might have to find someplace else to spend their dollars next summer.

We'll miss them if they go, says Denny Lamson of Medford, who brought along his son Isaac.

My 8-year-old is just getting into baseball and this may be his first and last game, Lamson says. I suppose (Vancouver) is a greener pasture in their mind.

The Timberjacks have averaged 2,000 fans -- give or take a few hundred -- for the past dozen years. That kind of turnout would've drawn raves from short-season owners a generation ago, when it was said if you had a Visa card you could probably get a NWL franchise. It wasn't until the Portland Mavericks arrived on the scene in 1973 that a short-season NWL team topped the 50,000 mark.

Walla Walla, Tri-City, Lewiston, Bellingham and Seattle were in the league that year. None of those cities are in the league any more -- Seattle has returned to the American League, while Boise, Eugene and Spokane sport population and business bases far greater than Medford. Southern Oregon passed the 70,000 mark on the final night, but still finished last in attendance out of eight teams.

Fans at Wednesday's game were disappointed that the club might leave, but had differing opinions why.

Tom Henderson of Medford helped with crowd control for the club in the early 1990s. He says lack of adequate seating hurts.

The only thing I can do is blame it on the stands, Henderson says. There are other cities with stadiums that hold eight or nine thousand. That's what we need here.

Verne Long of Medford concurs, adding: Every owner wants the option to sell as many tickets as he can. I'm sure they're going to sell out tonight and a bigger stadium would allow them to sell more.

Greg Roberts of Phoenix, who worked for the franchise when it was in Bend as a youngster and later in Medford before going into the furniture business, says it boils down to simple economics.

The Northwest League wants to pull the clubs close to cut down on traveling costs, says Roberts. Why else would (Portland owner) Jack Cain allow Fred in his town?

Bellingham and Bend were promised that pro baseball would be brought back when their (NWL) teams left. Those were hollow promises. There's nothing going on in Bellingham and the novelty of the (independent) Western League has worn off in Bend.

Brian Scott used to attend games more frequently, but was taking in his first contest of the summer with 5-year-old son Dillon.

I'd like them to stay, because it's something for a family to do, Scott says. But I guess they're not getting a big enough attendance.

Dorothy Walterick has taken in Timberjacks games about four times each of the past two seasons. She's optimistic the club will be in town next year.

I don't think they'll leave, Walterick says, because they're so welcome here.