2021 Schedule Tries Looking Normal for Northwest League
The 2021 schedule starts after a long, long extended off-season. Much more than anyone was expecting. Who knew when the Hops won their third Northwest League championship in its short seven year history on September 11th, 2019, it would be their last game for a while? Now, almost 20 months and a world-wide pandemic later, the Hillsboro Hops are ready to start their 2021 season. But, this year’s team hardly resembles the one that won that championship so many lifetimes ago.[note: it was just announced that the Vancouver Canadians will be playing their home games in Hillsboro, sharing Ron Tonkin Field with the Hillsboro Hops. This is until further notice. The Canadians should be able to return to Nat Bailey Stadium after the Canadian-USA border is opened for crossing. This article reflects this year’s schedule before that announcement. I will have more next week.]
Full Season Beckons
In fact, the whole franchise may look a bit different. You can tell just by looking at the schedule. Gone is the short season of 76 games that has been the norm for the Hops since 2013. Now, the 2021 schedule is looking at 132 games and a full season of baseball. Where did all of the extra games come from?
They all came from a promotion to High A minor league ball. To make a long story short and one that has
been told earlier by myself, the Hops went from short season A to High A. You can read how all of this happened here: “The Northwest League is Moving Upward.”
While the dust on the basepaths are still settling, everyone from team owners to the fans are getting ready for a long overdue season to start.
For one thing, everyone will still look familiar to each other. We still get to play the Eugene Emeralds. The Tri-City Dust Devils will come for a visit. Spokane will send their Indians our way, The Hops get to see the Vancouver Canadians. The fans will get to see the Everett Aquasox open their season at Ron Tonkin Stadium. This will be the first season in the short history of the Hops when they will start the season at home.
Old Friends Not Forgotten
But, notice who is missing. Gone from the 2021 schedule but not forgotten are the Boise Hawks and the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. Both teams and cities were part of the contraction of the minor league system. Boise became an independent team when they joined the new version of the Pioneer League. Now, the former Short Season Rookie League is a partner with the MLB and still includes former farm mate of the Hops, the Missoula Paddleheads (formerly Osprey). The Hawks will play a 96 game season.
Salem-Keizer creates their own path. On January 26th of this year, the Volcanoes announced the formation of a new league called the Maverick Independent Baseball League. This year will see the city of Salem host the four team league in Volcanoes Stadium. The league will consist of the Volcanoes, the Salem Senators, the Campesinos de Salem-Keizer and (trumpet sounding) the return of the Portland Mavericks. Look for an article on the return of the legendary team next week.
2021 Schedule Offers Week-Long Stands
All of that leaves the new Northwest League with six teams instead of the normal eight. Those teams will see a lot of each other. Previously, teams within the same division faced each other a total of twelve times each consisting of four three-game homestands divided up with six games at home and six on the road. Teams in the other division faced each other a total of ten times each divided up as five games on the road and five games at home.
Now, with more games played and less teams to play with, those numbers increase quite a bit. Teams will face each other in uniform 6-game homestands. The homestand will start on Tuesday every week and end on the following Sunday. Monday will be a travel day. However, the Hops will not face each team the same number of times.
The Hops will see the Aquasox and the Indians the least. Each team will share one homestand with each other for a total of twelve games per franchise. The Dust Devils and Canadians come next with five homestands between each franchise for a total 30 games with each team. The Hops will get the extra stand with the Canadians at home. The extra stand with the Dust Devils will be on the road.
Emeralds Return… And Return… And Return…
To top everything off, the Emeralds will see the Hops the most with six stands for 36 games. This is no
surprise as the Ems have been legendary foes going back to the days of the legendary Portland Mavericks. It will be no different on the 2021 schedule.
The Hops have made the playoffs every year since 2014 for a league record of six straight years and counting. Hillsboro has been crowned champion in 2014, 2015 and 2019 but, in those years, never had to get past the Ems to win the trophy. The Hops have faced the Emeralds in the playoffs three times: 2016, 2017 and 2018. Each of those years, the Hops have been knocked out of the playoffs by Eugene.
For those of you counting at home, the Hops and Ems have won five of the last six trophies. Hillsboro with three. Eugene with two (2016, 2018). And the Vancouver Canadians with one in 2017. Maybe this year will see Hillsboro beat the Ems in the playoffs and win the trophy in the same year.
2021 Schedule: Making Sense
Back to the schedule. I tried to make sense of this year’s schedule to understand what to expect each year afterward. It makes sense to face the Emeralds 36 games even without their shared history together, The Emeralds are also the closest team to Hillsboro at 119.9 miles. The next closest, Everett, is almost twice that at 217.9 miles. However, after Eugene, the logic seems to disappear. Everett and Spokane play the Hops the least during the season. Spokane makes sense since they are the farthest at 369.1 miles. But, Everett is closer than the Tri-Cities (234.2 miles) and Vancouver (331.8 miles). Why push the Aquasox further away, metaphorically speaking?
City/stands-games/distance from Hillsboro
Eugene Emeralds 6-36 119.9 miles
Tri-Cities Dust Devils 5-30 234.2
Vancouver Canadians 5-30 331.8
Everett Aquasox 2-12 217.9
Spokane Indians 2-12 369.1
The answer lies mostly in geography, the main source of logic that should make sense. Historically, geography does not cooperate with the scheduler. If one team is the closest neighbor to two different teams, they can’t be the designated rival to both teams. At least on the schedule. Someone else will have to play that other team 36 times in the season and it won’t be with the city closest to them.
Then it becomes even more complicated exponentially with the 2nd closest, 3rd closest, etc. So we end up with Everett playing the Hops like they are the 3rd or 4th closest city instead of the 2nd. All of this may change every season. Next year, the Aquasox may get the 2nd closest slot and Tri-Cities will get the 3rd closest. One thing I do not expect to change however is the rivalry. Eugene will always be the closest to Hillsboro when it comes to competing with each other. In the heart of the fan, distance is a non-factor. Just icing on the cake.
Now, down to the brass tacks of the schedule. Where will the Hops be on the 4th of July and when are the
For the holidays, Memorial Day will be a travel day. The Hops will be leaving the Tri City area and going to Everett for their one visit to the Mariner farm team. Labor Day is another travel day. The team will be traveling from Hillsboro to Tri-City.
The Fourth of July will be observed on Monday the 5th. But, there is good news. The Hops will be home on the actual holiday which is Sunday the 4th. The team being hosted? The Eugene Emeralds will be finishing one of their three visiting stands to Ron Tonkin Stadium. It is too early to know the events scheduled for fans but I do expect fireworks that Sunday.
Opening Day on the 2021 schedule is May 4th and will be in Hillsboro. The Hops will be hosting the Everett Aquasox for their only scheduled visit to the Tonk. The season ends on September 19th and is on the road in Vancouver.
Homestands are week-long affairs now. The season starts with one in the first week of May (Everett, 4th-9th). Then they will alternate with trips on the road with the team being home on the 3rd week (Vancouver, 18th-23rd) of the month.
June sees two homestands and the start of a third. Tri-City stays for the 8th-13th, Spokane arrives for the 22nd-27th and Eugene will start their first visit on the 29th. July follows with the majority of three homestands. Eugene continues on the 1st-4th. Vancouver resides on the 13th-18th. Tri City arrives for their second visit to Hillsboro on the 27th and stays until the 1st of August.
The eighth month sees two full homestands, the end of one and the beginning of another. After Tri City finishes their visit, Eugene arrives for the second time for the 10th-15th. A short road trip fills the gap until Vancouver arrives for the 24th-29th. Then, Vancouver is replaced by Eugene for their third visit starting on the 31st.
September ends the 2021 schedule with Eugene continuing to the 5th for the final homestand of the Hops. The season ends with two weeks on the road. You can see a much easier to read graphic of the Hops season on Milb.com.
Longest Road Trip
For the most part, the Hops will be alternating home/road throughout the season with a few exceptions. At the end of May and beginning of June, the Hops will be on the road for two consecutive weeks. They will play Tri City and Everett. They will make up for the long road trip at the end of June and beginning of July with two back to back weeks at home. Hillsboro will host Spokane and Eugene.
The Hops continue to alternate until the end of the season. At the end of August and start of September, the Hops will host Vancouver and Eugene for a two week homestand to end the home part of the schedule. The following two weeks, they will be playing ball in Tri City and Vancouver to end the season. Of course, the Hops could extend their league record of consecutive playoff appearances with their seventh and continue playing.
When Will Who Be Here?
If you are looking forward to seeing the Hops play a specific team, here is a breakdown of the dates each team will appear:
Everett Aquasox 5/4-5/9.
Vancouver Canadians 5/18-5/23, 7/13-7/18, 8/24-8/29.
Tri City Dust Devils 6/8-6/13, 7/27-8/1.
Spokane Indians 6/22-6/27.
Eugene Emeralds 6/29-7/4, 8/10-8/15, 8/31-9/5.
2021 Schedule Start Almost Here
There is less than a month until the Hops open with the Aquasox. We have looked at our new coaches (Vince Harrison, Shane Loux, KC Judge and Juan Francia). (Click on their name to read about them.) This week is about the schedule. Next week, we will turn from the future and look back at the past. We will look through the eyes of the new Maverick Independent Baseball League and the new Portland Mavericks. Make no mistake. They may be new but these Mavericks are well aware of their history. Until then, take another look at the article I wrote about the original Mavericks a few years ago. This will freshen up your memory.