Hillsboro Hops Season Starts For 2019
This Friday, the 2019 Hillsboro Hops season starts on the road in Eugene. It will be their seventh season here in Hillsboro after moving their single short season A farm team from Yakima in 2013. Owner and president Mike McMurray, along with his wife Laura, brought the team south to Hillsboro after a tough decision to leave Yakima.
“We hated to move”. Mike said. “The fans were incredibly loyal. Every night, they were like family. But, the economics wasn’t working. We couldn’t provide the player development that we wanted” for the parent club, the Arizona Diamondbacks.
As in most major changes in life, timing was everything. It was at that time that Portland lost the Beavers, a AAA ball club with a history extending back over a hundred years.
Laura, who also serves as the team’s vice president as well as the chief financial officer, “grew up in the area. She went to school in McMinnville and at Sunset High School. She was familiar with the area.”
Pipeline to MLB
Yakima’s loss turned out to be Hillsboro’s gain. Since that fateful arrival, the Hops have dusted the diamond at Ron Tonkin Field for 432 regular season games and counting along with six consecutive years of making the playoffs. During those years, fans have got to see current major league players Jimmie Sherfy (Arizona), Aaron Blair (former Arizona), Braden Shipley (Arizona), Matt Koch (Arizona) Dansby Swanson (Atlanta), Daniel Palka (White Sox), Brad Keller (Kansas City) along with others grow up as professionals before their eyes.
This year, Taylor Clarke, Jon Duplantier and Kevin Cron have already made their MLB debuts as a Diamondback. Bo Takahashi and Domingo Leyba are on the 40-man roster ready for their first game in the majors.
2019 Hops Roster
Friday, on June 21st, the Hops will have their first home game followed by fireworks, an annual tradition. On that night, fans may be rewarded watching their new team take the field: Joe Mauer at first, Derek Jeter at shortstop or Johan Santana on the mound.
Astute fans will realize that those players have never worn or will wear a Hops uniform. Nor will the fans see their ghosts haunting the field. But, they will see their echoes. Inspirations in the younger generations that follow in their footsteps.
“Joe Mauer and I are both left handed hitters” said the Hops new first baseman Andy Yerzy. I think our styles are very similar and our bats are strong at the plate.” Andy is one of ten returning Hops from last year’s team according to Rich Burk, Director of Broadcasting. Andy is changing from his catcher position to first base this year. “Since first base is new, defense is coming along but is not a strength yet.” Last year, Andy showed his hard work and determination will help him adjust and grow.
Nick Grande is one of two new draft picks already on the team. “Derek Jeter.” Nick said quickly and proudly. “I’ve always liked how he carried himself and was such a good teammate.” Drafted out of Stony Brook in the 17th round, Nick sees himself in the same mold as his hero. “I play hard and smart.” He added. “The best part of the game is winning and being with teammates.” Like his hero, Nick Grande plays the infield.
Another returning favorite is pitcher Trevor McKenna. Last year, he let us know that he is “a dog” referring to his tenacity in backing up his teammates. The relief pitcher would take the mound in games last year and “have their backs”. This year, he adds even more. “This year, I have more experience.”
Trevor still remembers June 1st, 2012. That was the day his hero, Johan Santana, pitched a no-hitter for the New York Mets against the St. Louis Cardinals. It is still the only no-hitter in Mets history, spanning 57 years. “My fastball and change-up are modeled after his.” Trevor said about Johan.
Further endearing him to hometown fans is Trevor’s love of the area. Coming from Florida, Trevor was impressed with his new surroundings last year. “The fans and the city are unbelievable.” He loves the “gorgeous weather.” The Hops short season lasts from mid-June to mid September, the heart of the gorgeous summer weather of the area. I didn’t have the heart to tell him about the winter months. But, somehow, I believe he would enjoy those as well. His enthusiasm is not only easy to see when he takes the mound, but also infectious.
Ricky Martinez is the other freshly drafted signee on the Hops roster. Drafted out of the University of Tennessee in the 18th round, the infielder brings “playing hard” to the field. “Defense is my strength.” He said. While Ricky has his share of baseball heroes, he offered a different direction for whom he follows when on the field. “My dad.” He said. On the field or off, Ricky follows “his example”.
Like most recently drafted players over the years, Ricky described his first few days as a professional as “real quick”. Ricky continued, “Last Saturday, flew to Arizona. Had a physical and was signed the first day. Next morning, I was flying” up to Hillsboro.
Fellow draft mate, Nick Grande echoed Ricky’s impression. “I was drafted Wednesday. Then flew from Long Island to Scottsdale, Arizona on Friday. After a few days, I flew up to Hillsboro on Monday.” The whirlwind will continue as the Diamondbacks continue to sign new draftees and assign them among the farm system. Some of them will come to Hillsboro.
Javier Colina Returns
The Hops also have a new manager in Javier Colina. Long time fans will remember Javier as the hitting coach back in 2015. “That was Dansby Swanson’s first year with the organization.” Rich Burk added. Javier quickly advanced to assistant coach of the Visalia Rawhide (A+) the following year. In 2017, he received his first manager’s job heading the Diamondbacks rookie league team. After that, a quick promotion to coach of the Jackson Generals (AA) under former Hops manager Shelley Duncan who was also Javier’s first boss in 2015. This year brings a return to being a manager as well as a return to the Hillsboro Hops, the team where he first started his coaching career.
All in all, Hillsboro was in the right place at the right time to be able to draw the Hops to town. The owners feel the same. Mike McMurray said, “When the Beavers left, (we) started exploring the area. When we first looked at Hillsboro, we realized it had changed dramatically. It had changed from a farming community to a thriving and progressive community.” The Hops and Hillsboro have been a team ever since.
Fireworks After Hillsboro Hops Season Starts
After the 2019 Hillsboro Hops season starts on the 14th, their first home game will be on June 21st. Tickets are still available at the box office or you can go to the Hops website. I will be continuing to Twittercast home games this season giving half inning updates of the scores along with important plays of the game. Follow me at @GDStoker for other updates as well.
The Hops are also looking for new host families to help house the players. The Hops ask for you to live within ten miles of the stadium and provide a separate bedroom and bathroom for the player. If interested or would like to know more, you can contact Casey Sawyer of the Hillsboro Hops or go to their web page for more information.
The Hillsboro Hops season starts…
By Greg Stoker