HILLSBORO, Ore. -- That last Portland Beavers season was really hard for Rich Burk. "It was never Timbers or professional baseball in the Portland area," he said. "It was supposed to be both."
But as we approached the end of the 2010 Pacific Coast League season, it was clear that it wouldn't be both. It was going to be MLS Soccer, and that last Beavers game was even harder on Burk.
"September 6, 2010 was the final game," he recalled as if it just happened yesterday, rather than 2-1/2 years ago. "More than 15,000 people there, and afterwards they ripped up home plate, which was like ripping the hearts out of the professional baseball fans in this city."
But in a cool twist of fate, that plate is still around and is about to make a return. "They're going to bring that plate back to this ballpark when it opens up on June 17," Burk said
As he said it, he was pointing to the structure rising out of the ground near Cornelius Pass Road: A brand new baseball stadium, with a short season single-A team ready to occupy the venue this summer. The Hillsboro Hops are coming. And Burk, like that home plate from the old PGE Park, will be a fixture in the stadium as well. From a perch behind home plate he'll be back behind the microphone describing the action for the radio audience.
"The first time I do a game every season I say to myself 'Can I still do this? Do I know how?' Then after a couple of innings it's 'Aaah,' and I love it."
Burk kept busy the past two years, calling events for the Pac-12 Networks and ROOT Sports out of Seattle. But for the former first baseman from Pacific University in Forest Grove, baseball is his passion.
Already he's considered how he'll welcome the Hops audience for the first game.
"I think what I'll do is tie in some history, because there's so much history of professional baseball here in Oregon," he said. "So I think I'll tie that in, while recognizing some of the people who did such an amazing job in getting this ballpark ready."
The history includes Burk. He spent ten years calling the Beavers games, "investing my soul in that team," he said. He was also the last person to call a professional baseball game in the Portland area. And he'll be the first to call the next pro baseball game that's played here.
"I hadn't really thought about it that way. But I'm honored to do it."
It wasn't supposed to be a choice between the Timbers or professional baseball. After a long 2-1/2 year wait, it'll finally be both. Again.
The Hops season will begin on June 14 in Salem, against the Volcanoes. FOX Sports Radio AM-620 will be the radio home to Burk and Hops baseball.