The bleachers are empty, the dugouts are bare: the novel coronavirus pandemic has shuttered sporting events across the country this spring, from the stadiums of the major leagues to corner lot pick-up games.

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But what if there’s a silver lining to this abrupt closure?

Rob Neyer is a sports writer and the commissioner of The West Coast League, a collection of 12 amateur collegiate baseball teams including the Portland Pickles. He said it's hard to know what will happen, either with the league he administers or the future of Major League Baseball, but he speculates this could be a blessing in disguise for the major league aspirations of the Portland Diamond Project.

Artist's renderings show what a baseball stadium in Portland might look like, with seats behind home plate featuring a view of the Fremont Bridge.

Artist's renderings show what a baseball stadium in Portland might look like, with seats behind home plate featuring a view of the Fremont Bridge.

Courtesy of the Portland Diamond Project

“Major League Baseball has literally never expanded because of internal, organic dynamics,” Neyer said.

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Historically, he said, the league has only added new franchises because of some outside factor: a sudden need to generate income quickly, or political or legal pressure.

“When I think about expansion,” Neyer mused, “I think about what’s happening outside of baseball that might cause them to discuss this in a serious way.”

There’s a pretty clear answer to that question right now: the owners of MLB franchises are poised to take a big financial hit this year. And that could make adding a few new teams to the existing roster of Major League Baseball teams a lot more attractive.

“One can imagine baseball’s revenues dropping to a point where they are looking to generate more revenue in a hurry,” Neyer said.

The obvious way to do that is to expand, because, while owning a major sports franchise is an almost universally profitable venture, they don’t come cheap.

“Anyone joining the league is going to pay a number in the ten figures,” Neyer said.

Of course, there are myriad factors that could inhibit MLB in Portland, and any potential expansion is still years away.

But if you find yourself sitting in the bleachers on a warm spring evening in 2030, watching Portland’s major leaguers step up to the plate, think back to the summer of 2020–and how the current quiet spring might have inadvertently paved the way.

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