TAMPA — Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is wearing pinstripes this week, the second straight spring training that the All-Pro is briefly joining Yankees camp in Tampa. But his greatest impact in baseball may be yet to be made. He is a major part of a group hoping to eventually lure a major-league team to Portland, Ore.
Wilson and his wife, recording artist Ciara, are charter investors in the Portland Diamond Project, which is building momentum in showing it can be a big-league market. In November, the group unveiled plans to build a new stadium along the Portland waterfront, having agreed in principle on a site. The group has reportedly built up $1.3 billion in financial commitments toward the estimated $2.5 billion price tag of acquiring a team and building a facility.
Right now, the group is hoping to to land an expansion club, but MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has tabled expansion talk until stadium situations in Tampa Bay and Oakland are resolved. Expanding to 32 teams would allow divisional realignment, keeping clubs closer together geographically and making travel less burdensome.
“Baseball is such an amazing sport,” Wilson said Friday. “The interesting part to is that (now) it’s 30 teams. I think football and basketball have a really good system because there’s 32. It divides up pretty evenly and it makes it kind of interesting have the NFC West and having the NFC South and all these division so it’s cool.”
Still, with the Rays’ search for a new stadium back to Square One after the Ybor City project was scrubbed, it is relevant that Portland is building support and capital when trying to predict the long-term future of the Rays. Montreal and Portland are widely considered the two most likely cities to land a team, and Manfred has mentioned Las Vegas, Charlotte, Vancouver and Nashville as other possibilities.
"The reality is in the Pacific Northwest, there's not too many better places to play," Wilson said. "Obviously it rains a lot, and that's during football season unfortunately. When you hit baseball seasons, really mid-April, May, June, July, August, September, that's when it's really beautiful in the Pacific Northwest, and it's really one of the most beautiful places to play. I think having a team in the Pacific Northwest would be amazing. I think that it should happen."
It definitely appears that Wilson, who was a fourth-round pick out of N.C. State and played two seasons of minor-league ball in the Rockies’ farm system, has plans to play a bigger role in baseball beyond his casual appearances in spring training.
“The game of baseball changed my life,” Wilson said. “This was the first game I ever played — and now I get to play football for my whole life ― but it’s the first thing i did. The first thing I picked up was a baseball, a baseball bat, playing when I was three, four years old. I started playing T-ball when i had just turned four. That was the game my parents took me to every day. We used to play triple-headers in Virginia, so I think keeping that tradition alive in baseball, continually making it interesting for young kids, too as well, around the world. It’s such a special sport. Obviously the tradition here (with the Yankees) is one of a kind, and to continue that around the game and around the world would be amazing.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.