February 27, 2001 11:00 pm

The boys of summer from Portland are stepping up to bat to gather in money for a proposed major league baseball park.

Instead of stealing bases, however, they are trying to dip their hands into coveted Oregon Lottery funds $150 million to be exact.

Theres only so much money to go around, however. And the baseball promoters are proposing to dip into money that Gov. John Kitzhaber has already earmarked for rural economic and community development projects.

Kitzhaber has requested that the state use more than $200 million in lottery funds for rural water systems, sewer lines and roads in the next two years. The baseball park proposal directly competes for those funds.

The governor recognizes what most people in the hinterlands understand: Eastern Oregon and other remote parts of the state have been lagging behind the Willamette Valley in economic growth. Thankfully, Kitzhaber is willing to stand up and protect the interests of rural Oregon.

Were not sure that Rep. Mark Simmons, R-Elgin, is as protective of rural Oregons interests as the governor. House Speaker Simmons and more than 50 of the Oregon Legislatures 90 members, have signed onto the baseball proposal. Maybe Simmons would like to see the baseball park proposal fully debated in the House and Senate, but it looks like he is cozying up to the Portland interests a little more than he should.

If a major league baseball park in the Rose City is such a wonderful opportunity, why dont financiers like Paul Allen step up to the plate and provide the funding? Is it because business people like Allen are astute enough to understand that a baseball club in a city Portlands size could easily lose money, strike out and be wooed to some other more lucrative market?

Were glad that Kitzhaber is standing his ground on the baseball park issue. Through his spokesman, Bob Applegate, the governor said the state is not in a position to afford $150 million for that type of facility.

The fact is rural communities need more help than the sports promoters in Portland. Anyone who does not understand that should be benched.

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