May 02, 2001 11:00 pm

By Pat Perkins

Observer Staff Writer

The best bet to bring Amtrak back through Eastern Oregon may be Major League Baseball.

At least thats what Lynn Lashbrook and the Oregon Baseball Campaign believe.

A major league team in Portland could draw enough fans from Eastern Oregon and Boise to warrant bringing back passenger train service along the Interstate 84


Baseball brings a political cohesiveness, Lashbrook said. Baseball in no way binds (the effort to bring back Amtrak), it actually helps that.

If you have Amtrak going again, people in Boise would much rather go to Portland than Seattle.

Lashbrook, owner of, a sports-agent training agency in Portland, thinks a major league team could move to Portland as soon as next season. A lot of ifs stand in the way, but Portland has advantages over other cities.

For one thing, Portland Family Entertainment has invested nearly $40 million to renovate PGE Park in Portland, formerly Civic Stadium, and that facility could serve as an interim home for a team until a stadium is built. PGE has a 20,000 seating capacity and 30 luxury boxes.

Lashbrook grew up in rural Kansas and became a fan of the Kansas City Royals. He was in La Grande last week working with Eastern Oregon University officials on developing a sports management program through distance education.

Baseball is his passion, however, and he foresees an Oregon team developing a rivalry with the Seattle Mariners.

Several teams are poised to move in the coming years. The Oakland, Minnesota and Florida franchises are seeking new stadiums, but none of those efforts are proceeding well. Montreal has been drawing poorly and has been rumored to leave Canada for years. Just last week, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays announced they will explore a possible sale.

Nobodys going to buy the team and keep it there, Lashbrook said, who points out that Portland, as the 22nd-largest metropolitan area in the nation, is the largest city without a baseball team. Cincinnati, Kansas City and Milwaukee operate in smaller markets, and Tampa Bay is the 21st-largest market.

But a lot must happen before baseball comes to Oregon. For one thing, a team would need an owner. The Oregon Baseball Campaign is not an ownership group, but is rather focusing on passing a bill in the Legislature that would provide $150 million in lottery bonds toward a stadium.

One of the toughest things weve done in the campaign is doing this without an owner, Lashbrook said.

That hasnt made getting the stadium bill passed any easier. Lashbrook points out that the lottery bonds would come from economic development money funds that cannot be spent on schools or health care.

The return on investment would include $15-20 million annually in payroll income tax alone. Eastern Oregons benefit could be Amtrak.

Its an economic catalyst, Lashbrook said. Its 81 conventions. Baseball is an economic engine. Its not just rich guys spitting tobacco.