Written Q&A: K.L. Wombacher on the future of Hillsboro entertainment
The Hops have a 10-year contract with Major League Baseball and the Hillsboro GM is looking to the future asking, 'What does a premium outdoor entertainment facility look like?'
I’ve been wanting to catch up with K.L. Wombacher for some time. Not only were the Hops one of my first beats as a professional journalist, but the Hillsboro president/general manager just navigated his franchise through some awfully tough waters.
The Hops, a Single-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, had their entire season canceled in 2020. Then they survived Minor League Baseball’s downsizing in December and just played their first year as a full-season franchise in 2021 — all the while sharing their Ron Tonkin Field home with the Vancouver Canadians.
Wombacher joined The I-5 Corridor podcast on Wednesday. Here are some of the highlights, including some big plans for stadium expansion.
This is a fun one for me because one of my first beats here was working out at the Hillsboro Argus with Jeff Smith and Dan Itel, and we got to tell the stories as you guys were building this thing that first year of the Hops. Now you guys are somehow eight seasons in and have won what, three championships? It seems like things are going pretty well. I don’t know if you’re the nostalgic type, but has this all gone by fast? And can you put that in perspective after moving from Yakima?
First off, what a crew that was. You and Dan and Jeff. When I look back at the three of you guys and seeing your careers blossom, it was great. And I think a lot of your work back in the day — we had a lot of coverage back then — I think it really helped make us the baseball team in town. And that was one of our primary goals. There was a basketball team in town. A soccer team in town. A hockey team in town. And now, there’s a baseball team back in town and the media coverage really helped us elevate our brand quickly and give us credibility. There are times when that feels like yesterday.
And there are times when that feels like 20 years ago.
To see the fanbase we’ve been able to grow — it really hit us during the pandemic when our season was canceled and we had to figure out how we were going to survive financially. The only option we had was to not refund money. We had a lot of money that we had collected from season ticket holders, sponsors, mini plan holders and groups for the 2020 season, and if we had to refund that money it would have put us out of business. And we had 96 percent of season ticket holders that said, “Nope. Don’t need a refund. Let’s push it forward.” And truthfully, that saved us financially. But it also made us realize how much support we’ve built and how much people like us in this community.