The Hillsboro Hops came into existence in 2013, and quickly connected the franchise to Portland’s craft brewing industry. The team’s name honors Portland as one of America’s craft beer epicenters. For the uninitiated, hops are a plant used to brew beer. More specifically, hops are a flower that provide aroma and bitterness to beer. For people who love baseball and craft beer Hillsboro may be the hoppiest place on earth.
Arriving at the ballpark
Ron Tonkin Field, home of the Hillsboro Hops, is located on the western edge of metropolitan Portland. It is approximately 15 miles from downtown, which takes 25 to 40 minutes by car depending on traffic. The ballpark is part of Gordon Faber Recreational Complex, which has several parking spots. Parking costs $5 per vehicle.
People visiting the area without a personal vehicle are able to use TriMet’s MAX light rail service. The MAX Blue Line connects downtown with Hillsboro via Orenco Station. The Hops operate a free shuttle from the station to the stadium. Therefore, fans traveling from downtown spend $5 for a MAX day pass.
Entering the ballpark
Whether fans drive or take public transit, they enter the Gordon Faber Recreational Complex. In addition to the Hillsboro Hops ballpark the 90-acre complex includes six recreational softball fields and a multi-purpose, 7,000-seat stadium, which primarily hosts football games. Ron Tonkin Field is on the right-hand side after entering the complex from Century Boulevard. The stadium has a blue neon sign that is especially cool to see at night, as the pitcher and batter in the sign become animated.
Fans enter the ballpark to the left of home plate and proceed upstairs to the seating bowl. There is an elevator for fans with mobility issues.
Exploring the ballpark
Immediately upon entering the ballpark, fans see a series of banners. The banners display the team’s affiliation with the Arizona Diamondbacks, former players in the Majors, the promotional schedule, and a map of ballpark amenities.
At the top of the stairs fans will see the Northwest League standings and the night’s starting lineups on a wall to the left. Immediately in front of fans is the guest services counter with a smaller team shop behind it.
There are multiple concession stands on the first and third base line. The Legends Club, which is a premium seating area behind home plate, has wrap-around banners displaying the history of baseball in Portland and Oregon.
Additionally, there are multiple banners by railings throughout the ballpark that display information about former Hillsboro Hops players who are currently playing in the Majors.
Although Ron Tonkin Field does not have a wrap-around concourse in the traditional sense, it is possible for fans to walk all the way around the park. However, it requires walking on grass beyond the first and third base lines. Behind the scoreboard in centerfield people will find the Kids Zone, which is full of the typical inflatable equipment.
Eating at the ballpark
Down the first base line there is a Hot Dog Nation stand, the Deschutes Deck, and the Hop Garden. The Deschutes Deck includes the Mac Attack food cart, which specializes in macaroni and cheese. The Hop Garden is a field-level suite that hosts groups of 50 or more.
Concession stands on the third base line include North x Northwest, Hot Dog Nation, and Barley’s Smokehouse. There is also a Zenner’s Sausage food cart on the concourse.
Fans seeking specialty food items can find a list on the team’s website. Homestand specials are on the site, but it also provides first-time visitors an opportunity to preview the ballpark’s unique food offerings. Days before my visit, the Hillsboro Hops offered a hot dog concoction that had no official name. However, it generated a lot of attention on social media, and I was fortunate to have it specially-prepared for me. Some went so far to call it an abomination.
The Hoppiest Dog on Earth features a hot dog topped with marshmallow creme, crushed pineapple, strawberry puree, mini M&M’s, fruit snacks, and rainbow sprinkles. Believe it or not, it really worked together. The salt from the hot dog balanced the overload of sweetness and made for a delicious treat.
The most unique food items are clearly the hot dogs. For example, Hot Dog Nation serves a Bacon Bacon Dog, which is a bacon-wrapped hot dog topped with bacon jam, bacon cheese sauce, and crispy onions. Zenner’s Sausage has the chile relleno corndog, which is a 12-inch smoked chorizo with pepperjack wrapped in an Anaheim pepper that is battered and deep fried.
Drinking at the ballpark
As a baseball team in Oregon, the Hillsboro Hops have a lot of craft beer options. Deschutes Brewery, which is based in Bend, has the prime spot in the ballpark with its sponsorship of the deck down the first base line. Along the third base line there is a bar that serves mixed drinks, wine, and more craft beer. In addition to beers from Deschutes, fans will find brews from Crux Fermentation Project and Migration Brewing. Cider drinkers will find a stand past the Legends Club on the first base side that sells Square Mile Cider Company.
Watching the ballgame
On the night I attended, the Hops played as the Soñadores de Hillsboro as part of Minor League Baseball’s Copa de la Diversión. So, the team wore specialty jerseys. However, the game was not part of the original lineup so there were no special promotions during the game itself.
The field is oriented south-southwest from home plate to center field, which is the opposite of the typical east-northeast orientation of most baseball fields. So, fans get beautiful sunsets at the ballpark.
While enjoying the game, my wife Katie & I saw the team’s mascot greeting fans on the concourse. We quickly got up from our seats to snag a photo with Barley.
After snagging a picture with the mascot, I turned my attention to capturing some shots of the game. Although the Hillsboro Hops had Kristian Robinson on the roster, the Arizona Diamondbacks No. 2-rated prospect, I did not get any pictures of him playing.
The experience with ushers at the game was quite different. They all had signs preventing fans from walking down aisles during play. It was a nice touch that allows seated fans the opportunity to continue watching the game with minimal interruption.
It was refreshing to see a team emphasize baseball etiquette with a touch of humor.
Recapping the fan experience
While exploring the ballpark I came across a banner that express the Hillsboro Hops’ approach to fan experience. Although many teams emphasize creating a positive fan experience, only a very few display it so prominently at their ballpark. From walking in the gates to departing, the Hops’ gameday staff exudes friendliness and helpfulness.
The ballpark is easily accessible via a personal vehicle or public transit. The concession lines are quick and efficient. The food is unique and tasty. The craft beer options span the styles. The sum of all parts leads to a truly first-class fan experience.
Final: Salem-Keizer 4, Hillsboro 5