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  • James Townsend

A Brief Look Back at Portland's Rich Baseball History

Portland, Michigan does not have a professional baseball team. But as locals can attest, that doesn't mean the city has no baseball history. On the contrary, Portland has a rich history with the sport, dating back to the 1800s, and it's on display at the Red Mill as part of the city's year-long Sesquicentennial Celebration. When it comes to famous figures, Portland's noteworthy ties to baseball date back close to the sport's origin. Local Pedro Pratt first played for Portland town teams before making a name for himself as a pitcher for Philadelphia in the National Colored League, long before baseball integrated. Portland was also home to Lieutenant Claude "Bud" Plant, Jr. - an astounding high school pitcher who went on to play for Central Michigan University. Plant may well have had a bright future ahead of him in the game, but he left college to join the U.S. Navy as a pilot, and was shot down in the Battle of the Marianas. Bud Plant Field is named in his honor. Portland baseball saw a sort of golden era after the conclusion of World War II, when the sport began to thrive in the city. Local business sponsored baseball teams, and local baseball tournaments became daily news in sports sections. The city's best local teams, in fact, would regularly play the Grand Rapids Sullivans, an amateur baseball team formed in 1953 by Grand Rapids-based businessman Bob Sullivan. For that matter, in 1948 the Portland Independents played a number of games against the MLB's Detroit Tigers! To someone looking in from the outside, this almost oddly rich baseball history might make it seem likely that Portland would have its own Minor League team by now. But unfortunately, the closest thing to a local professional team remains the Lansing Lugnuts, who are an affiliate of the MLB's Toronto Blue Jays. Still, it's good, nearby baseball, and the Lugnuts are actually newly relevant in MLB circles giving that one of their own - Marcus Stroman - just became one of the headline names of the 2019 MLB trade deadline. A native New Yorker who went to school in North Carolina, Stroman came up through the Blue Jays' system and once had an electric start for Lansing, in 2015. He's now headed back to New York to play for the Mets, who are a playoff long shot in the MLB betting picture, but who are also stacked with pitching talent. Local fans will get the chance, this year and next. to see Stroman alongside Jacob DeGrom and Noah Syndergaard in one of the league's best pitching rotations. Granted, it's not exactly the same as having a local Portlander making it big in the MLB, but we can add Stroman to the list of high-end baseball talents that have passed through the area. These figures, and some of the teams mentioned, have kept Portland's baseball spirit alive and well through the decades. And in fact, the city nearly had its own MLB star just a few years ago, when the Atlanta Braves drafted Portland-borne Tanner Allison in the 2017 MLB Draft. Allison was drafted in the 19th round, but has been unable to break in to the big leagues to this point. If and when he does make it to the MLB, Allison will be just the latest local connection to America's pastime.

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