Mike Ekstrom is well-acquainted with minor-league cities. The 26-year-old righthander played in several of them coming up through the Padres system, including Eugene, Fort Wayne, Lake Elsinore, Mobile, San Antonio, and his hometown of Portland, Oregon. He currently hangs his hat in Tampa, having earned a spot in the Rays bullpen, but he remembers where he came from and where he’s been. Like most everyone who plays professional baseball, he remembers some places more fondly than others.
On the likelihood that Portland will lose their Triple-A team: “I’ve been following that, for sure. I played there last year and most of the guys didn’t really care, but I had a vested interest with it being my hometown team. It’s not looking too good for the Beavers, to say the least. It’s a bummer for the people who go to the games there and the team has been around for so long and has so much history. For them to be getting kicked out for soccer — soccer is a pretty mainstream sport, but you would think there would be some sort of compromise that could be made. I guess that’s just how business works.”
On how players view Portland: “There are definitely cities we’d rather play in, and from what I’ve heard from everybody, they all love playing in Portland. It’s one of the favorite stops for visiting players and for all the guys who play in the city. I mean, it’s a great place to play and a great city. For them to be moving to a city like Tucson, if that is where it ends up being, no one would be excited for that from a player’s standpoint.”
On where guys like to play: “For me, playing in Portland was awesome; that was always a place I wanted to play. I think it’s partially about where guys are from. Guys from the East coast like playing on the East coast. My roommate was from South Carolina, so when we had a team in Mobile, he loved playing there. Me being from Oregon, I hated playing there. Conversely, when we were in Sacramento last year, I looked forward to that trip because it’s a nice city close to where I’m from. Him being from South Carolina, he didn’t look forward to it at all. Where you’re from, what makes you comfortable, and how you were brought up makes you like what you like. The guys from Texas love playing in Texas and for a lot of us it wasn‘t our favorite place.”
On traveling from city to city: “Playing in the minor leagues, you see some of the best cities and some of the worst cities in the country. I’ve been to almost all the states, and to a lot of different places, so it’s been a great way to see and experience all the different cities, good and bad. But it‘s actually tricky, because a lot of a minor leaguer’s perspective of a city is confined to the hotel and the ballpark, and what is around the hotel. You could be staying in a great city, but the hotel is on some truck stop and you never really get to see the city. Or you could be staying in a city with a nice downtown hotel and a nice ballpark, and you think that it’s the greatest place ever, but five minutes away it’s a bunch of ghettos and slums. So, our perspective is somewhat narrow about cities, but we still get to see a lot of cool places, for sure.”