Monday, February 25, 2008

Weird Week in Sports

If you had told me that there would be a weird week like this in sports in our area, I'd have probably said you were nuts. But then again, strange stuff happens in threes and we have three of the more bizarre, sad stories in sports.

A lot of attention was turned towards a recent Molalla - Estacada girls basketball game that turned ugly when a coach wouldn't leave the court after being ejected. The official tried to get the coach to leave the court, but after he wouldn't the crowd erupted into separate brawls and spats. There were accusations of insults leveled at both sides, and accusations of bad sportsmanship, rude behavior, and general disrespect on both sides. Since I wasn't there, I can only take the word of the reports and stories, and say that all parties are sad that this issue blew up so badly. It's as simple as obeying the official, and if you've been ejected, you leave the court. We've all been at games where the officiating is questionable or seeming to favor one side over another, but there's no excuse in attacking a ref or disobeying a direct rule. As much as I love the antics of the Timbers Army of which I am a member, I've never felt that we would physically attack an official or do them harm. Yes, we've called officials all sorts of names that can't be mentioned in family newspapers, but we keep a line at the insults and don't cross it. It may not be sportsmanlike in some respects, but then again I can't think of any reason where assault would be considered acceptable towards an official.

Meanwhile, the Portland Winterhawks have been asked by the WHL to fix their operation. The first WHL American franchise to win a Memorial Cup, the team has a rich history of titles, great players that have had great NHL careers, crazy crowds, and some of the best sports fun in town. Now, the team seems to be a shell of themselves, playing to sparse crowds and losing a record number of games (up to 52 total losses as of this post for this season). The WHL is concerned about the lease and the front office, and have asked the team to address both concerns. The folks owning the arena, the Portland Trail Blazers, have said the lease is fine but you need to get more people to come to the games. However, the team is just struggling with injuries and youth. It's the same cycle the Trail Blazers were in back in 2003, when the team was struggling at the gate with a team that nobody wanted to come watch inside a town that didn't care. Paul Allen put the team up for sale, and tried to find someone to take the team off his hands after his ploy to refinance the Rose Garden financing didn't work and the arena was put into bankruptcy holding. The bad apples were traded away, new leadership was brought in, and new players matching a better attitude came in and the results are obvious. The Trail Blazers are struggling right now, but being the youngest team in the league, they are playing near .500 ball with a full arena, a city falling in love with them all over, and the media drooling over the possibilities. I don't know the Hawks ownership, but if the league calls you out, there's got to be some truth to what is being said about the team. Regardless, it's a bad situation and one that needs to be resolved because this team and the hockey fans deserve better.

Racing fans are feeling out in the cold after the merger of Champ Car and the IRL went through, which in effect cancelled Portland's Champ Car race normally run in June. I'll admit that while I never attended a race personally, I watched the race on TV more than a few times and I paid attention to the results. It's a source of civic pride to see our town host racing's best and put on a great show, which happened for 24 years. The race falls victim to declining attendance plus the issues that first caused the IRL - Champ Car split. Back in the late 80's, Indy Car dominated racing attention and the media, and race drivers were very public figures. But the Indy 500 owners wanted more attention and control over the races, and tried to mandate teams joining a league, the IRL. Some teams and races didn't want to participate, and they formed Champ Car and set up a competing circuit. About that time, NASCAR started gaining popularity and hasn't looked back since while Indy and IRL struggled to keep some attention towards them. The merger will ensure that the best talent hits Indy during Memorial Day weekend and the Indy 500 race, but what you end up having in other areas is cancelled races and hurt feelings. It's hard to compete with the NASCAR marketing machine, they do a great job marketing races that essentially are long races with guys turning left for 3 hours. That being said, Portland's race falls victim, mostly because of struggles to get attendance up and no major corporate sponsorship.

What all three things remind me of is the seriousness of the world of sports, how we take some issues and make them bigger than they are. It's important for folks to follow the rules and be good sports, but at the same time, we've allowed sports to become less of the fun thing we played growing up and more like a business. And the thing about business is that it's all about the bottom line. It doesn't matter about winning, losing, effort, talent, it's simply making the results profitable. In a way it's sad because the innocence and purity of sports suffers, because the game results often don't matter in relation to the bottom line. What I'm hoping we can learn about all of this is that sports mirror real life closely, but ultimately sports needs to put the games and playing first. Maybe it's a simplistic wish of sorts, but at the same time, how a team plays matters more to me than wins and losses any day.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

At least it's not raining..but I actually don't mind the rain

I don't mind the rain. I know that's something even the most long time Oregonians have trouble saying, but honestly, rain isn't bad. It keeps things green, it makes our air clean, and you can still go outside and do things in the rain. Investing in some great rain gear was something I immediately did when I moved here, and it's the best investment I could make. That, and learning the Oregon fashion rule of dressing in layers. You get too hot, pull off a layer, too cold, add another layer. It's a small price to pay for living in such a cool place.

Why I started with this seems odd, but I have been going back to read old blogs of mine. I tend to write as I think, which makes my style very conversational but the editor in me cringes at some of the text that's been published here. Yes, I would do things slightly differently in some posts, but unlike George Lucas, I'll leave well enough alone. There is an energy and vibe to something that isn't completely polished, sort of a raw feeling. I will still spell check each blog, cause I may not be in the mood to edit much but spelling counts.

Blogging has turned into a decent passion of mine, even if I don't get a chance to publish something as much as I want. Recently, I watched Brandon Roy represent our fair city in the All Star Weekend (with some huge help from LaMarcus Aldridge), girl and I went to Cape Lookout to explore sites for an upcoming camping trip, and I've dealt with about every insane person I know at my work. I love my job, but honestly, it's crazy to think that people can work this fast and not have it start to wear on you. The new corporate motto of do more with less is now replaced with do more with less quickly but don't make mistakes. I don't live to work, but rather work to give me a chance to live and do the fun things I want to do.

It's important for me to be this way as I move into the last few months before my wedding. I know things will be stressful, and things will pull us in all sorts of different directions. But if you love the person more than anything and you talk and communicate to each other, there's nothing that can't be resolved. That's not meant to be simplistic, but I think that many of us (myself included) have spent so many years stressing to keep up with this and that and being everywhere that after a while, it just gets old. I couldn't care less about having the nicest car, best looking phone, or cool toys, I'd rather be happy and comfortable with who I am and where I am in my life. Trust me, it's taken a long time to get here and it's not been easy, but it does make dealing with the crap of the world more tolerable. I'm sure that in a few weeks, my nerves will be frazzled again and I'll be stressing about something else, but I'll use the knowledge of this to keep things in perspective. Because in the end of everything, it matters not what you own or the things that you have but instead the people you've touched and the things experienced.

And no, I'm not quitting my job to write Hallmark cards.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Not to Take Shots at Anyone

I heard a story that a 2o-something applied for a job at the bank I work for, and didn't take the job because they only offered them 2 weeks of paid vacation, and he wanted 4 weeks guaranteed. You know how the grapevine is around offices, so I'm sure the story has grown in proportion and stupidity over how many times it's been told. This would be much like the tales we all heard from our parents about the crap they had to deal with when they were kids, including massive snow, losing shoes, doing homework in the dark by counting rocks, etc. When my mom told me these stories, I laughed and said whatever because I was a teenager at the time and figured like any young person, I knew better than anyone. I then went to the town she grew up in, Vona, Colorado, population 40, and realized that she wasn't making a lot of this stuff up.

But it was after hearing this story that I realized that I'm now not part of the younger generation. I don't get the new popular music trends, I think most reality TV is absolute shit because it tries too hard (I like my reality TV absolutely train wreck style) to make people care about other people for some apparent reason, the clothes don't make sense, and I'm not too sure of the whole "let's get everything pierced or tatooed" approach. But I understand that many older generations say the same of their younger counterparts, so not being in on this doesn't concern me. What does is the theme of most young people that I meet in that they have expectations that everything should be available to them now, regardless of whether they work for it or deserve it.

My mom's generation worked very hard for things, but spent a great deal of time suppressing feelings and emotions because they were bad. Well, that's what it seems to be according to stories I've heard from her before she passed, but in dealing with my older relatives, they just don't seem to be in touch with their feelings or emotions but instead keep their poker face or happy face showing all the time. They fit the Baby Boomer tag if you had to label them, although I hate such tags. Some of my older cousins represent the next generation that came along, which represents the free thinking/hippie generation. Free your mind, free your soul, free your thinking, it's all about loving the earth and each other was the main mantra, but the problem you could see here was dealing with overly aggressive thinkers or the establisment. The hippies may have been free thinkers, but getting them to collectively meet up or try and change things seemed rather difficult unless it was a large party or a Grateful Dead show.

My generation came along in the corporate greed/prep generation where greed is good, labels are great, money is power, and power is good. Apparently, we forgot the rule that absolute power corrupts absolutely, and that wanting everything and feeding the greed just meant acquiring more stuff and more stress. But in dealing with the parents from boomers and hippies, most of us were either not told to deal with our feelings or do whatever your feelings tell us to do. There were remnants of the older times, as I do recall corporal punishment in schools and being spanked there a few times. Because many folks were exposed to hippies either as parents or teachers, many gen X people became free thinkers, idealists, and swore that no matter what happened, our kids wouldn't have to deal with any of the same crap we did growing up.

What this has caused this most current generation to do is have expectations that can't even begin to materialize. Parents are trying so hard to give their kids everything that they didn't have and protect them from the reality of the world, kids expect everything to be this easy. I hear stories about kids not receiving failing grades because their self esteem would be crushed, and parents suing schools to get their kids playing time on sports teams. It's no wonder that this generation has reacted like this, because parents have made it seem like this is how life works. It doesn't matter if you work hard or do what you are supposed to do, it's all about making sure that the kids get whatever they want. If you don't like something, sue somebody or bitch about it long and loud enough that it might change.

Before this seems like an essay on sour grapes here, my point behind this is simply that I think younger folks could really stand to learn some lessons about life - it's not always fair, working hard means you learn about effort and if this opportunity doesn't work there's another one coming, not everything needs to be handed to you on a silver platter, things may not make sense now but it will at some point. Why spare them the truth about life, that things don't work themselves out in a 22 minute timeframe like on TV and sometimes you can't waive your magic wand and make trouble go away. And no matter what you might hear, instant gratification only bring artificial joy. I learned a lot from not having things handed to me, and everything I have now is based on effort, hard work and taking advantage of opportunities.

But as I prepare to get married in April and have kids soon, I'm starting to understand some of the reasons why a parent may want to shield a child from the world. We live in a rather fucked up place sometimes, and there's lots of war, poverty, crime, greed, and other crud that sometimes defies explanation. You want to protect your children from this, because it's important that they feel comfortable and appreciated in life. That's great, but at some point, the world and life is going to rear it's head at them, and the sooner kids learn the truth about things, the better. I don't want to sound harsh, but honestly, is it more important to protect kids from the crap of the world or give them the tools and understanding to deal with the crap that comes up so they can handle it on their own?

I admit I'm just one person talking here, and I'm basing a lot of this on limited interactions with kids and some generalizations I've experienced. I don't want to sound like a crazy old guy telling kids to get a hair cut or get off my lawn, because I don't want to be a negative force. What I want the kids of this generation to understand is simply to live life and understand the golden rules as noted above. Life isn't fair, it may not make sense, some people may seem to be more lucky, bad stuff will happen, and there's crap going on in the world BUT life is a gift and it should be thought of that way. It doesn't matter if you become a famous person or someone that works in an office, it's important to contribute to society in the best way that you can by being the best person you can. I can't wait to be a father, because my kids will learn this plus a lot of other cool stuff...and I'll be proud of them no matter what because they'll understand what life is really all about.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Weather Is Getting A Bit Nicer..

My social schedule lately has been crazy, as I haven't been able to update this in over a week. That's what happens when you are so popular and someone close to you has a cold, but it appears that things are settling down a bit.
  • The Trail Blazers continue to play up and down, with a win over Chicago last Wednesday that I saw in person, and two tough losses in Detroit and Indiana. The Trail Blazers have played well in stretches, and now they are facing the tough stretch of the season, where the games take on more meaning and it's important to remain mentally and physically tough. This team continues to overachieve in so many areas, but they also show their youth with bad passes, tough shots, and making mistakes. Right now, we seem very tired, so I would expect that the All Star Break comes at a good time, allowing us to rest some weary bodies and minds for the stretch run.
  • The NFL Pro Bowl was on today, couldn't tell you who won or if anyone even cares. So you put your all star game after the season, and then watch as most of the major stars opt out to rest. It would be tough to take a week off during the year to have something like what baseball or basketball does, but I think the NFL needs to do something to make this more meaningful. Although, a trip to Hawaii in February doesn't have enough meaning??
  • Girl and I saw Cloverfield last night, and it was everything that we expected and so much more. It's unlike anything I've ever seen put on film and the experience is something that I can't put justice to in a few words. Yes, it's a monster movie, and yes, you feel like you've been run through a roller coaster a few times in watching the shaky images, but I've never seen a thriller like this before. This movie causes you to ask so many questions, like what you do if confronted with such an experience, and would you go back for someone even if you knew it would risk your life. The special effects are amazing, and like many of JJ Abrams' works, there are more questions than answers raised when watching it, and while Cloverfield is a great movie on its own part, you could trudge through the theories and back story and get wrapped in a heck of a story. If you do go see this, I recommend preparing for a dizzying night, cause I'm still a bit nauseated the next day from seeing it. Some motion sickness pills might be good, too.
  • The Timbers season is fast approaching, and I'm happy that it's beginning to be spring. I don't mind the snow and rain, but yesterday's nice day outside got me wishing for a bit of spring fever. Around here in Oregon, you learn to do things outside or just stay inside for weeks and weeks and get a little cabin fever. That's why you dress in layers about here, but we get some greenery around here, that's for sure. But spring means soccer, and I'm excited for the 2008 campaign.
  • I've been watching with some amusement the recruiting game in college football, and the story from Nevada about Kevin Hart. In case you missed it, Kevin wanted so badly to be recruited to play college football, that he created his own press conference to announce his choice. Too bad the schools hadn't recruited him at all, which lead to him publically apologizing for his ruse. The whole recruiting game is such a mess right now, and nobody seems to care about it as long as people make money and kids get exposure. When I was in high school and kids signed, it was a small gathering at the school where kids could celebrate their accomplishments with fellow athletes, and it was kept in perspective. Now, you have websites and channels dedicating hours and hours of coverage based on the potential of where someone might go. Nothing like putting some extra pressure on a decision that for most kids is one of the first big decisions they'll decide on. Instead of adults keeping some perspective on this, they are caught up in the dollar signs and attention like everyone else. I don't blame Kevin Hart for wanting to play college football, and if we are going to blame him for trying to have his moment in the sun, we should also blame the member institutions that continue to allow outside forces (agents, boosters, third party groups) to influence the process, the coaches for not helping kids make the right decisions, and the parents for allowing the circus to happen. I understand the desire to play on the big stage, but it's important sometimes to keep things in check before cashing the checks or watching your press clippings.
  • Besides, being a sports celebrity means having people incessentantly pick over parts of your life to no end, like there is no real private life. When we think of celebrities, we think of the money, the attention, the glamour, the ability to do anything or get anything you want. The downside is the hangeroners, the press tapping into your world 24 by 7, websites posting rumours of any validity from reliable to completely madeup, the sacrifices made by family and friends during the season, the stress and wear and tear on a body and mind, and the ultimate question of what happens after the playing days are done. Not that I expect any of these answers to be easy or perfect, but in the pursuit of sports, even I tend to forget that these athletes are human and they have the same frailties that we all share. They have to do what they do in front of thousands in person and TV without a safety net or a do-over. The only thing I've ever asked of the teams I support is that they give it all they have, and if they do, I can love them no matter what. Think it's easy to be that way, try living through the Broncos Super Bowl failures or the dark days of the Trail Blazers, and see if you can truly think that. It's not easy, but at the same time, I don't follow the bandwagon like a lot of fans. It's easy to root for people on top, but try and stick with your team through the ups and downs. If you can, I can say you are a true fan.
Talk to you all soon.