Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Everyone Needs to Take a Chill Pill...Except for Our Friends Up North

I have rather been enjoying the new sports station in town, 95.5 The Game. It's nice to have sports on the FM dial, and they've actually started to talk about more interesting stuff than 9 straight days of "What would you do if you were the Trail Blazers GM?" as the main topic. I get that we have a rather tough sports market, with one major sports team (NBA's Trail Blazers), a professional team in a lower division (USL's Timbers), two minor league teams (WHL's Winterhawks and PCL's Beavers), two state schools within two hours of Portland (U of O, OSU) and two colleges within town that draw some attention (Portland State, Univ of Portland) as your choices of teams to follow and talk about. The Trail Blazers dominate the airwaves and talk, simply because they are the big game in town. And the team is actually expected to do well this year, with new players coming on board, so the expectations are higher than they've been for a while.

But it's these expectations that are really becoming a source of frustation for myself. I get that this town loves this team, and we have some great new players coming in (Oden, Fernandez, Bayliss) to the mix of guys that finished 41 and 41 last year, and everyone at this point is relatively healthy with only a few minor injuries that are keeping some players from camp. Greg Oden has the potential to be a dominating center in the NBA for years to come, but so far, he's trying to recover from his micro fracture knee surgery and he's dealing with a tender ankle from an injury the past few days. When he rolled his ankle in practice, Coach McMillan, Oden and Kevin Pritchard, the GM of the team, all said, "He's fine, stop worrying", but yet we all are wondering what's going on and will this guy stay healthy. When you're the top game in town, everything about you becomes that much more exaggerated, and even things like a simple rolled ankle become the topic of conversation for hours and hours.

I get the team is important, and we all want them to do well. It's easy to sit here and think the team is still a bit snake bit, especially after getting the number one pick in 2007 only to see Oden get injured, but really the situation is what it is. Guys get banged up all the time, and the surgery that Oden has takes about a year just to get back to playing and moving more fluidly. I understand the team wanting to be cautious, but I think that the Trail Blazer fans need to exercise the same caution as well. It's not the end of the world if Oden is slow in rejoining the team, we still have a talented core that will get better with more experience and a deeper bench. We'll be in the hunt for the playoffs, and Oden just makes us that much more dangerous, but right now, it's the preseason and last time I checked, noboby wins a title simply because of what they did in the preseason.

The other recent topic is the problems that the Seattle sports market have been having, with the NBA Sonics leaving town for Oklahoma, the Mariners having the second worst record in MLB, the Seahawks struggling early, the Huskies and Cougars being collectively terrible, and MLS still a year away from town. There's nothing really positive of note, with the exception of the WNBA Storm that recently made a playoff run, and so there's the question of what happens to a town's sport reputation when the teams there collectively are terrible? I have looked back on my most recent notes and I can't recall any city experiencing anything like this, where you have no real distraction in sports. And let's face it, in our world of sound bite politics, economic woes, wars in the world, global warming about, and bad things happening around, sports can provide a true diversion from the real problems of the world.

The question is really should we in Portland care about these problems, especially since the Pacific Northwest is thought of as a region and the problems there might make folks think sports here is collectively bad. It doesn't help matters when two Seattle teams aggressively market their teams down here due to no close competition (Mariners, Seahawks), and television spends lots of time feeding their games here all the time, so they are thought of as regional teams. The new MLS team is also trying this approach to persuade soccer fans to travel up north. The thought from sports radio is that we should be concerned because of association and reputation of the Pacific Northwest matters, so we should worry.

Honestly, I couldn't disagree more with that thought. While the Trail Blazers were the laughing stock of the NBA, I didn't see a lot of Sonics fans worried about association, but rather glad their team wasn't this embarrassing. I get frustrated at sports fans from other areas assuming that just because I live near Seattle, I follow their teams out of loyalty. I have a different love for my NFL fix, and it's because of my grandmother that I follow the Broncos to this day. I follow the Mariners out of my general interest of baseball, but I'm more inclined to follow the Padres or Giants because of their farm teams around. People in Seattle don't think twice about whether their town's reputation reflects on Portland or any of their neighbors, as a matter of fact, many NBA fans that are sad at losing the Sonics have purposely said they won't follow the Trail Blazers even though the team is close by out of principle because the team is in Portland.

I get that sports fans out of the region tend to lump our cities together, and don't realize there has been quite a bit of rivalry between Seattle and Portland over the years, which carries over to matches with Winterhawks - Thunderbird, Timbers - Sounders, Ducks - Huskies, Beavers - Huskies, etc. Fans may be cordial to each other in some respects, but there is some dislike between cities. Seattle thinks of themselves as the grand jewel of the Northwest, center of commerce, trade and a large focal point, and because of it's somewhat trendy nature, Seattlites tend to think highly of their town. And of course, Portland wants to copy us in every way, because secretly they want to be just like us. Portland, on the other hand, wants so badly to be taken seriously on it's own, we try to do weird and quirky things to stand out, yet secretly we want to be accepted as a big city with things to be proud of in as normal of a way as possible. Portland wants to be hip and trendy, but do it on its own terms. And some of the trendiness might filter down from up north.

I think it's great that we have a bit of a rivalry between our cities, and quite frankly because of that rivalry, I don't really care what happens up north. I didn't want to see the Sonics leave, but honestly, none of the key players in the situation really tried hard to keep them there. If anything, I'm more upset that my Trail Blazers have to travel more because of not having a close rival anymore because of the situation, but we'll make the best of this situation and of any situation where we compare ourselves to Seattle. Because as much as Seattle wants to be trendy and hip and cosmopolitan, they want to be those things plus friendly and engaging, which is what Portland has already. I've never been in such a welcoming and friendly city, vibrant and full of energy, and willing to do things here on our own terms. I think our reputation will continue to grow and prosper, and whatever problems are happening up north will eventually cycle out or people will just stop caring about it and it won't be one of the great diversions. Just keep doing what you do, Portland, we're just fine the way we are.

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