Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday Greetings and Ramblings

It’s getting towards the end of the year, and I’m already getting nostalgic for the season. Holidays haven’t always been a good time for me, with a divided family and visiting multiple places during the season just to see everyone just to keep the underlying tension at bay as much as possible. The season is stressful enough to not have additional drama in the interpersonal realm, but when you have a mother and father that couldn’t be in the same room with each other, it adds an element to everything.

Lately, the holidays have been getting better because there have been many positive memories created, courtesy of girl and her extended family, and my amazing collective of friends. Despite the holiday weather down in Vegas last year and the snow around here, I had a great time last year and I was happy that girl and I got a chance to go back to Vegas in August. I’ve also been surrounded by lots of great people that accept me for who I am, and I’m working to address some of my own shortcomings as a person. It’s amazing what you can do when you feel that people are really behind you regardless, and it’s something I forget to acknowledge even if it’s something I’m well aware of.

I wouldn’t be playing defense on a soccer squad, or blogging full time about the Timbers, or preparing for our house to be expanded to include a cat room without the full inspiration of many great people. Unlike past years, I didn’t have time to create a holiday card, something that is part of the tradition of this time of year. I do enjoy getting cards and letters from all over the world to hear how people are doing, especially those that I don’t get a chance to see very often. It’s a peek into the window of their lives, and it shares a little something with those far away, and it’s a nice touch. However, I was working through many projects and couldn’t find the time to put words to paper.

I love being busy most of the time, because lately, it means experiencing things rather than just sitting around watching the world fly by. I was on that track for many years when I lived by myself up in Northwest Portland. Now, here I am just 4 years later, and my life is far more active, far more alive, and far more memorable. It hasn’t been without a lot of work, sacrifice, and sweat, and with many things, it hasn’t always gone as smoothly as you’d like. Nothing worth it is ever as easy as you might want it to be, but then again, it wouldn’t be worth it otherwise.

So as I sit here and think nostalgically about my last year, I’m thankful about many things about my life. I have the most amazing wife, who is the partner in crime that I’ve been looking for. She’s smart, sexy, funny, and inspires me while also driving me absolutely nuts. I’ve also been surrounded by some of the most amazing friends from various circles, who have been wonderful as well. I wouldn’t trade the folks in Row N for anything, and I love being able to spend time with such a good group of people. We’ve been able to stand side by side for many Timbers matches, while putting on a movie festival in June and celebrating another Thanksgiving at Edgefield with the entire crew. The group has grown, and now includes members of my bowling team, the Gutter Punks.

I can’t think of a better group of folks to bowl with each week than this group, and while the group has changed with kclovespdx moving back east, we are still a tight knit fun bunch. We suffer from some of the same pressures while bowling, because when one of us struggles, we seem to all struggle. But we win as a team, and we lose as a side, and I’m already looking forward to more terms of bowling with this bunch. I’m also proud to be part of the Timbers Army Football Club, as I’ve discovered a love of actually playing football instead of just watching. I may not be the best player, but I’m improving and enjoying myself, which is all you can ask at points. Well, that, and ask for more goals!!

I’ve also entered a new chapter in my life with being part of the team that blogs about the Timbers on a regular basis. My old blog site was the starting point of talking about the things I love, and suddenly, I’m now in a platform that is read all over the world. I’ve received many positive comments, and I’ve learned a bit from some of the negative news, but that’s part of being a professional writer. I know that I’m not going to please everybody with my writing, but at the same point, you respect their comments. And more importantly, you write with passion and heart, and show enthusiasm with your words. People love reading things that show some depth behind them, and I think I’ve found my voice in that arena and I stand by the results.

I also am finding myself more in love with Portland each day, as I continually discover wonderful things about this amazing part of the world. We should all feel lucky to coexist in such beautiful parts, with the hidden gems that anchor each neighborhood here. It’s great to go to different parts of town and check out the bars, restaurants, theatres, and shops and experience everything the Rose City has to offer. I can’t think of a better place to live, but living here isn’t without its challenges.

There are those here that want to keep this city weird, to coin a phrase that is often mentioned around here. They want so hard to keep things unique here that they resist any and all changes if it doesn’t seem to make sense, but by the same token, change is the dynamic force that keeps things fresh and makes us appreciate many of the things we get to experience. It’s a matter of keeping perspective on growth and making sure it doesn’t run completely amuck, which I think we do a good job of around here for the most part. I wish the process to get things done around here wasn’t so convoluted at points, but we can’t have everything.

Portland loves to talk about things and when it’s time to make a decision; it’s time to talk more to try and gain a consensus. Not every decision is going to be agreed upon by everyone, which is why sometimes tough decisions have to be made regardless. While I’m not opposed to discussion about topics, I’ve found that this city is beginning to suffer for a problem that we see all over the world.

As a society, we’ve lost the ability to carry on a rational discussion for the purpose of trying to see another person’s perspective. Instead of learning more about other sides and trying to gain understanding about how others might see things, any hot topic issue turns into a war of who can yell the loudest while having the most quotable catch phrases. And perhaps the worst trump card of all is the fact that if someone can’t refute the point, they turn the attack into a credibility war and make it personal. It’s a nasty game, and something that I have a huge distaste for, even if I get that politics now often works like that. I wish that people could respect differences and truly do what’s right for the collective of folks, but sometimes, that appears to be too much to ask.

I’m not sure if that’s because people have become more insular in their living, relying on email and chat to contact people instead of face to face talking. Or maybe it’s the relative anonymity of the Internet, which allows people to say what they want or be who they want to be without much repercussion that affects this. It might even be the society in general where everything is available all the time, from television to conversation, and there’s no longer barriers of time or money to do many of the things people want to do. You want to know about news, it’s right there, you can watch sports anytime, so why wait? While I love the ability to use technology for good, I also think that there are downsides to being this connected all the time.

I was at a party a few weeks ago when we were all talking about friendship, and I made the joke about what real friends are. They’re the people that you can borrow money from, or will answer your phone call at 3 AM because you need to talk with them, or you can ask them to help you move, and they’ll drop what they are doing because they care. With many people that use social networking tools, they develop a list of friends that might make them feel connected, but at least for me, I feel good about the number of people I actually know in person that I can count as friends. I’ve had face to face conversations with them, and feel connected on some level, which is great. And while I don’t get to see them at times as much as I’d like, that still doesn’t change the fact that I feel blessed to have them around. I can even say that on Facebook, I know the majority of my friends personally, and can say I’ve seen them in person.

But none of these issues changes the fact that we’ve live in a wonderful time, and during this time of year, we all think of the things that truly mean something to us as we spend time with the people we care about. It’s the greatest gift to feel part of something truly special, and have your place in life, and after all this time, I’ve found that place. And I wouldn’t give up this wonderful gift for anything. Have a great holiday season, however you might choose to celebrate!!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Wonderful World of Diversions

I remember spending a lot of time during my childhood watching sports. I could spend hours reading the entire sports section of the newspaper, devouring any and all news and statistics that I could get my hands on. It was a diversion from the mundane details of going to school, dealing with chores, and the other things that kids normally dealt with. I spent many a day in my backyard dreaming of what it would be like to play professionally, and dreaming of making the big catch or throwing the winning pass. I don't know of anybody that didn't have similar daydreams to this, because it offered us a release from the dreary details to a supposedly wonderful life of money and influence.
Over the years, the diversions that sports offered have been shoved out of the way by the realities of life in general. Because of the money involved, everything takes on a greater importance and situations get blown out of proportion over one great play or missed call. Marketing makes sure that every bit of what we watch is sponsored and crafted in such a way to draw attention to what the ad wizards want you to see. We all know about the salaries that athletes make, the pressures they deal with, the temptations they face, and despite all of that, there aren't many people that wouldn't trade their lives with their favorite athlete for even just one day.
I try to keep as much perspective on things as I can, trying to believe that sports results aren't the end of the world. I do take losses for my favorite teams better than I have, because I realize that the sun comes up the next day and there's always the thought of next year and the next plan. It's part of the wonderful rebirth that happens in sports each year when the season starts anew, and everyone can put out the optimism that it might finally be their team's year. While the economics of the situation may actually prevent that from happening, there's always surprises every year, as one team does better than they should while a beloved team falls apart for some mystery reason. Yet, fans keep that optimism going as much as they can, because that's what fans do. They remain loyal as best they can because the good times are worth waiting for, and the bad times aren't nearly as bad as they might appear.
And that bit of perspective remains hard to keep in mind when the realities continue to rear their ugly head, because life doesn't slow down for anything. The sports pages used to be about statistics and stories about upcoming games, now they cover as much legal news and analysis as many legal publications. The personal problems of athletes get trotted out all the time to be put on display, and fans spend countless hours debating the merits of an ethical dilemma because it's no longer enough to know a player's statistics, but you need to know more about a player's personal life than ever before. And the press will find things out because things have a way of coming out even if you don't want them to.
Tiger Woods had a very carefully crafted image as a wonderful guy and an incredible competitor, and with the news of his marital problems, the entire thing has come crashing down around him. He's apologized for the issue, and simply disappeared, which is amazing for a guy that for many months was everywhere. You couldn't avoid seeing something he was pitching, and now he's another guy dealing with a marital problem. Marriages in general have a 50% success rate, yet because there is a situation involving infidelity, a supposedly happy family situation and the world's best golfer, and suddenly, you can't avoid hearing news about it no matter where you go.
It's part of the cycle of the media to build up heroes on pedestals then chronicle their success or failure to give all of us a ringside seat to watch everything unfold. Although I don't think that is entirely true, because for every guy or gal that has their life fall apart, there's plenty that keep their noses clean and remain out of the public eye as much as athletes can. It's just more compelling to watch someone who seems to have it all going on for themselves suddenly face the same temptations and issues we all deal with. I can't imagine what it's like to hit a golf ball 300 yards in a straight line on demand, but I can relate to the dynamics of marriage. I've had to face a lot of my own personal shortcomings in dealing with things face on, and some of those issues I've dealt with better than most. I used to think that loving someone more than anything was enough to get you through all issues, and I've learned that sometimes that isn't nearly enough. You may love someone, but if you can't communicate what's going on with you or how you feel about something, none of that matters. And while I'm not dealing with anything as remotely intense as what Woods is dealing with, I can say that I've never worked as hard for something as much as I have with this, much less dealing with most of the world watching your every move.
But to say that's the entire media cycle is very short sighted because I think they report on what's most interesting and try to maintain a semblance of balance. That's rather hard to do because some things just end up with more attention for whatever reason. They report on what's compelling, interesting and relevant and nothing draws a good story like a heartwarming story of redemption, rebirth or success or a tale of complete destruction and mayhem. It's like the two ends of a bell curve when it comes to attention, and that's why we spend lots of time talking about Woods and less time about the guys that are doing things right. We talk about franchises running themselves into the ground like the Raiders NFL side or the troubles of the Trail Blazers, yet the wonderful story of the rebirth of the Saints has been relatively ignored by most of the nation. I think this is because of one very simple reason - it's hard to get attention unless you do something completely amazing or devastating. We aren't as interested in the status quo, but give us the thrill of winning and the agony of dreams crashing around us and we just can't stop talking about it.
Nothing proves this more that the death today of Chris Henry, a football player that was supremely talented but troubled. The man made more news in the early part of his career getting into and out of trouble, getting suspended for many transgressions. He was recently resigned by the Bengals and was rehabbing himself from injury when he got invovled in a domestic dispute yesterday and sustained injuries falling out of a moving truck. He died earlier this morning, and we're subjected to numerous stories about his life, his career, and the incident itself. It's incredibly tragic, and nobody should have to lose their life like this, but I'm also asking myself would we be talking about this guy if he was just another 26 year old guy living anywhere in the world. Henry is famous for his ability to catch a football, and suddenly his situation takes on a whole other set of circumstances and attention. It's nice to see that he had been working on fixing the issues from his past, but at the same point, none of us truly know when our time is up and what might happen. The media will continue to report on Henry's death, giving us every angle, every story, every thought when right now, our thoughts should be with his team, his family and friends as they deal with the situation.
But it's part of a fan's desire to pull the curtain down and know these athletes more closely and try to humanize them as much as possible. Trust me, the situations with Henry and Woods have reminded me more than anything that these people are human, just like us. They might be able to run faster, throw harder and do things the rest of us can only imagine, but they also deal with the certainties of life just like the rest of us.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Distress During the Holiday Season

I'm probably treading on some unstable ground here, but the whole subject of Christmas is really starting to annoy me big time. I think it was the whole situation in Ashland that was the true tipping point for me, because the whole thing just struck me as completely unnecessary and made the folks involved look rather stupid. For those of you not aware of what happened, an elementary school in Ashland put up a holiday tree that doubled as a gift tree for those wanting to help others during the holiday. Some parents misunderstood the purpose of the tree, and asked for it to be removed, which then set off a firestorm of backlash. The school district hadn't considered a policy about Christmas decorations before, but ended up putting the tree back up after lots of controversy over the whole thing.

The fact that this created such an issue doesn't surprise me, because Christmas in and of itself is a rather touchy subject for lots of people. For some, it's the holiday of giving gifts, massive consumerism, and the final big holiday for the calendar year, while some view it as a time to be with family and friends in a celebrative way to build bonds. There's the whole story of Santa Claus, holiday movies, and specials about various aspects of the holiday. There's also the redemptive story of Ebenezer Scrooge, who was a selfish old man who learned the true meaning of the holiday by being tormented by spirits all night, and there's dozens of versions of this story in film. Combine all of this with the story of Jesus and his birth, and the religious significance behind that, and all of the stories and songs around this event, and there's plenty of imagery that is associated with this holiday.

And for many years, there was some congruence in those visions, whether it was implied or just not thought of. As a kid going to Catholic school, the thought of these varied images never crossed my mind, as the holiday represented many things to many people. I could wrap my head around what each thing represented, and not worry about the divergent messages. The holiday represented the birth of a significant figure in many ways, but at the same time, you could celebrate friends and family and be a good kid while waiting for a dude in a red suit to bring you toys. As I grew up, the significance of other holiday celebrations, like Boxing Day, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa became more apparent, but I felt that each of them fit within this rather large umbrella of what the holiday represented.

There is also a part of this time of year that applies to everything, the simple holiday spirit of being nice to others and showing the spirit of giving and compassion. We act nicer to others, we show compassion by giving of ourselves to friends and family with gifts, while also thinking of those in need with donations of time, money, or thoughts. For the rest of year, we might not think of people as much as we'd like, but for the holidays, the true spirit of showing what others mean to us by giving them a gift from the heart, whether it's a tangible item or something more abstract. It doesn't matter what you do, as long as you think of others and show them what they mean to you, however big or small the effort it.

I thought this concept fit very nicely in both situations. In the story of Jesus, it was the spirit of thinking of others that led to the impromptu celebration of his birth in a stable. There was no rooms available, so they stayed in a stable, yet the wise men and animals welcomed him and made the moment special regardless of the situation with gifts and song. In the story of Santa, well, gifts are the central part of what we celebrate, as people give gifts to those they care about, while Santa has a collective of elves that apparently are skilled in making just about everything in the North Pole.

But what I'm seeing more and more of lately is the happy coexistence of these concepts crumbling in a massive wave of contempt and misunderstanding. People who celebrate the religious aspect of Christmas get upset when symbols of their holiday get cheapened in a mass of low prices and shopping until you drop, yet those that celebrate Santa are upset with overtly adding religious or commercial messages to this whole mess. It's no longer Christmas trees, they are called holiday trees. And we sign songs that don't have any association with Jesus, Frosty, Santa or whatever because we don't want to offend anyone.

What the whole thing strikes me of the controversy that was talked about in two of the most excellent cartoons of all time, the Simpsons and South Park. In a South Park Christmas celebration, a war erupted between the Jewish community, Jesus followers and the Santa fans, and the school play became a Philip Glass celebration of a minimalistic holiday. The trainwreck was averted with the appearance of Mr. Hankey, who if you don't know what he is all about, you're missing out. The Simpsons had an episode where Krusty the Clown hosted his "non- denomininational holiday special", which essentially gave attention to all of the various celebrations that occur this time of year.

The concept behind both of these was to celebrate the season with friends and family, regardless of your beliefs or professions. Instead of thinking of what might work for you, it's time to think more collectively as a group of people and celebrate the things that bring us together. Instead of dividing, it's time to celebrate diversity and bring folks together, and I think that's a good message. I would also go so far to say that we all need to do a better job of giving to others and helping folks in need, because many of us have more than what we need, and it's important to give to those in need.

For me, my most special holidays have involved celebrating the various aspects of this holiday, from gathering with family to eat massive quantities to celebrating with gifts for those I cared about, not caring if I received anything in return. I enjoyed hanging out with my wife's family on Christmas Eve eating Chinese food and catching up on things, then getting up on Christmas morning and opening gifts while our cats go mental at all the boxes and wrapping paper available for play. But my memories also go back to my sister getting us up at 5 AM to open gifts because she couldn't sleep, then her falling asleep at 10 AM because she was exhausted. I also spent many a late night on Xmas eve with my mom at midnight mass, which was one of the few times she attended church. It was time that we could spend together; just the two of us, and that was all that mattered.

I suppose that what all this has reminded me of is that holidays are all about building memories, regardless of how you celebrate, with those that you care about. And during this time of year, it's important to be aware of being nice to others and considerate of their beliefs and celebrations instead of trying to drive a wedge. Should it matter that a holiday tree is up in a school, but shouldn't it be more about celebrating the season with a symbol that everyone can enjoy while it also is set up to help others?

I get this whole situation is bigger than just that, and there's a lot more to this whole argument. And not everyone buys into my line of thinking, because things like this draw out passion like other sensitive subjects, like politics. While I think it's important to use your voice and share your perspective on things you believe it, it's also important that we all remember and respect the things that bring us together but also separate us into the unique individuals we all are. Without differences, we'd all be the same people, thinking the same things, doing the same things, and the world would be a rather boring place. It's important to celebrate the differences, but also respect them enough to allow people to profess what they believe without prejudice or retribution.

I know that's hard to do at times, because even during this time of year, I have issues with it. At bowling last night, I got frustrated with an opponent who didn't practice proper bowling etiquette, as she kept going up to bowl while I was on the boards. Instead of dealing with the issue and saying something, I let the situation stew and internalize, and it affected my score big time. I should have dealt with it by saying something, but instead, I let the situation bug me. I should have trusted that I could have said something without being looked down on, but instead, I just let it ride. Ok, this is rather simplistic in the grand scheme, but at the same time, nothing big is tackled without starting with simple steps. And it starts with simple human respect for yourself and others, and that's really what this time of year should be all about.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Sun Came Up, And It Will Continue

The sun was surprisingly bright this morning, as the clouds had all burnt away and the blueness in the horizon was nearly blinding in its intensity. We don't get many crystal clear days in December around here, so it was a wonderful treat even with the crispness in the air and the winds whipping about. The temperature has been hovering around freezing this past weekend, and the wind just added to the cold's intensity, but with the bright skies, it makes the whole thing enjoyable as long as you are bundled up enough to not freeze.
I haven't lost my mind here or started becoming obsessed with the weather, but my point in mentioning this is that the sun came up and the world kept moving despite the trouble swirling about the Portland Trail Blazers. As much as the news just keeps worse in terms of injured players around the scarlet and black, the world hasn't come to an end, we aren't seeing the apocalypse happening here, and things will be what they should be. I know that's a hard thing to wrap heads about, but right now, I'm getting tired of those bandwagon jumpers who have abandoned this team in the time where they need support the most.
I haven't changed my attitude towards the organization, I still don't trust them as much as I can throw them and I'm still not buying tickets or providing direct support to the business side. But the players themselves need our passion now more than ever, and I'm tired of hearing people whine about the state of things. I realize that it's easy to fall into those trappings, because it seems like every time you turn on the television or read the sports page, there's more injury news, and not just on the player side. Paul Allen? Our owner is dealing with cancer treatment after it has emerged again. Nate McMillian? The coach ruptured his Achilles tendon when practicing with the team because there weren't enough players to run a full 5 on 5 drill.
And the player side isn't pretty either. Paddy Mills and Jeff Pendergraph haven't played a minute after sustaining injuries in the offseason. Pendergraph might play sometime after the first of the year after injuring hip flexor muscle, while Mills' status is unknown after injuring his knee. Just before the season, Nicolas Batum injured his right shoulder and is expected to be out for the season, while Travis Outlaw broke a bone in his foot early in the season and is also out for the season. Outlaw's injury is similar to the same situation that kept Martell Webster out for all of last year but a 5 minute stretch in a random game in December. And unless you were living under a rock this weekend, you've heard that Greg Oden was injured on Saturday in a game versus the Rockets. Oden injured his patella tendon while trying to block a shot, and underwent surgery on Sunday which will keep him out for the remainder of the season.
Because of the way the NBA does rosters now, there is no injured list and teams keep a full roster of 15 players as long as they keep up with the minimum of available players (You must suit up 8 players for all games). As of today, that would put 5 players out for an extended time, leaving 10 available, but now they are dealing with Rudy Fernandez, who has a sciatic nerve that is flaring up while LaMarcus Aldridge has been dealing with knee issues intermittently throughout the campaign. So that leaves you with 8 available players that you know are healthy, one that is on the trip and should be OK to go, while one is dealing with a minor injury. If you've signed a player to a contract, you can't immediately replace the contract without waiving the original deal, so right now, the Trail Blazers having 15 signed contracts means that somebody has to go in order for someone new to be added, and there's some contracts that would be tough to just eat for the simple need to get a warm live body to fill a roster spot.
Going into the season, the Trail Blazers were the sexy pick to provide a few upsets in the playoff picture. The young team qualified for the playoffs last year for the first time in a while, and got bounced out in the first round. With winning 54 games last year without Oden and Webster (Oden was recovering from microfracture surgery) and bringing in Andre Miller, there were a lot of expectations about the team and their success. The goal at the start of the season for the team was to qualify for the playoffs again and win an opening round series, which I have to admit are rather admirable goals and realistic for this bunch. It's hard not to be drawn into putting higher expectations, though, as the team had some rather impressive moments in the pre-season and have tantilized fans with flashes of brilliance.
But as we've talked about a lot, playing without expectations is really easy and the Trail Blazers weren't expected to do that well last year and so they didn't have a target on them. This year, they can't sneak up on people, and other NBA teams are taking notice of this bunch. As a young side, one of the most important lessons to learn is how to play with those added pressure. All the talent in the world won't automatically give you an NBA title, because there are plenty of guys who played long careers in the NBA that never won or played for a title but certainly played well. It's all about playing together and understanding the skills and talents of who is playing, not obsessing about who isn't available.
Brandon Roy wanted to be more of the focus of the offense, and he'll get his wish in the new lineup. The injury situation does clear up some of the chatter about roles and scoring on the team, because during the early season, it appeared that the emergence of Oden was causing some concern for Roy and Aldridge, who had been the focal points of the team last year offensively. Add Miller in the mix, who is a good point guard but needs the ball to be effective, and it's not surprising that there's been some tension as guys try to fill out their roles and understand the setup of things, much less compound the situation with injuries when guys aren't able to play. And injuries happen to everyone, although it seems like the Blazers have been hit harder than just about anyone else right now by the bug.
The thing is, this core of players won 54 games last year and there's still a ton of talent abound, so there is no reason to panic even though that seems to be what a lot of fans are doing right now. There's talk flowing on sports radio about making trades or waiving players because we need depth, but the fact is we still have a core that played well in stretches last year, and I think they are every bit as capable of doing that now. Instead of worrying about what has happened, it's important to focus on what there is and move forward. I know that's tough because there's a ton of talented guys that could help our cause right now, but worrying about what might be or what could be doesn't accomplish anything.
I moved here in 1989 in time to watch the championship run that year, and I knew the history of this team and most of its players. While that run was amazing, it was a bit unexpected, but the team had the right combination of talent, fortitude and luck to get to the final series to just fall short of the goal. They should have represented the Western Conference in 1991, but a bad bounce and a bad game in LA cost them. In 1992, they made it again to the Finals only to run smack into the Bulls during their heyday. Beyond that, this team had a 24 year playoff run of qualifying for the postseason, and outside of a collapse in 2000 versus the Fakers were one game away from the Finals then. There's been a ton of success here, and I know that's hard to remember soon after the dark ages of the early 2000's when this team truly hit rock bottom.
But in order to appreciate the good times, you have to go through the bad times and stick with your team no matter what. It's nice to speculate what might have been if the team drafted MJ or Durant and think about what might have been, but I believe more than ever that Bowie was the man to draft way back when, and Oden was the guy back in 2007 after we got the first overall pick. Oden has been exactly what we wanted in a player: charming, likable, stays out of trouble, doesn't father kids out of wedlock, doesn't do drugs. In other words, he's the antithesis of what we had on this team back in the Jail Blazer days. Oden's not a bust by any stretch, he is simply dealing with having a wonderful fit large body that happens to have two knees that are struggling to handle the weight and quickness needed to play this game.
We were lucky to have another center who had a wonderful skill set, could pass the ball anywhere on the court, could hit the shot from 20 feet out consistently, and made others better around him with his court vision. He also had a body of work that had brilliant moments but suffered injury concerns with back, foot and leg issues and so they couldn't meet the performance standards of their previous work. They were also a beacon of class, and great folks to be around according to many. If you think I'm talking about Bill Walton, well, some of that is true and I recall he said recently that he was upset at how things went down when he left Portland. Actually, I'm talking about Arvydas Sabonis, who was a shell of his former glory when he came here, but he still had enough talent to make the team better with what he could do. Oden might be injury prone, but I feel he could have a career similar to Sabonis, and I don't think that would make him a bust by any stretch.
But people see number one pick, and think there's some crazy standard that needs to be met. That's part of the issue is that fans are always waiting for the next of something instead of enjoying the talent of what currently is. And if players don't do exactly what is expected of them by living up to these expectations, they are a bust. But honestly, what players can really live up to those type of standards? The main guy in Faker land has titles to his credit (4 of them I believe), but is his legacy tainted if he never wins another title at all? Does his body of work become less if the next best thing suddenly wins 5 titles so somehow that makes them better? It's all about the team and the whole components of things, and it's tough to remember that it takes an entire effort of a side to be crowned champion, and because of that, it's a special honor. But a career can still be special even if one of those titles doesn't come your way. True fans remember the happy times, and stay true during the sad times because it makes the winning and success that much better.

Friday, December 4, 2009

You Mean He's Not a Robot?

So Tiger can now be considered a human because of what he did? Well, I can see the logic behind this thought process, because if there's anyone that has had every aspect of his personality controlled within the media, it's this guy. He doesn't say or do anything that would be considered spontaneous, and it's eerie how much he's been on his game until the recent trouble. Granted, he's also one of the most talented golfers on the planet so watching him at work can be dazzling, but I have always thought styrofoam had more personality that this guy. Nike did a few commercials to break down the wall a bit, but otherwise, I felt that Tiger could have been substituted for a robot and maybe nobody would notice the difference. That's what you get when you attempt to control how you are perceived to such a level, because what you portray is what people expect.

So when a situation happens that falls outside of the ability to control, like a simple auto accident that becomes a torrid admission of an affair, there's no amount of damage control that can be done to make this mess immediately go away and have things go back to normal. Because he is who he is, I would expect that he'll come out of this better than most because he's one of the most mentally tough people ever and it's hard to bet against a combination of mentally tough and talent. We are now seeing inside the wall here, and it's amazing to think that one of the best athletes in the world shares the same frailties, the same insecurities, the same temptations, the same issues, and the same choices that many of us face every day. And what we find here is that this wonderfully talented but supremely controller person is more human than we think. He's made a start to cleaning the mess by apologizing and acknowledging what happened, and that's a good start. I know there will be people rooting for him to succeed, and more that want him to fail, but it's hard to argue this isn't compelling.

The Civil War has come and gone, and I ended up watching the entire game even though I wasn't going to. I started watching in the first half, and couldn't take my eyes off of it. It was one of the most classic football games I've seen, and it was sad that somebody had to lose this game. It had amazing plays, incredible emotion, true sportsmanship, and it was a banner night for Oregon and its athletic profile, and nobody disappointed. The game was so close that I felt there were three minor things that turned the tide for the Ducks to win 37 to 33. One, the Ducks were finally getting pressure on Beavers quarterback Sean Canfield in the second half, and the Beavers offense struggled to deal with it. Second, the Oregon State Beavers couldn't tackle when they needed to, as there were some key plays where Oregon State players were tackling air rather than the speedy Ducks. Finally, at key moments of the game, the Ducks made plays and the Beavers didn't. The Beavers went for it on 4th and 15 on their end instead of going for a long field goal, and their pass was not caught, while Ducks quarterback Jeremiah Masoli ran for it on 4th and 2 during the Ducks final drive, and he made the play to keep the chains going.

So the Ducks will be representing the Pac-10 in the Rose Bowl, while the Beavers will probably get hosed by the Pac-10's bowl affiliations. With the Beavers and Stanford tied at 6 and 3 and in second, USC, Arizona and California have shots to tie at 6 and 3 if they win. The Holiday Bowl, reserved for second place, is rumored to be wanting USC and will award their bid to whomever wins the USC - Arizona game this weekend because the winner will tie for second. The Emerald Bowl, the third place game, is San Francisco based, and so they are leaning towards taking one of the Bay Area schools, either the Cardinal or Golden Bears. The Sun Bowl, the fourth place bowl, took the Beavers last year and so they have a no-repeat clause, so the Beavers seem destined for Las Vegas and the Maaco Bowl. This doesn't seem all that fair for a team that fell just 4 points short of winning the Civil War, especially after coming so close to the Rose Bowl last year. I think the world of the Pac-10, but their bowl affilations really need to be revisited because this situation doesn't seem fair to its members.

The World Cup draw was today, and the coverage on ESPN was apparently the source of much amusement. The draw was actually at 10 AM local time, so ESPN spent the first hour just talking about possibilities and the components of soccer for non-soccer fans. Because I was at work, I was relying on their web feed to hear the draw, and the chat windows were full of comments about things being boring or just get to the draw. I never thought anything with Charlize Theron could be considered boring, but apparently it was a train wreck.

As far as the draw itself, the 32 team tourney has some amazing brackets and compelling matchups. The United States earned a decent bracket to reside it, although the first draw for their group was England. As I saw that the English and Americans were in the same group, I figured we were looking at the fabled Group of Death, which happens every World Cup. The draw really breaks down to putting all 32 teams into 8 pools, and then drawing them randomly to fill 8 4 team groups, and there's almost always one group that pits 3 soccer powers in the same collective. Sure enough, group G pit the Brazilians, Portuguese, Ivory Coast, and North Korea. So what you have here is two traditional soccer powers, a powerful African team, and the Koreans, who might not score a goal in the opening round.

The Americans have Slovenia and Algeria in their pool with England, and there's a good shot that the US could advance if they get two wins and a good result against England, or a good draw. The thing is, this could have been a lot worse for the red, white and blue. Based on the other brackets, most of the soccer powers have a decent shot to advance to the knockout round, but there's chances for upsets at some points as well. There will be some traditional soccer power that gets knocked out early, while some unsung team will made an unexpected run towads the cup. I don't think the US could win the tourney, even though I have a bet on them in Vegas, but I think they have a shot to make a good run. And with the World Cup going on this summer, soccer fans worldwide will have a lot to be excited about this summer, and I can't wait!!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

I'm Looking Forward to A Quiet Weekend..

I just don't see one in my future. This weekend, I have a holiday party to attend and a family birthday celebration before the remaining holidays come sneaking up on us and 2009 is done and we move to 2010. And within the first few months of the year, the new feline habitat and gathering area will be built at the Row N complex, and by the time that gets done, it's Timbers season again.
I love being busy, having things to do and people to see, but right now, I look for a break to take my mind away from the pressures of the day. However, nothing in that arena is easy to digest right now, as the Timbers are dealing with the final moving pieces of the MLS effort while watching the USL potentially implode, the Trail Blazers are alternating between an amazing collection of players or guys that couldn't hit the broad side of a bus, and the Civil War is finally today for the Roses and I still don't care who wins. Seriously. It doesn't matter to me who wins, because either way, the state of Oregon gets some wonderful attention and one of the teams goes to the Rose Bowl.
I don't have leanings to either side, and because of the situation, the hype is absolutely epic. However, I'm just tired of everyone talking about it and just want the game to be done. It's almost like at points the build up takes on as much importance as the game for some folks, and as such, those of us that don't have a side to follow just sit on the sidelines. I know people have been saying to pick a side and root, but I just can't, and don't really want to. I already have enough teams that I follow religiously that keep my attention, from my Timbers to West Ham to a renewed love for my flaming horseheads. I love Portland, and want the best for the city and state, so really does it matter who wins? Well, apparently to some, it's the game for the right to live in the state.
But for rivalries, this is the most friendly vicious rivalry about. I've seen Ducks rooting for Beavers at points, and it goes vice versa, and I think that's something you see in this rivalry that you don't in others. For one to two weeks a year, the sides can torment each other like any other good natured battle, but for the rest of the time, both sides revel in the success of the other because it makes everyone look better. Face it, I will never root for the Timbers main rival under any circumstances, and there's no situation where that would change because I support who I support. You wouldn't travel to England and see a Hammers fan suddenly rooting for Arsenal because they wanted them to do well. It doesn't work like that.
But that's one of the things that makes this part of the world great except for Civil War week, as it suddenly becomes just like a lot of other places where the noise and chatter are just like anything else. Where else could you live where the talk of this game is drowning out talk of Tiger and his transgressions? One of the world's most famous athletes has apparently had an affair and it's the buzz of the interwebs except for this part of the world.
And why not? It's a compelling story of a rather strange auto accident that led to him getting injured and his wife saving him that became a possible domestic dispute to now admission of guilt. Woods has followed a near meticulous approach in controlling facts and information with the media to the point that for someone this famous, we really don't know much about him. I can imagine being this big and in demand, you want to be in control of things as much as you can, and there's dozens of stories of famous people who bared a lot out to the press and it blew up in their face. I can see following the reverse approach of controlling everything, even the most minute details, but at some point, simple human nature will rear its head. People make mistakes or things get too big and suddenly things take on a life of their own, and putting the issue back in the box becomes nearly impossible. I can't imagine living up to the scrutiny of the press when doing anything in public, but then compound that with then trying to control what does and doesn't get discussed, and I don't think anyone could live up to that standard for so long.
I get the lucky part of my mistakes not being played and replayed over and over again, and I can apologize for those I've wronged and try to learn from what I do without a chorus of talking heads beating the mistakes into the ground, as most of us do. Athletes and public figures don't get that luxury, and so whatever they do gets put out there for everyone to see. And we talk about it a lot in our desire to learn more about our heroes, a natural curiosity to try and relate, or a selfish ploy to pull people down out of jealosy. We talk about these things to divert us from the things that we deal with in our life, and sometimes it's hard to realize that in doing that, we end up making more out of things that perhaps is there. I don't want to be an apologist for Woods, because he screwed up royally. But then again, we all do, and right now what he needs to repair the damage to his family as best as he can. Tonight, two teams will be battling for a Rose Bowl berth, and one team will go away disappointed because that's how things work. Maybe someone will make a mistake, and suddenly they have to live with the result.
Does that mean the world of sports doesn't have importance? Hardly, but what it does remind me of is the times where we all need a dose of perspective. It's diasappointing when your team loses or they aren't playing as well as they should, but that doesn't change the fact that you support them. You can't enjoy the good times without suffering through the bad times, the losses, the uncertainty, and that's part of the human experience. Challenges make us stronger, even if we don't immediately realize that when things happen. Life doesn't slow down much, and it doesn't give us challenges that we can't handle, and honestly, I've learned more from the crap life has given me than the happy things because adversity makes you realize what you like and what you don't. Granted, I probably desire the quiet time simply to allow me to catch my breath, but at the same point, challenges get your blood flowing a bit and keep us engaged. And last time I checked, there really wasn't such a thing as a quietly fulfilling challenge.
So I'll do what I do by breaking down the pieces and putting them in as simple of terms as I can to process them, and realize that the good things are worth the effort. Granted at points it's hard to see the forest for the trees or remenber what the end result will bring us, but part of being human is to dream, to grow, and to aspire, and those things bring success and failure. And we all need to learn how to deal with those emotions, because I don't see life changing anytime soon.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Obligatory Thankful For Column

Thanksgiving is the most forgotten of the major holidays in my opinion. New Year's gets attention because we are either obsessed with getting our year off to a good start or trying to blow off the stink of a crummy year, and it's a great excuse to dress up and drink your problems away for a night. Memorial Day is the first major summer holiday, and there's plenty of camping opportunities and blockbuster movies that open that weekend. Oh, and there's that other reason to remember the day, which is extremely important yet often overlooked depending on how you feel about the military. The Fourth of July celebrates patriotism by blowing up small portions of real estate, while Labor Day celebrates working by giving you a day off work.
We then cruise into Halloween, which has become a major player with parties and costumes, and then afterwards the malls go into hyper mode for Christmas and shopping. I get why they do it, as most retailers make up to half their business during the last months of the year during holiday sales, but Thanksgiving ends up being trampled in the process. We don't have a lot of thanksgiving songs to sing, there's really only one good Thanksgiving special (Charlie Brown making toast still makes me laugh), and the day becomes about eating massive quantities while passing out in front of the television.
Granted, I think part of my issue is that Thanksgiving for me was never a big holiday in my family. We often spent the day with my stepdad's family, which was always an interesting sight. They hated pointyball, would play odd card games and the kids hardly got included, and it's about the only time the entire family would get together, which surprised me. When I left for college, I wasn't able to travel home, so often times, I was stuck at college hanging out with others who didn't have a place to go, and honestly, Dominos Pizza has never tasted so good on a holiday when you couldn't get the turkey to cook right. As I moved to Portland, Thanksgiving turned into a day from work, and I floated between friend's home as a guest, which while is good to have a place to go, I always felt a bit odd infringing on family celebrations where I wasn't part of the family. Things changed when I met girl and I gained a whole new family. They are super folks, and I see them a lot, which took a bit of time to get used to.
Granted, a lot of families work like that, but outside of my mom, stepdad and sister, I rarely saw my other family members more than maybe once a year, or sometimes longer. It does give you a sense at times of being by yourself, but at the same point, I always knew that if I asked for anything, my family would step up. It just always felt unusual to have that sense of family when you just don't see folks that often, but as the saying goes, "You pick your friends, you don't pick your family." I think for a lot of us, we see our family as people we need to relate to because that's what they do, and so you put up with a lot more than you would from your friends in an attempt to keep things together. Some of the things my family has done to each other would cause me to disown friends, but with family, the tolerance is a bit more.
I don't know why that is, but for some of us, it's hard to say the things we need to our family because we're afraid of what they might think or how they might react, and to keep the peace, you just let things slide. It's been my mode of operation for years, and I'm very good at it. Which is really bad for those around me when I really need to say things, because I'm used to trying to keep the peace. It was what I was always thankful for, a quiet, nice gathering of family that didn't end up with one of us pissed off at somebody else for some stupid reason which would then cause chaos for the day.
Now that I'm trying to work on being more aware of how I react to things, I realize that Thanksgiving has a more important purpose to remember what we should be thankful for. And as predictably cheesy as it is to say we should always remember that every day, we just don't. The world has lots of shiny distractions, pressures and stressors, diversions and widgets, and bamboozles and blitzches, and so we don't often think of how important certain people are. I've learned that not only do I need to say how much I appreciate certain folks in my life, but show them as much as I can how much I care. Sometimes, it's the little things that matter the most, and I admit that sometimes the big picture has been more distracting.
But having this realization makes me really appreciate the things and people I have around me. I couldn't do what I do without girl's unwavering love and support, even though I drive her completely nuts most of the time. She gives me so much, and I am so grateful she is in my life. I'm also thankful that I fell into a collection of football fans like the Timbers Army, who have been some of the most accepting, wonderful, irritating, and best people that I could ever count as friends. Finding a home in a place like Row N with my friends has really helped me find myself, and I won't forget what those fine folks have given to me. We always have a celebration of friends Thanksgiving weekend, and I'm really looking forward to spending time with this bunch, because I not only view it as a time to gather, but for me now, it's a chance to celebrate the wonderful gift of friendship amongst these great folks. Well, and celebrate our hatred of clowns.
I'm thankful for being able to read some great writers like Bill Simmons, who consistently make me laugh and I hope to one day emulate in my writing if I can only get my wit and charm down well. Seriously, I've never laughed so hard at the repeated mentions of Zombie Sonics than I have with his latest column, and Simmons also avoids some of the preachiness and overzealous approach of other columnists I know. I'm also thankful for my CD player and MP3 player, because my wonderful city has become a wasteland of crappy commercial radio that has really stopped caring about listeners. I used to think well of some stations in town, but right now, I can't listen to the music I want to because I'm tired of the over the top self promotion and countless ads about concerts or other things as distraction. If I had to listen to this stuff full time, I think I would lose whatever is left of my sanity.
I'm also thankful of the wonderful city I live in, which is an amazing place despite itself at times. Portland seems to be so intent on being weird and unique that I think some folks don't realize that we've already got that character. I've never lived in a place that worships its institutions, rallies around causes, and loves its pets like people around here, and while we may not fundamentally agree on everything, we all agree that this is a very special place and we want to keep it that way. And we will use our money, voices and talents to make sure Portland remains a gem in the Pacific Northwest.
I'm also thankful that I can recognize things about myself that I don't like, and work on improving those things so that I can be a better husband, brother and person. Because of my quiet tendancies, I think some people believe that I couldn't possibly be selfish, thoughtless, or inconsiderate, but I can say as a human being, I'm guilty of those things more often than I'd like. We tend to take it out on the ones closest to us, and so I'm working on recognizing that. I also want to make sure that I'm telling people what they should hear from me, instead of keeping quiet and thinking I'll have time to tell them later. What I might say may not be what they want to hear, but at the same time, they deserve to hear my perspective, good or bad.
Being a human being is a wonderful gift, and something that we should always appreciate. We have the capacity to do so many things, but we also have the capability to recognize our faults and work on fixing them for the greater good. It's an amazing thing if you can do it, because many of us resist change or think things are good the way they are. But if we aren't looking at ourselves and asking questions about who we are and why we are here, we run the risk of being complacent and we stop growing. And not that I would support a complete and total change for anyone, I would say that it's important to examine yourself from time to time. It's the most compassionate thing we can do for ourselves, and the rewards are priceless.
(Sorry for the cheesy marketing ending, but I've been watching too many &(*%*% Black Friday ads. I realized Christmas was for sale, but not this much. Seriously!!)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Happy Thoughts For A Monday

You'd never see an American side do anything like this. Have to admit it's a class move, especially after the result. A lot of sports fans hate soccer because of a lack of scoring, but 9 goals would change some minds rather quickly. Unless it was in the situation that happened Saturday, where Wigan gave up 9 while only scoring 1. The players stepped up to pay for the tickets of those fans brave enough to watch this debacle. It's putting your mouth is, and I'm proud of the players to own up for what happened, whether it was crappy luck, lack of form, or simply the planets aligning in the wrong way. It shows they care, and as a fan who is dealing with a miserable season, sometimes that's enough to buy more time before the bandwagon loses any more fans.
The MLS Cup happened yesterday, and Real Salt Lake won in penalties 5 to 4 after drawing at 1 in the regular match and 30 minutes of overtime. I personally hate penalties deciding any match, but I also understand that soccer matches could end up like cricket in terms of time if you actually had to play until a winner was decided. The drama was compelling, though, as both sides had chances to put it away until Robbie Russell finally won it for Real Salt Lake.
My thoughts on things:
  • Real Salt Lake barely qualified for the playoffs and actually finished with a sub .500 record, but they were the hottest team going into the playoffs, and they used that energy to win 3 tough games to get there. Playoffs to me don't determine a winner for the season, but simply crown the hottest team at the time, which is why any side that can win the regular season title and then win the playoffs is truly one special squad. Not that I want to discount the accomplishment, but the whole situation here makes me want the regular season winner to be declared the champion more of a reality. That rewards a complete body of work, not just a hot streak at a specific timeframe.
  • Seattle supported the game well, and it was nice to see many fans show up even if the home side wasn't part of the match. I'm still not a fan of many game day things they do, but putting 46,000 fans in the seats for the championship is an impressive feat.
  • It was great to see some former Timbers playing well in the match. Josh Saunders came in late in the match to replace an injured Donovan Ricketts and performed admirably in a rather tough spot. It's tough to enter late as a keeper, much less then face penalty kicks and hold up as well as he did. It would have been nice to see Bryan Jordan enter the match, but at least former OSU Beaver Robbie Findley played well and was a key cog in the RSL attack.

The Civil War is on December 3rd and it's for all the marbles. Or for the Roses, as the annual Duck and Beaver football game will determine the Pac-10 team that will represent the conference in the Rose Bowl. There hasn't been as much at stake in this game, and the usually friendly rivalry will take on more of a fervor over the next few weeks as trash talk elevates itself to higher than usual levels.


The Oregon - Oregon State rivalry is one of the most friendly in many respects, as you hear stories about Ducks and Beavers interacting all the time until this week, and then all bets are off. Relatives don't speak to each other before the game, businesses and people start promoting their side, and it's time for those in the state who didn't attend either school to pick a side or just remain neutral if you can. And with the stakes being what they are, the pressure to pick a side will be huge.


Myself, I didn't attend either school until I moved here and have attended 3 classes at each college, so I can't choose my allegiance that way. I have dear friends that attended both schools, and based upon that, I can't pick a side much less upsetting one group of friends or the other. The Ducks haven't been there since 1995 and the Beavers haven't been there since the 1960's. I attended a college that doesn't have football, so I can't use that as an excuse, and my wife's alma mater does have football but they seemed to have lost their way. I've always just wished that both teams do well and get into great bowl games so I can watch as a fan, and over the past few years, it's been easy watching their success. And even after this game, both sides will still have good bowl dates.


But this year is different, because both teams have a chance at the Roses and that doesn't come up all that often. So for me, I'll try to take the platypus approach, supporting both sides in a hybrid sort of way until I'm forced to make a call. Besides, being Switzerland in a dispute like this isn't so bad, cause you get those cool bank accounts, chocolates and glockenspiels!!

Friday, November 20, 2009

It's All About The Context?

I've seen the videos of Elizabeth Lambert playing soccer for the University of New Mexico against Brigham Young University, and watched the snippets of Lambert mugging, pushing, hitting, and generally abusing opposing Cougar players. If you simply watch her actions taken from the condensed part of the video, you would see an player that seems to be playing like a deranged lunatic and pushing physical play to nearly incomprehensible levels. Some of my friends who are non-soccer fans have seen the video and seem outright shocked that things like that happen on the soccer pitch.
If you read Lambert's interview for the New York Times, she even admits that it's tough to watch her actions because she doesn't recognize the person playing out there. The elbowing, the hard tackling, the hair pulling, the tackle from behind, it's all tough to watch even for soccer fans, because taken simply for what is shown in the condensed video, her actions could be labeled as assault. Lambert has been suspended from the Lobos soccer team indefinitely, and she is now working on repairing the damage from her actions. She's talking to people about what happened, she's talking with a psychologist, and working on her mental state so that she can hopefully return to the team next year for her senior season.
She appears to be horrified and apologetic about her actions, and trying to make amends as best as possible, realizing that she's crossed a conduct line on the field. There's regret in her words, and I can only imagine what it's like to have your actions put out there for all to see in grand fashion only to realize you've done something truly horrible. It's hard enough for me to look directly at the people I've wronged at points because of the guilt I feel, and I've never done anything close to this in such a public forum. Instead of being a defender on the soccer pitch, Lambert will have to live with the label of being "that girl", "that player" or other horrific names for the rest of her career.
Just ask Kermit Washington, Ron Artest or LeGarrette Blount what it's like to live with such a stigma. Washington had a good NBA career and currently works in sports broadcasting, but every time there is a serious transgression on the field of play, you see the footage of Washington striking former player Rudy Tomjanovich during a game. Washington served what was at the time the longest suspension in NBA history for his actions. Artest was central figure in one of the worst scenes in sports, an on court brawl in Detroit when the Indiana Pacers were in town that spilled into the crowd. It was labeled as one of the worst on-court incidents until Blount lost his composure on the smurf turf in Boise, and had his most famous meltdown. Go on the Internet and you can see the incidents up close and personal, and it's hard not to be horrified at what you see. And now Lambert's footage joins the list of incidents above as an indictment of sports and athletic conduct during the match.
I've never played sports on that level, so I can't begin to imagine the pressure and stress athletes go through when they are being constantly scrutinized, examined, and compartmentalized. I can imagine that the scrutiny is difficult to live with, which is why many athletes have an adversarial relationship with the media. Everyone seems to be an expert after the fact, saying what should have occurred or what they would have been done if they were in that situation, but imagine if you really were on the court when Artest went berzerk or when Lambert was pulling the opposing players' hair. Could any of us truly say we'd be above such conduct in the heat of the moment, especially if you review the incident in the context of the entire game or season?
It's easy to pinpoint one incident and make snap decisions about people, making them live with the consequences of their actions. While they really should live with some of the ramifications of things they do, we also paint ourselves as a society where second chances are readily provided and we like hearing about people that have regained their stature after a rough incident. But those beliefs have to be tempered with some other situations that don't make it always easy to return from the brink.
The Internet keeps track of everything most athletes have said or down, so these incidents never really go away but instead they fade until something happens and then they live a new life in comparison. You have the pressure of televisions and cameras being everywhere, catching every moment of events. I've also heard athletes say it's only a penalty if the official catches it, and most of them are extremely competitive in every aspect of their lives. Combine these with the pressure of winning or performing well, and you can see a recipe for one stressed out society which doesn't make things like this easy to deal with. You also can't forget the influence of moral codes, which is a source for argument amongst even the best of friends or family members. Things like this aren't just black and white situations where you can paint a picture and immediately point at a person or situation and say who is to blame. I didn't see the entire game where Lambert melted down, but apparently the game was physical on both sides, but she took it to the extreme in her reaction. Artest was trying to decompress from something that happened on the court and got hit with a drink from the crowd that started the ugliness.
This is what I mean by context, because none of us are really able to understand exactly what happened, we simply need to react to the aftermath and try to deal with it as best as we can. Just because these things happen on the sports field doesn't mean that sports are dangerous or bad influences in general, it simply means that as a society, we all deal with pressure and stress and it's up to us to find ways to deal with them without resorting to violence. I admire Lambert for being open to talking about her situation and realizing that while this is a mistake, she's doing all she can to rectify the situation. Washington has done his part to try and resolve his issue, while Blount has been reinstated to the team but sequestered from the media.
I'm not sure that's the right approach here, because part of the process of recovery is allowing the person to move away from the mistake and show apology and repentance. Otherwise, you might end up living with the mistake for the rest of your life, and I'm not sure that's the way anyone would want to live. As far as context is concerned, showing your human side is the most important thing we can all do. Now showing my human side, I would really appreciate it if someone could help me get rid of these guys, cause that would make me really happy.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sports Really Is a Business, But There's Humanity Involved

I remember crafting a letter to the most recent coaching hire at Portland State, Jerry Glanville, when he was first hired as football coach. As a member of the Timbers Army, I was contacting him about PGE Park to welcome him to town and ask for help to update the turf at the stadium. Unfortunately, my letter went unanswered, which I wasn't all that surprised about. The Army wasn't nearly the influence it was then, and MLS was just a pipe dream.
Fast forward to today, and MLS is on the fast track, and Glanville is now the former coach of Portland State as he resigned today. Granted, his performance warranted some concern, as he won a grand total of 9 games in three years since taking over. Glanville might be a great guy and has football knowledge, as his resume is filled with NFL experience, college programs, and some success along the way. But he could never recover from the loss of his offensive coordinator, Mouse Davis, during the offseason, and could never gather enough talent to be competitive in the Big Sky. It seemed like the team is a bit in disarray, but after watching them against Weber State, the team never quit and kept trying to right the ship.
Glanville could tell some great stories about his past football exploits, and he gave up part of his coaching salary to help cover some salary loss for his assistants. He was extremely generous to the citizens of the city, giving sandwiches to the homeless and getting involved with other philanthropic projects about town, and he garned lots of attention for the program. When he was first hired, the attendance spiked and there was a huge buzz around the program, but in the end, Glanville couldn't keep the momentum as the losses piled up.
It's a challenge to be successful at a commuter school that is trying to improve its athletic profile. Portland State is the largest university in Oregon and was a Division II football power in its past, yet they've virtually been ignored in the profile of colleges in the area. Oregon and Oregon State cast a huge shadow over the state in academics and athletics, and as such, it's hard to gain traction when you are running uphill against the Ducks and Beavers. PSU has worked hard to get the word out on their school and successes, and I think they are gaining in some respects. It seems that the alumni are paying more attention and getting involved, while the student body has also been engaged more than they have, but there's still work to be done.
Portland State has always harbored dreams of competing with the big boys, and the thing is the foundation is here. Portland is a large media market and has lots of PSU alumni about, and the school is putting money into their programs to gain some traction on the field while improving academic programs. It's a tough and competitive world out there to get the attention of young people to invest their money and time into going to college there, but they are making strides. My hope is that the athletic department hires a coach that has the energy and passion to push the profile up further, so that Portland State isn't such an afterthought in some conversations.
The other big news is that Trail Blazers and Seahawks owner Paul Allen was diagnosed with lymphoma and will be undergoing treatment. Because I've dealt with the ravages of cancer in my family, I have a lot of experience in dealing with the various emotions that this condition bring forward. I went to visit my mom because she was ill and within a week, she was gone. It was one of the worst things I've ever dealt with, and it still rings with me to this day. You never get to the point where you are really completely OK with what happened, but you learn to deal with the death of someone by cancer by just managing it. I'm still reminded of things she said and did, and I'm shocked at how often I think about things and get a little emotional.
That being said, when I heard the news, I was able to put a more personal spin on things than most. In reading the comments on blogs and on sports radio, people have been freaking out about the long term harm to the Trail Blazers and what happens if Allen isn't able to beat this disease. Granted, those things are concerns, but right now, this situation isn't about a guy who has more individual wealth than most of us will ever see in our life. It's isn't about an intensely private guy who shows himself in little glimpses supporting his sports teams, nor is it about a guy that has been trashed in various avenues for being quiet, aloof, or an accidental success.
It's about a human being that is dealing with a very real health challenge, and I wish him nothing but the best during his recovery. He's already beaten Hodgkin's disease once, and having the experience of that combined with the support of his family and friends is a huge key, and he'll have access to the best doctors available. The situation is entirely treatable, yet nothing in this is entirely certain. All you can do is what you can do, and I think having distractions will help him in the long term. Now that the team is doing well and faces less uncertainty in its future, I can't help but think that a successful Trail Blazers season will do a lot towards helping Allen in his recovery.
I've personally had issues with the Trail Blazers organization and many of their decisions about the Memorial Coliseum, questionable player decisions, and some of the tactics they use to maintain a monopoly in the sports media around here. But none of that really matters right now, as I'm wishing my best to their owner, who has personally done a lot to keep basketball fans happy for years following their team. It's hard to separate the person from the owner at times likes this, but right now, both of them need support in dealing with the challenges that are forthcoming.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Where The Heck Did Things Get This Out of Whack?

I've never been a confrontational person by nature. Causing a scene just to prove a point, even if I've been wrong usually doesn't cross my mind at all, although I do spent time thinking about what I should have done after the fact quite a bit. I spent a lot of years thinking I was just being overly polite or passive because it didn't matter, but what I've found most recently is that I'm dealing with complacency.

I've never wanted to rock the boat unless absolutely necessary, because for me, it's easier to understand the situation and adapt to the least-problematic alternative. It doesn't matter if I get hosed within that process, it's more important to keep some form of peace and normalcy. When I write these words, it sound really stupid to think that's how I've been dealing with things, but then again, I come from a family that didn't handle conflict fairly at all, and I'm married to someone who stands up for herself quite a bit. She's not afraid to be honest, which is an incredible trait that I admire greatly. And while I would love to live more like that, my wiring tends to push me in the path of least resistance. Mind you, I'm working on this issue, because I think it's important that you have a voice and stand up for yourself, but at the same point, you have to have the confidence and belief in yourself to make it happen.

When you are with someone in quite close quarters, things come up all the time that require communication, understanding, and a commitment to listen to each other and try to find common ground. And I always thought I was a good communicator until I started dating girl. Now I realize that while I do a reasonable job of saying things, there is a lot of room for improvement. The fact that I'm willing to do it is a huge step, but it's a process. And one that constantly gets tested, over and over again.

That's because as humans, we interact with others all the time, whether it's friends, family, co-workers, service personnel, or random strangers, and in most instances, we have to interact with what we know at the time at face value. You can't sit back and examine every interaction and react with supreme confidence every time, so you react as best as you can and go from there. And our reactions are tempered by our own personal past and current experiences and attitude, which means that even under the best circumstances, we may not understand why we react to certain things the way we do.

So you can imagine taking all of my experiences and dealing with the realities of our busy, hectic day to day work, there's a huge amount of challenges. Things move quickly, information is flowing at all times of the day, and there is no real down time anymore as we try to cram all of the responsibilities we have into a compartmentalized approach and do the best we can. And while we all try to be polite and considerate of others, that isn't often the case. Sometimes, it's from a bad mood or being preocupied with other situations, but lately, I'm seeing more and more of people just doing what they want without concern for anyone else.

I'm not exactly sure where the sense of entitlement has come from with some people, but I was always taught to be polite and considerate to others unless they gave me a reason to do otherwise. Now with my own temperment included, you can see the recipe for some trouble since it often times takes a long time before the reason gets to the point where I need to do something. But the fact that it's coming a lot more lately tells me that I'm noticing a lot more people who just don't care if their actions affect others.

Tuesday night, girl and I went to our regular bowling league at Hollywood Bowl, which is usually a good time. Granted, the fact that I completely miscommunicated with girl about our lane location added some tension to the night, but things got off to a bad start when some fellow bowlers decided to bring their childen to their bowling league. Normally, this isn't a huge issue, as the kids play in a small area and keep to themselves reasonably well while their parents bowl. Last Tuesday, the kids decided that their toys belonged in the middle of the walkway to the far lanes, which meant that everyone needed to walk through strewn out toys and blankets. The parents passively told the kids to pick up their stuff, but over a half an hour had passed before anything was done. Mind you, it wasn't a huge issue to step around the toys, but at the same point, the parents inability to deal with the kids affected everyone else at the alley.

As we drove home later that night down NE Glisan, we were driving behind a black sedan that suddenly was driving very slowly in one of the lanes. Because of other traffic and the conversation with girl about our bowling night, I didn't immediately move into the other lane until later on to realize that the driver had been on the phone the entire time of her drive. She wasn't using hands free, and was consistenly 10 MPH slower than the posted speed limit, even leaving late at intersections because she was distracted while driving by her call. I get that there are conversations that are important to have, and it might make sense to have them when driving. If that's the case, doesn't the hands free mode on a phone make sense? But instead of thinking of others, the driver decided her converstion was more important that whatever else was going on, even within the flow of traffic.

But I think the final straw that has frustrated me was my experience at the TMBG show at the Crystal Ballroom last night. They Might Be Giants is one of my favorite bands, and one that I forget how much I enjoy until I see them in person or hear one of their songs, so having the chance to see them live was exciting to me, and I was happy to bring girl with me because she likes their music as well. We met our friend, S3K, at Ringlers, and the evening did get off to a rather clunky start when our food was delayed by over 40 minutes because they lost our order ticket.

Granted, the waitress was very apologetic and explained what happened, but there was no discount applied to our order at all. They did expediate our order, and it wasn't like we were in a hurry to get to our show which started at 9 PM, but I just felt like they could have done more. I even gave the waitress a decent tip because it wasn't her fault the order was misplaced, but at the same time, I just felt they could have done more under the circumstances. But I wasn't going to push the issue because I understand how things happen, and the order eventually arrived.

After eating, we got in line and soon got into the Crystal Ballroom almost 40 minutes before the show, and the crowd was reasonably sized but there was still plenty of room to move about when we got there. If you've been to a show at the Crystal, there's seats in the balcony for sitting and some benches along the far wall, but otherwise, it's standing room. Since we stand for many Timbers matches, standing doesn't bug me at all as long as I have enough room so I'm not overly crowded. I get that people bump into each other from time to time moving about or dancing, but I wasn't prepared for what happened to me and girl during the show.

The opening act came and played, and it was well received and the crowd was still reasonably sparse. As we were waiting for the Giants to start up at 9 PM, that's when things started to get interesting. As S3K had his head turned to talk with girl, a couple moved from behind us to jump right in front of him to get closer for the Giants. Girl got into it with two girls that wanted to move closer to the stage because they wanted to see what was going on, but girl stood her ground because things were getting more crowded. They referred to Girl as a bitch, and she gave it right back to them by calling them a bitch, then chatting with two gals next to us that were upset about all the people wanting to crowd. One gal stood right behind me in an attempt to get me to move, but I held my ground by putting my elbow right between her breasts to keep her back. At this point, the show hadn't even started but people had decided to start rushing the stage a bit, and it wasn't appreciated.

If that was it, I could still count the night as a success, but then the show started, and while I was engrossed in the songs and singing along, the couple in front of S3K started groping each other and getting in the way of others. Girl, meanwhile, was constantly being backed into by two guys that were trying to dance and didn't have a sense of space. I had to put my arm around her back to try and protect her later on, but all that did was get my arm bumped and make things warmer than it already was for girl. Meanwhile, I was dealing with a pink haired gal that couldn't handle her alcohol, and she proceeded to spend most of the two hours flopping about, falling over myself and others around her while trying to stand up. Her companion didn't seem that interested in stopping her behavior, and the final straw for me was one of the guys behind girl grabbed me to keep himself from falling over, and I glared at him. There was also someone who we couldn't target, but they had some of the worst personal gas I've ever smelled, and they proceeded to let go every 10 minutes in a noxious display that would make even Barnacle Brian blush.

If I could gage the show simply on the music and energy of the Giants, I would give it a huge thumbs up because I love their music and the Giants are professionals who know how to entertain. If I had to include the venue, I would lessen the grade slightly, although the Crystal isn't a bad place to watch a show based on sound and asthetics. But add in the crowd, and I can't give this more than an average show. Girl was completely distracted by the antics, and I know she didn't enjoy herself because of what others did, while I was upset because she didn't enjoy herself and I had my own issues.

Granted, I could have taken some of these issues in my own hands at the time, by getting physical or verbal with the irritants. However, the drunken girl probably wouldn't have understood what she was doing, and the dancing guys probably wouldn't have changed anything, but there's a possibility that the situation could have escalate to something worse leading to ejection or confrontation that would be regretted. I don't think any of those folks are giving it a second thought what they did last night and how they conducted themselves at the concert, but they probably should be.

But it's easier to just keep doing what you are doing at points, because what I want to do is more important than what others are thinking or doing. Seriously, do you really need to get that plowed to enjoy a show, or do you really need to slam into strangers to have a good time? I've been to dozens of shows at the Crystal and never had this issue before, and I've also been on the floor of other arenas and never had things happen this badly. For some shows, it did help that we were friendly to people around us and we provided a unified front, like in Vegas at the Mode show when some people tried to crowd the stage and a line of us stood our ground.

I get that people want what they want, but why should it be at the expense of others? Are we that callous and insulated about our own existance to not even think about how our actions affect others, or are some of us so convinced that we should always get what we want that we'll do whatever it takes to meet our needs? I don't want to make a generalization here, but many of the people that exhibit that this behavior are younger people in the 18 - 30 crowd. It's not always them, but more often than not, it seems like they are at the center of this behavoir. As as someone who doesn't think like that, I can't wrap my head around why they can operate in this matter, not realizing how their actions are viewed by others. I don't know if this is a product of their own self absorption about their needs or an extension of being told they can do anything or be anything no matter what, but it's an attitude that I don't like but it's becoming far more prevolent than I would prefer.

I'm not perfect in bringing this up, because everyone has issues in thinking of others when needed, but I'm trying to learn and be more empathetic while also learning to stand up when it's necessary. It's certainly a work in progress, but within our incredibly diverse world, apparently, it's becoming as important of a skill as learning your reading and writing basics. Perhaps we should be teaching our younger generations some empathy and compassion along with other basics rather than turning school into nothing more than an exercise in reinforcing entitlement and standardized testing.

BASEBALL UPDATE - Vancouver steps up for the Beavers, but is it too little, too late? I admire their conviction and sounds like they have some ideas to bring the Portland Beavers to Vancouver, WA, but will it be enough to save baseball for the metropolitan area? Based on the news around PGE Park, it looks like the final hurdles for MLS to take over the stadium are being crossed.

EDIT - I forgot to mention a couple of things in my concert ramblings, added in italics this afternoon. GK

Friday, November 6, 2009

What's Wrong With This Picture?

It's a grand idea with a lot of moving parts, but as much as I would love this to come true, I'm far too grounded and cynical to think this has any prayer of being implemented. Perhaps I'm just a bit wounded from the MLS to PDX process or watching the current Beavers being treated as the metaphorical "stuff stuck on the bottom of shoes that I'm trying to scrape off" as they move from city to city in an attempt to find a home. I just can't sit back and listen to delusional thinking like this without dousing it with a cold dose of reality.
Yes, MLB came calling way back when the former Montreal Expos were looking for a home, and Portland had a winning combination of a good sized television market, very good television ratings, and a decent sized interim facility that could work while a permanent stadium could be determined. The fans rallied about town putting forth passion behind ideas to bring the team here, and there was some solid framework put in place to attempt to lure the Expos here. MLB did tour the area and stadium, and kept Portland on the long list of potential sites, but eventually the team moved to Washington DC into RFK Stadium until their new park was built.
But how seriously was Portland being considered? On the surface, you might think we were in the running until the very end, but MLB used San Juan, Puerto Rico as a temporary home for the Expos for some series to try and gage support. Northern Virginia was in the running as an alternate site to DC, and might have done enough to earn the team had Washington DC not sweeted their offer. As painful as it might be to admit, the Expos were going to end up in DC, regardless of what any other city was going to do. MLB wanted the market, and did what they could to steer the team there.
And here it is more than 10 years later, and Portland sits with essentially the same stadium and the big league dreams of luring MLB here. This goes on despite the fact that corporate entities have left our area, employment number have struggled, tax opponents and public assistance foes have become more of a formidable force, and we have failed in supporting the baseball team we currently have. Mind you, there's nothing that translates support for a triple AAA team into how an MLB team is supported, but at the same time, we can't figure out a permanent stadium for a minor league baseball team, but somehow we can for MLB at 10 times the cost?
I get this is a blue sky dream, and it's nice to dream and think about what might be if you have enough passion, forethought, and have some of the building blocks in place. Portland would be a huge asset to any league they join, as evidenced by the support they give the Trail Blazers not only as fans, but corporate citizens and tax payers.  We love our teams a lot, and that gives us hope that any new team has a better than fighting chance to survive. But sports like MLB require far more corporate support than we have available, far more government involvement than we've provided to know, and far more fans than I think could support the team long term. MLS is a better alternative simply because of the scale of the league and the other infastructrue needs, and there's a built in fan base for the current Timbers soccer team.
There might be a point where MLB makes sense for this area, and it would be amazing to be here when it happens, but this dream requires a lot more than simply wishing and hoping for what might be.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What Being A Supporter Is All About

What of the many things I love about the Timbers Army is their passion for the game of soccer in all forms, as they pay attention to league happenings throughout the world. While the Timbers are the main source of our football passion, many folks have other clubs that they follow closely from all parts, and there are many message threads in our forum with news, scores, and thoughts. I personally follow West Ham and Sunderland very closely when I'm not following Timbers news, out of loyalty to former Timbers that were Hammers and to some very dear friends who have opened up their home to myself, my wife and other Timbers fans visiting from across the pond who happen to support a club that is fun to watch.
The passion we share for our clubs is something that draws football fans together worldwide, as we are more than just fans that appear on match day in support of our club. I have many friends that don't support soccer and ask me about why I do what I do for the Timbers - what makes us different from the fans that just show up to watch a match. I've tried to explain what we are and how I feel about my club, but I don't think I could have done a better job than what a Colorado Rapids supporter did in the blog noted below:
The blog was started by Rapids management to interact with fans, and the main point of the first entry was to talk about the frustration of their current season. The Rapids had a playoff berth in their sights, but they went without a win in their last seven matches and they were caught by Real Salt Lake and New England in the final weekend of the season. The Rapids general manager, Jeff Plush, wrote a letter to the fans thanking them for their support, and promising changes because they had fallen short of the playoffs. What followed is a stream of comments from the fans, many angry at various aspects of the club. Whether their anger was directed at personnel decisions, ownership direction, investment in the club, or other factors, it was obvious that these group of people weren't happy with their season being cut short. And after what happened to the Timbers, I could relate to their feelings quite easily.
However, one post rang more true with me than any, and describes what it means to be a supporter better than anything than I could write:

Thank you for taking the time to write this letter, we appreciate this open form of communication with the fans and supporters.

Perhaps, everybody seems to have a reason why this season wasn't successful and solutions suggested are countless and free.

We also want to thank all of you for taking the time to share your thoughts, I can relate to you and you have the right to decide weather you continue to enjoy this beautiful sport.

I apologize in advance, I don't intend to lecture you, just want to share my point of view. 

Legion 5280 I believe is the smallest supporter group within the Front Range. However, we are known to be passionate about the Club. Supporting it is our life's essence.

I want to share my passion and make everyone understand what it is about. 

Fan Vs Supporter - What's The Difference? 
I'm not saying that one is better than the other, just that there is an important difference.
What is the difference between the two?
Well, it's in the words. A fan likes something, a supporter actively supports it. A regular fan wouldn't drive 8 hours to support the Colorado Rapids in the freezing temperatures of Salt Lake City.
What do Supporters do differently?
Passion. Dedication. Loyalty.
Take a club like Club America-Mexico City for example. They have by far the most fans in Mexico, but only a small group of true Supporters. The fans buy lots of merchandise and visit the home matches, and usually refer to the team, not the club. The fan idolizes players, but often knows little about the club's history. When a club doesn't do well, more and more seats will be empty, whereas the section of the Supporters is as full as ever.
The Mindset
A Supporter loves the club, not the team and its players. Those are mercenaries who do not identify with the club and will transfer as soon as more money is offered.
To a Supporter, it's all about the club, not the team.
A fan sees this as a hobby or casual entertainment. But Supporters take it seriously. No matter where or when the club plays, or how important the match is, the Supporter is there. A lot of times this means sacrificing other aspects of his/her life - work, school, family, and friends. That's because words like loyalty and honor still have meaning. A Supporter will defend the club's name if necessary, without getting it into trouble.
To the Supporter the club is a lifestyle.
The Supporter supports the team throughout the entire match, regardless of the score or the performance. Because the team needs the support the most when things are not going well. That is not to say that displeasure can't be voiced. But the support of the team always comes first.
Simply singing or shouting is not enough. Every word uttered and every song sung has to be filled with all of the Supporter's energy and passion. Even if the players on the field don't care, it is done for the club's honor and for the Supporter's entire honor.
Sing until your lungs burn and you are ready to puke.
Supporters look at everything the club does objectively and is not afraid to be critical. It is up them to protect the club's values and integrity and to carry them on with their actions.
Should a decision of the club clashes with the Supporter's believes, but benefits the club in the long run, the Supporter has to put his/her own interest aside.
Everything the Supporter does have to be in the club's best interest.
All of these traits are vital. I have known people who went to every Club America match, but didn't support. There were those who sang passionately, but only cherry-picked a few matches a year, exactly the same here in Denver with the Colorado Rapids.
Unfortunately there seems to be a pre-meditated disconnection going on against the Supporters here. The Colorado Rapids FO wants to replace us with customers who will shell out money without asking questions or criticizing.
Rest assured that Legion 5280 will continue its passion and loyalty to the Club, regardless…

David Fagoaga on behalf of Legion 5280

If you ever wanted to know what the difference is between a fan and a supporter is, read David's words. It describes the plight of many of us better than anything I've read in a while. Keep up the fight, Legion 5280.
Meanwhile, Brian Libby weighs in on changes to the MC for JumpTown, and his thoughts as an architecture fan. While I've disagreed with him on many points, his main tenants that the Timbers and Beavers need good homes for themselves makes sense, and in my mind, the MC always made the most sense for baseball. While the overall concept of revamping the MC intrigues me, my frustration at baseball not having a home which in turn might affect the MLS/Timbers initiative clouds whatever benefit I might see in this whole Jumptown initiative. I hope I'm wrong and this all gets resolved, but until then, I'm remaining skeptical until I see the bottom line and full costs.