Thursday, February 26, 2009

One Step Closer

Merritt Paulson: "We get the facility worked out, we're getting a team. You heard it here first".

And with those words, things to get MLS to Portland just became a lot closer, and less of a pipe dream. But really, to get where we are now, we need to review some events from the last few days.

Tuesday, February 24th - Today really had two major events happening that affected the MLS to Portland bid, a presentation in Salem to the state legislature to win support for the team and for asking for modifications to House Bill 2531. This was a bill passed back in 2003, when Portland was trying to lure the then Montreal Expos to come here by setting up bonds for the eventual building of an MLB stadium, with the revenues being paid back from team revenues and taxes on players salaries. The bill passed rather easily, but now with MLB coming here a long time away, Paulson would like to amend this bill to include possible help for refurbishing PGE Park by changing the bill to include MLS as a viable option. The language would need to be altered a bit, but essentially the bill would work the same. Granted, MLS salaries aren't nearly in the millions of dollars you find in MLB, but between that and team revenues, this could provide a small chunk of money to help. A few members of the Timbers Army also went along to provide support for the presentation, to give a fan's perspective. While the Senate President is behind the bill, I expect that they'll be some discussion and it will pass barely. A lot of the discussion around this is based on talk you hear in Portland, basically why do this now when things are struggling, but as with the city bond proposal, this is simply bonds issued by the state paid back by a dedicated fund that doesn't affect state services.

That theme also played out later that night at Portland City Council, where the Stadium Task force continued their meeting, and then had a public forum for comments. Paulson was there, along with other Timbers officials, as well as a rather large contingent of Timbers Army. The meeting itself was from 4 to 5:30, and then public comments started at 6 pm for 90 minutes. 26 people spoke to the positive of bringing MLS here, only 5 wanted to talk on the negative side. But apparently, the positives spoke and spoke well. The Timbers Army had once again mobilized its forces to appear there, and many of them spoke about the team's benefits to the area, benefits to youth soccer, how popular soccer is here, the stadium deal and its benefits, the influence soccer has in the area, and many other personal stories about the Timbers. My friend Obi captured many of the stories, and it is truly some amazing stuff. I couldn't attend the festivities because it was bowling finals for my team, and I was where I was needed, even though my spirits was with my fellow TA downtown. And most of the comments were what was expected. Granted, I understand the concerns of veterans who don't want to see Memorial Coliseum razed, but I believe a very nice memorial can be made if that is the chosen site for the baseball stadium.

But while I couldn't be at the hearing, I was able to contribute some help to the cause on the Oregon Live site, after Paulson had posted a guest opinion supporting the MLS bid. It was a well written piece that said many of the things about the bid that we all knew, and the commentors wasted no time in trying to tear it apart with the same arguments. I tried to defend the positions by simply putting things back on them, stating this wouldn't affect general services, this is a win for the city by bringing jobs here, and it would bring another major league sport here which is a win for us, but some people continued to dig their heels in. And honestly, you can't expect everyone to turn on a dime with this. While I appreciate their eagerness to protect the city and they are at least asking questions, the fact that many of them didn't participate in the public comments was distressing. I know that week nights are tough for some people, so my hope is that they emailed at least. I don't necessarily care that they don't like the idea, but I want the comments to be heard, just the same because that's the process. The fact that most of the arguments could be easily refuted, though, told me that there wasn't a lot of research done.

And one of the most major arguments against the proposal came courtesy a while back from Jules Boykoff, a writer who had done pieces about the failure of stadiums to influence urban areas. Surprisingly enough, Mr. Boykoff did a piece on the same day, but this time, providing some support to the MLS idea. The fact that he came around was surprising, but even he admitted there were some potential benefits here, as long as the terms of the deal didn't hurt the city. And when Merritt Paulson guaranteed the bonds as part of his comments on Tuesday (well, actually his family did), that took one big hurdle out of the equation. Basically, they are guaranteeing repayment of the bonds, regardless of team performance. This means the city isn't on the hook, although the actual terms need to be figured out. But the fact that Paulson is willing to put his name on the line is a big deal.

Thursday, February 26th - The Oregonian Editorial Board provides support to the MLS deal, provided the terms meet up to the right standards and questions can be answered. I get the fact that the newspaper is cautious in their support, but the fact that they can understand this idea has validity means something. And the fact that the board is normally conservative with support and they are still behind this is a great thing, because I don't find them normally convinced of most ideas unless the risk is so minimal, it's painfully obvious to do what they recommend.

What we didn't expect was another editorial by Adam Sanchez, who asked the simple question of why should we bail out Merritt Paulson? I suppose if you had no idea about MLS or PGE Park, this might be a valid question, but in checking on the background of the author, he's a very politically active person in the socialist circles, he's been arrested in a peace march, and is a graduate of Lewis and Clark, and wants to write the next great book about Portland and its socialist leanings. I learned all this by watching the Soccer City USA board light up with comments after his column was published, and there was plenty to find out about his background and activities. Mr. Sanchez raised a few questions that really could again be easily refuted, as basically Paulson can't buy PGE Park and refurbish it himself because the city doesn't want to sell it and even if they did, the MAC Club has first refusal rights. Even if we wanted to use stadium revenues to fund schools, the city rules state that the earnings of PGE Park go into a stadium fund for use there. Even if Paulson could pay for everything, the city would get nothing out of the deal, so why not involve them in a partnership.

The rallying cries for refuting this article came from all over, and later in the day on 95.5 The Game, the TA's own Finnegan appeared on Strong at Night to go over many of the thoughts about how MLS is good in his own way. Some of the callers into the show didn't share the enthusiasm of Finn, including one person who thought that soccer was gay so why spend money supporting a gay sport for gays. I'm personally ashamed that an intelligent person would make such a crass remark, but then again, I don't think this person is that smart if they think this. It's not that I think everyone should like soccer, but there's no need to despair it so. Merritt also appeared later and had some very key announcements:

  • 95.5 The Game will now be broadcasting the Portland Timbers away games for this season, using John Strong and Andy McNamara as on air talent. It's been two season since we had radio coverage at all, and so being able to listen to games from the road is a great move.
  • Taka Suzuki will be back.
  • We have more talent coming in. David Hayes was signed today, and there is an experienced goal keeper and midfielder with MLS experience coming. Speculation thinks the keeper is Steve Cronin, but Merritt wouldn't say.
And then, during his comments, Merritt said the phrase that started this. For those of us that have been trying to get MLS here and show the soccer world what Portland is about, this was a truly amazing development, and one that I'm excited for. But, there's more work to be done to make this happen.

There is a rally on Saturday in downtown, and the information is posted below. I invite you to drop by and lend support, whether you are a soccer fan or someone that just loves the city and wants to see it do well. Or, if you simply want to learn more about MLS to Portland, you can drop by and talk to people. The dream is as close as it's ever been, but there's still more to be done. I'll have my perspective from the rally and pictures later this weekend.

WHAT: A fan march and rally to show our community support to bring an MLS team to Portland!
WHEN:Saturday, Feb. 28
  • 1:30 p.m.: Meet at the Salmon Street Fountain
  • 2:00 p.m.: March to City Hall
  • 2:30 p.m.: Rally in front of City Hall (4th Ave. Entrance)
WHERE:Salmon Street Fountain: The Salmon Street Springs Fountain is located at Salmon Street and Front Ave. in Waterfront Park, near the Portland Visitor's Center.City Hall: 1221 SW 4th Avenue

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Something I Never Expected To Deal With

I can remember the conversation as it was yesterday. It was some cloudy random morning in Boise, and I was getting ready for another school day at Fairmont Junior High school, ready to tackle the challenges that face any somewhat typical 8th grade student. Granted, I had just started school there a few months prior, so I was still known as the “new kid”, but my adventures there are for a different day. My mom happened to be up and reading the newspaper, when she scanned through the local headlines and read about a developmental home being suggested for a few blocks from my home. The home would help people in transition who where dealing with smaller mental issues or other developmental concerns, and the home would be a gateway for them to interact with people directly in ways that most of them probably hadn’t before. There would be complete supervision of them, but it would also help them gain some freedom that they'd been missing from being institutionalized for most of their lives.

It seemed like a good idea in my mind, especially to help others and help them become a part of a community, but instead, I got a venom filled speech how something like that doesn’t belong in my neighborhood at all, and how dare they put crazy people near our home, where kids live and go to school. I sheepishly kept my mouth shut, filling it with Lucky Charms rather than try and debate her that morning, mostly because I didn't feel confident that I could even talk about the issue with any authority. And besides, this was my parent, and there was a bit of respect due to them for the whole “bringing us into the world” thing that she would remind me of as I was being scolded for whatever random trouble I would get in.

Granted, it’s almost 30 years since that conversation, and I hadn’t really thought about it much until I started going to counseling again. Yes, I’m actually spending time rehashing the events in my life to try and make sense of the randomness and insanity that brought me to this point. Because my mom died in 2005, I’ll never get a chance to say a lot of things to her about my life now, and ask her about some of the most idiotic things she used to do. One thing I could never relate to was her almost irrational distaste of anything in her neighborhood that she didn’t want, be it a transitional home, neighbors of color, or something that would bring extra traffic through their street. She wanted to be in control of her surroundings as much as possible, even if there was no way to really do that unless you dealt with them in a completely passing aggressive way. Yes, there's passive aggressive, and then there's my mom's approach of swearing at it as she drove by, but being nice up close if she ever actually encountered the neighbors. While I inherited some things from her that I’m working on getting a handle on, I still love her immensely and I thank everything possible that I didn’t get her paranoia when it comes to her neighborhood. If you could think of the ultimate poster child of a NIMBY person (Not In My Back Yard for the abbeviationally challenged), it would probably be my mom. If it didn’t make sense, don’t bring it here and even if it made sense, let’s question it to no end before doing anything.

So it’s with a great deal of amusement that I read the latest bits of comments about the MLS to Portland bid, as we head into the final stretches of the review before the March 11the deadline for the city to say yes or no for Portland to pursue an MLS franchise. Every article posted recently one way or the other about the deal brings out the calls of “why are we doing this now?”, “why waste money on soccer of all things?”, “why do this when schools are closing, and the city is struggling?” or the ultimate question “why give money to a millionaire when he’s got the money to do it himself?” from the anonymous sludge of the Internet, basically repeating the mantra of many NIMBYs who either can’t figure out the idea so it must be bad or if the idea isn’t’ taking care of my single favorite issue that I care about over anything, it’s not worth doing. The latest posting on OregonLive asks the question about using urban renewal funds to update PGE Park versus using them for another purpose that they were supposedly intended on being used for. Many of the comments on the echo the questions above, and really don’t address the major point of using the funds in the first place.

I get that we are living in a rather unique time in our lives, where our unbridled consumerism has run head first into an economic slowdown that hasn’t been seen of this magnitude for years. Companies are cutting jobs and services, businesses are closing down, people are losing their homes and selling off any extra assets they can, while the news reports of more lost jobs, bad economic news, and governments struggling with budgets and stimulus packages to try and shake the doldrums. It seems like every industry is asking for some type of help from the government, while regular people are being left on the sidelines to struggle along and try and keep up. So there is reason to be scared, because there is a huge amount of uncertainty abound. I think that anyone that doesn’t understand that is either working in a business that isn’t affected or is not in tune with reality right now. But when you hit these points, you can either live in a paranoid state of affairs and wait for the other shoe to drop, or you can live your life as normally as possible, modifying things where needed but not living scared of the trauma outside. It’s the ultimate form of put up or shut up, and while I can relate to both sides of the coin, when it comes to MLS, I’m firmly in the camp of put up and make this happen.

Granted, PGE Park isn’t a blight, far from it. There’s plenty of businesses abound, new condos being built, and a MAX station right across the street. It doesn’t have dilapidated buildings, or abandoned cars strung about it, but I can’t think of a better renewal project than taking a baseball/soccer stadium that doesn’t really work for baseball and turn it into a soccer park that works and works well. You would have a world-class facility that would bring top-level soccer to Portland, in addition to other events, like soccer exhibitions, concerts, football games, and other events that wouldn’t come to Portland now. Anyone who watched the Women’s World Cup here realizes the magic in PGE when it’s full of 25,000 soccer fans and the place is buzzing. We could have that here again, but it’s not as easy as just saying “Ok, let’s build it”. You have to figure out what to do with the baseball team, you have to determine how to pay for the whole deal, and then hope the long-term prospects of each league give the best potential to pay back the bonds issued to pay for it all. And none of those questions come with easy answers.

But for me, it’s really easy, because I believe it’s a great investment for our future. And while I am a die-hard soccer fan, I’m also very pragmatic when it comes to what cities do to develop their core for their current and future residents. Not everybody loves sports, so cities need to invest in things that residents like to do so that they will be happy and remain residents of the area. That means investing in and supporting cultural events, like museums and the symphony, giving support to schools and other public services, taking care of roads and other transportation structures, and providing basic services that people need, like garbage and water. It’s all part of the bigger picture, and everything has its place in the grand scheme. And ignoring one part of the equation means throwing the entire equation out of whack. Portland has been amazing in supporting different events and groups for years, and I see that continuing for now and in the future, both from a city and from resident involvement. You can’t focus completely on the arts without addressing schools or sports, and vice versa. What makes the whole picture work is providing support for things that bring livability to the area, and even in the tough times we face now, it’s important to invest in things that keep people happy residents in an area and keep them from moving to other areas. It’s tough to stand up and say, “I know we’re short money, but building a stadium would help things a lot and here’s why.”, but at the same point, it’s tough not being scared when you are faced with the economics that are going on now.

The stadium deal would provide capital investment and jobs where they are needed, and could transform the area into something special, which could trigger other projects to start up. It could very well spur families to spend money to see what the fuss is about, and it could cause members of the Timbers Army like myself to spend more money to follow their beloved team without thinking about it. But doing nothing right now and acting scared in the face of the economic turmoil means that the fears win out and things don’t change at all. This could be good, or could be bad, we don’t know to be honest, but I have faith in the people calling the shots. It's as simple as being afraid of things like my mom was, or trusting in the folks in charge to realize that this just might work.

And that's a hard thing after reading headlines of corporations stealing money or going bankrupt, or seeing the sports headlines talk about cheaters or athletes with legal issues going on. A lot of sports people act rather spoiled and do things that they shouldn't, but is that really because of sport or is that just them being human? Nobody is perfect, and all we can do is our best and apologize for our mistakes and move on. And do it in a rather meaningful way, not an overly orchestrated apology that seemed canned. I don't know about you, but something about A-Rod's recent press release seems too convenient, too rehearsed, and not nearly as apologetic as I would expect.

But then again, we can't expect athletes to do anything more than do what they do, which can be superhuman at times or tragic like the rest of us. To expect perfection is to be let down when they fail, which happens more than even they would want to admit. That also goes with trust and moving forward, because it would be easy to sit back and be scared of things or not want to change anything because it's too scary or it might cost too much or it might affect my way of life, but life doesn't just sit still. And regret is something that we all deal with, sometimes not too well. It's a different feeling to try something and fail rather than not do anything and then just sit and wonder what might happen or what could have been. It's about putting trust in the people that we elect or are in the positions to do things, and working with them to make things happen. And right now, I trust the people involved with MLS to Portland.

Merritt Paulson has been a tremendous owner for the Beavers and Timbers, and he realizes what a special city we have here, and he’s willing to invest his time and money to bring MLS here. He’s been out talking with people about the project, but he’s also had his players out in the community, speaking to kids, serving the very area that they live in, be it at clinics or other appearances. He’s kept ticket prices reasonable over the years, and provided some top quality entertainment for sports fans to spend their lazy summer days at, and it’s been a great ride. The only thing he’s done wrong is share his last name with his dad, who happened to be the person on duty for the former administration when the financial crisis hit loud and center and his dad worked on a few ideas to try and stimulate business, mostly by perceived handouts. Hank Paulson didn’t create this mess, he was the person on duty when it exploded, and the mess was a combination of unbridled greed combined with a market that was humming along using some inflated expectations. Any economics person will tell you what goes up must come down, and sure enough, it came down hard last year. But what Merritt is asking for now is a combined investment of funds, with the city refurbishing an asset it owns, PGE Park, while building a new asset for the baseball team, while Paulson covers the team expenses, and it’s a plan that is solidly based. Per Randy Leonard, it would appear that both sides are very close to coming up with a long-term plan to make this happen, because the numbers make sense.

And so for us soccer fans, keep up the faith, because we are in the long-term stretch here and it’s very important to keep informed and involved as much as you can. And for the NIMBYs in the audience, the only thing I would ask is to keep an open mind and not immediately destroy an idea just because. Visit the MLS to Portland site, or visit your city commissioner’s web pages to learn more about the truth of MLS to Portland, and make up your mind based on the information there. We can do this without sacrificing the things that make this city great, but it’s up to all of us to realize the special opportunity we are being presented, and bring MLS to our back yard.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Most Unusual Trail Blazers Game Ever

I've been attending Trail Blazer games since I moved here in 1989, and I've seen some rather unusual stuff: game winning shots, Rasheed trying to kill a referee, playoff games, the 2001 collapse in LA from the Rose Garden, retirement ceremonies, and lots of great games. But nothing I had seen prepared me for what I saw last night.

The Oklahoma City Thunder came to town last night, but you might remember them as the former Seattle Supersonics. The team was unceremoniously moved to Oklahoma last year by their owner, Clay Bennett, who bought the team in 2006 from Howard Schultz. Schultz was frustrated at the lack of movement on a new arena in Seattle, despite the fact that Key Arena was refurbished back in 1995 with help from the city. Schultz wanted Bennett to keep the team in Seattle, and he promised he would make an effort to keep them there. Schultz had asked for a $200 million capital infusion to fix Key Arena, so Bennett, after buying the team, promptly asked for $500 million for a brand new area. I love businessmen when they use new math. Bennett finally applied to move the team last year after failed attempts to get money, and so the city of Seattle sued to keep the team there. Despite having a pretty good case, the city finally settled for $45 million dollars with the promise to keep the team history and colors, and also receive extra funds if the city could secure additional financing from the state of Washington by the end of 2009. The legislature will be taking up that task sometime in the next few months while they are in session, so the fate of the money should be known by the time the Thunder make their second appearance in the Rose Garden on April 13th.

But while there's plenty of blame to throw about amongst the players above, you can add the state government, who thought the whole idea of paying for an arena was stupid, the city council, who didn't seem to have an idea of what they wanted to do, and David Stern, the NBA commissioner, who let the whole thing happen. Stern might have felt some obligation to Bennett, who worked with the New Orleans Hornets when they played in OK City when their city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, so he wanted to get a team there. But really, the fact that you could just allow a team with over 40 years of history to just walk away like that was a joke, and I blame all of the parties involved here. It's not that I lose any sleep over the issue, but I'm mad that not only did the NBA allow our closest rival to walk away, but now we lost the only team in our division that plays in the same time zone, which no other team has to deal with. Every other division has at least 2 teams that play in the same time zone, except for the Northwest division. Denver and Utah are in the mountain zone, OK City and Minnesota are in the Central. Gee, you'd think there was a conspiracy here.

But add to this little mix of stuff was the fact that Portland had visited OK City last Friday, and got thumped. The Thunder ran them all over the court, and it was only a good fourth quarter that made the result respectable. So, there was a bit of revenge on the Trail Blazer's mind for Wednesday's game. And then, as I noted in my blog on Tuesday, various Seattle fans were coming down to Portland to cheer for the game, and show support for Nate McMillan and try to bring the NBA back to Seattle, even asking for the fans to cheer for the Sonics at points. I didn't support the idea one bit, because while I respect rivals, I don't cheer for them under any circumstances, but if you could pull this off, why not give it a try? Portland is by far one of the more polite NBA cities, often clapping for specific players or teams.

When girl and I got to the arena, the place was full of green and gold Sonics gear. The Oregonian did a good job of documenting the fans and displays during the game, while even Yahoo Sports did a nice article about the displaced fans, and what they plan on doing the next time the Thunder come to town. Seriously, I can imagine being very upset if my team was taken away like it was, and then they travel to the nearest city and acted like nothing happened. These players were guys they had cheered on for many years, and suddenly, they are wearing strange uniforms and answering to a different team name. It would be a bit disconcerting, but at the same point, the NBA proved one thing in letting the Sonics move - it's about the money. And as much as Trail Blazer fans may not want to admit it, we came very close to losing our team before the recent emergence when Paul Allen said our market was "broken" and he put the team up for sale after declaring bankruptcy to try and get a better deal on his arena debt. We could have been in the same boat as Sonics fans, but along came the better days, and now we are selling out like crazy.

The place was loud and crazy, much like a playoff atmosphere, and I saw a lot of pockets of green and gold that weren't Ducks. As we settled into our seats, the Thunder was booed when they came out for warmups, and got more boos during player introductions. I would have thought we were playing a fierce rival, but then I remembered that really we are, since many of these players were in Seattle just last year. Before the introductions, though, there was some comedy with the ball relay, a marketing tool that the Trail Blazers do before the game to pass the game ball from the top of the arena to the floor, and then a kid presents the ball to the referee before the tip. Well, the sections 307, 207, and 104 took it upon themselves to pass the ball in all sorts of directions but in the right one, as the ball went left, right, back up, one person down, and so on. It even paused for pictures with some fans, and it only made it to the floor about a minute before the anthem because a Trail Blazers stunt girl stole it from a fan to bring it down. The kids walked up to hand the ball over, they had their pictures taken, but then the official, realizing it was a compressed time, said a few things to the kids and then helped the Stunt Team get the kids over to the sidelines as the arena lights dimmed. Look, I like the ball relay, but seriously, it's up to the fans to keep it moving and not cause delays, plus you are depriving a kid of the moment to be on the floor with the ball. Seriously, I felt bad for the kids, but it was nice to see the official take a moment to help out.

The game itself was pretty uneventful in the first half, as the Sonics chant never really got going as expected, and the Thunder matched the Trail Blazers in hustle and rebounds. While we shot the ball better from the floor, the Thunder shot near perfect from the free throw line, so the score was close at the half. Brandon Roy had some nice plays, and Greg Oden had a few key moves, but really, we couldn't match their intensity. One of the biggest cheers was at the half for a junior basketball game, where an 8th grader put up a serious NBA length 3 point shot and drilled it. And as the third quarter went on, the game was still close until about midway, when Oden finally started controlling the boards, and we started stringing made shots together. The end sequence of the third quarter went from us having a 4 point lead to almost 10 points in about 30 seconds, and we stretched the lead to nearly 20 in the 4th quarter, and won by 14 1o6 to 92.

I know some people are concerned that we still have our best players on the court at the end of a game that we apparently had under control with 4 minutes left, but I saw OK City put four guards in the game and they were really playing with quickness and started hitting some shots that weren't falling in the second and third quarters for them. They never got closer than 12 points in the fourth, but I felt that OK City was only a small run away from getting back in the game, and with our offensive struggles, I think it's important to have our key guys out there keeping things flowing. When we don't have Roy and Aldridge on the court, the offense really becomes watching Travis try and create things, which does work sometimes but other times not so much. We're still a young team, and we're getting better, by really winning games that we should.

And as I left the arena, I watched the Sonics fans as they help up signs and tried to cheer. You heard them at points, but the game operations went out of their way to avoid showing any Sonics signs that used their team name directly. It was almost as if the NBA and the Trail Blazers wanted everyone to forget the Sonics ever existed. But there were plenty of green and gold reminders throughout the arena, reminding folks of what used to be, and what they hope might be again. It would be nice for them to have a team, especially to give us a close rival again. But I also think that bringing back a team would validate what many fans in the arena knew - Seattle is a fabulous NBA market and the fans had their team stolen from them in broad daylight. Here's hoping that karma works to get them back in the NBA and restore the Pacific Northwest rivalry to the NBA.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Baseball's Train Wreck

I got a text message from my friend TJB on Monday after Alex Rodriguez's admission that he had indeed taken performance enhancing drugs while with Texas in 2001 through 2003, despite his previous statements to the contrary. Apparently, he was responding to a leaked test result that indicated he was one of 104 players that tested positive for a banned substance. We don't know who else has tested positive, but reactions around the sports world have ranged from yawns to calls for suspensions to statements that his career legacy is now tainted. TJB was proud of herself, saying "I told you so, and now I'm proven right."

Mind you, there's a lot of bitter feelings in the Pacific Northwest when A-Rod talked about wanting to play for a winning team and get into the playoffs with a team that had a great legacy, then he bolted the Mariners for the Rangers for a $252 million dollar contract, by far the biggest amount ever shelled out for a player. Never mind that in his 3 or so years in Texas, they didn't come close to winning a title, and only marginally competing in the AL West, while the Mariners did pretty well until they imploded the past few years. A-Rod's playoff record is strictly from appearances with the Mariners and Yankees, and some of the Yankee teams have done well enough to advance to the ALCS, but for supposedly the game's best overall player, he's never played in a World Series. Granted, not winning a World Series or even appearing in one doesn't mean a player can't be great, but championships are what many careers are measured on, and some players have cemented a stellar career with a great playoff performance.

I won't have so much of a problem with A-Rod had he been honest in 2000 and said I want to go where I can be paid the most money, rather that his lame attempt to talk about team chemistry and playoff potential. His contract essentially prevented the Rangers from fielding a competitive team, and they suffered for it immensely. But instead of being honest about things, it was always about wanting to win and be competitive. Some of his language about steroid use mirrors terms he used then, saying he felt pressure to succeed and I only wanted the best for myself and my team. While his statements did have some candor to them, it was only after being faced with the accusations he was that he came clean. Up until then, he was living a lie, much like a lot of other players from that era.

And instead of being able to determine the cheaters, it's become a cat and mouse game of who's going to get caught and for what. As the drug tests and evidence are put out in the media, it appears that Jose Canseco was really on when he wrote his tell all book about who was doing what. He was dismissed as a crackpot when the book first hit the shelves, but now, he's been the most truthful one of all. And if that's what you have to hang your hat on, that's not saying a whole lot. Instead, the situation is leaked drug tests, admissions of wrong doing written in vaguely cryptic terms to not admit too much, and the drug rules get bigger and longer each year. The MLB Players Association and MLB have worked out a test plan that has seemed to work to a point, but apparently the need to enhance stats is much more of a need than the associated risks of taking drugs and possibly being caught or doing damage to your future for many players. It's a cat and mouse game, and the stakes are getting higher and higher as time goes on, and discussions about records and history .

Baseball is an unusual sport when it comes to protecting history and legacy. Many old time sports fans and writers protect the history at all costs, saying that anyone convicted of a drug issue should have any records removed from baseball's annuls. Younger fans don't seem to have as much of an associated concern, instead saying that nobody is really being harmed by this, so why can't we just look past it all and let bygones be bygones. And the debate rages on, as your current home run king is prosecuted for drugs and tax problems, while the legacy of some great players hangs in the balance as their legacy is tied to drug use. Hell, baseball's all time hit leader isn't even in the Hall of Fame for his betting on baseball, which really was a near 15 year cycle of lies about betting which then coincided with a confession and tell all book with an admission. The same baseball guys that talk about history also mention the integrity of the game, and needing to protect it at all costs, and people that cheat shouldn't be part of the Hall.

But then again, many of the members of the Hall have issues of character that in our current days may have prevented them from being considered. They didn't live in a 24 hour news era, with breaking sports happening all the time and blogs talking about sports all over the world, playing in front of thousands in person and even more on television, with all the pressures and traps of wealth right there. I can't imagine how some of them handle the temptations at points, because you have a lot of time and money on your hands, and with the pressures of competing and winning, personal ethics and convictions get tested all the time. Seriously, how many people would consider cheating if you knew that it would be a while before you got caught, and you might be able to win championships and earn money in the meantime? The temptation is high, which is why people still do it to this day. Integrity may be something that some fans worry about, but you have as many players and fans that couldn't care less, if it meant wins and titles. It's all about winning, and the costs don't matter.

I'm tired of the integrity argument when it comes to steroids, because during the golden age of drugs, nobody seemed to care what was going on. Fans were tired after the baseball strike, and needed a great story, and got a home run race. Teams were making money hand over fist, as fans returned in droves, and ratings were skyrocketing on television. The executives were being paid well, and everyone was happy, even with evidence that things may not exactly be alright. It didn't matter, because the blind eye was turned. And now, over 10 years later, it's a big case of shame on them and how could they? They did it because they could, because the rules didn't say they couldn't until most recently. They did it, knowing the risks, but instead focusing on the long term rewards of fame and fortune. And they did it because they knew that the fans and teams wouldn't catch on until later on, and it was worth the chance.

If you really want to bring integrity into this question, I think it's really a simple solution. If integrity and personal ethics matters, then you expunge the records and statistics of everyone that is deemed to have character issues, and I mean everyone. Why just turn a eye to steroids, but why not excessive drinking, drugs, affairs, the whole gamut of character issues, and then let the chips fall wherever. If the Hall is really all about integrity, then make the people that get in live up to this high standard and don't put the grey areas of human experience into question. Make it very strict and don't allow exceptions. Or your alternative is to strictly focus on the numbers, and use that as your argument. Numbers are universal, and while drugs may have inflated some, if you take that out of the equation, it's simply numbers versus numbers. The best ones get in, and we celebrate the greatness of numbers.

Neither solution really is pretty, but the alternative is this grey area back and forth witch hunt that forces MLB to continue to try and keep ahead of the cheats, and list any possible substance that could affect performance, and they are playing a catchup game in a big way. And even with a fairly strict drug testing plan, players will continue to risk it because the penalties aren't enough to deter it, especially if now we deem a simple apology enough to wipe away the actions of someone trying to one up their competition. For me, I'm done with baseball until this issue is resolved, because while it's important to be able to make mistakes and be able to apologize for them and atone for actions, I'd rather players be honest about things rather that think they need to hide from what they do. I'd rather teams treat character as something that matters rather than thinking winning means everything, and it only matters how many trophies you have. I'd rather have the leadership of baseball stand up for what is the right thing to do, and not get caught in semantics games back and forth, preaching integrity for the game yet showing none of it in the decisions they make. You want my respect, play within the rules as they are put out, and give something back for the gifts that you've earned, and if you choose to do it your own way, live up to the consequences if it comes back to bite you. I wish nothing but that, because the grey area is getting really, really old.

So I'm going to the Trail Blazers - Thunder game tomorrow night with girl, and there's been a plea shared with the newspaper in town from former Sonics fans, who are coming down to watch the team they used to have. They are asking for our help to start a cheer for the former Sonics to show support for their bid to regain the NBA in Seattle. So after all of the years of having the Seachickens and Mariners shoved down our throats every weekend on the TV, we're supposed to feel sorry for you that your team is gone. Ok, I realize the irony of talking baseball in my story, but it's also topical baseball wide, but I'm not going to apologize for talking baseball here, either. That being said, I don't think they would be willing to do such a thing if the tables were reversed, and I'm sorry the team is gone because they had no reason to move. It was a slight of hand by the NBA, perpetuated by the league and the guy that purchased the team, and the fans deserve better. But, do you really think a cheer for the former Sonics means anything to anyone? I have better things to do with my cheering to be honest, and I'm sure there will be a lot of Sonics jokes or comments during the game that will be shouted. They used to be a rival, and while I respect them just fine, I'm not going out of my way to cheer for them in our house.

Friday, February 6, 2009

I Just Don't Get It Sometimes

Last time I checked, the world wasn't coming to an end. I figured that if it was a big thing like that, CNN and Fox News would have wire to wire coverage on it, with amazing graphics and numerous talking heads speculating about what will happen during the last moments of life, followed by field reporters trying to describe what they see in dizzying hyperboles of witticisms. But since I couldn't find anything about it, and I ended up getting distracted by Ninja Warrior anyway, it must not be that important.

But seriously, people have their undies in a huge bunch about Michael Phelps and his profession for love of a bong. The dude has abs of steel and eats like 4 million calories a day but isn't a blimp, but his first love appears to be a bong. Ok, apparently he had been partying it up with friends and other acquaintances for a few days, when the infamous picture was clicked and now travels about the Internet. So, really, a 23 year old guy parties it up with friends and decides to light up, and it's big news. Oh, yeah, forgot about the Olympic Medals and the golden boy image. I'm sure the marketing guys are ready to jump off some tall buildings after this photo went out, and the advertisers that linked themselves to the Olympic golden boy are dropping like flies, saying they are not renewing contracts to save money. Sure, and apparently his marketability is now somewhere between Steve Wilkos and Vince, the Shamwow guy. Wait, you mean even Carrot Top has a better score now? Ouch.

The reactions have been interesting to say the least, from a take on Fox Sports that is insightful and funny, to a local take from Steve Duin of the Oregonian, to a take from a dad who is proud that his daughter has chosen a new hero to worship after all of this. And I think all of the articles have some valid points, because when you are in the public eye, you have to be aware of what you do at all times. The public eye follows you around, and posts what you do, what you say, or where you are at on the Internet at any given point, and it's hard to stay in control of your image, especially since people love to knock famous people down a peg a bit now and then. Personally, after his hosting stint on SNL, I wished I had found something on him, because he was absolutely horrible. But hey, he was the flavor of the moment, so I can let it slide a bit.

But my opinion is that the last time I checked, the Olympic Oath didn't say anything about never doing things that a lot of us have done in our past and getting caught, or not blowing off some steam with friends at a party, or making dumb adolescent mistakes because when you are in your late teens and early 20's, a lot of people think they are invincible and can't get caught or can do whatever. Funny thing is that the world has a way of smacking them back in line with responsibility or if you are famous, the tabloids. I get that we want our heroes to be sparkling with no hint of issue, teeth gleaming white, living the American dream, and showing the rest of the world that the USA kicks ass. The thing is, that doesn't exist anymore, and the more we let people cling to that tired idea, the more things like Phelps will blow up in our face.

Everyone has baggage, things they regret, things you would do differently, and we are all human, even the hero types. And I don't find anything wrong with a 23 year old partying with his friends, especially after the schedule that guy has had over the past few years. That might lead to a mistake or two, but the thing to do here is realize the mistake, apologize and mean it, work on fixing the issue, and then resume your life as best you can. Honestly, I would love to have someone experience personal issues and then rise to achieve something truly special, because it would show kids that not only can you make mistakes (and trust me, you will. It will happen), but you can rise above them and still achieve greatness.

Look, I'm not going to condone someone doing things against the law or harming others, and that's why Phelps will need to do some restitution for his pot smoking antics. But turning his situation into a debate about heroism misses the point here that role models for kids are everywhere, and while it's important for those in the public eye to do what they can to show a good example, it's even more important to do that when they've messed up. Or you can foolishly believe that the world still has perfect heroes that never do anything wrong, are infallible, and athletically and morally superior to us all, and shelter kids from the reality that heroes are human and they will mess up.

But what do I know? I mean the school districts here are so trying to protect kids from the real world, they've instituted a fan code for all OSAA high school games immediately, which include no noisemakers, no signs bigger than a sheet of paper, no shouting "Air Ball" or other derogatory comments, although foam fingers are still okay. Thank god, because I know the foam finger industry is worried about losing their market share in Oregon, and so losing this valuable market would put some people out of work.

I know there's a history of issues at some sporting events, including a state basketball tournament game in 2007 that the fan behavior went from good natured name calling and chanting and turned into a verbal joust with racial epitaphs being hurled about. I'm not going to excuse anyone who turns a fan experience into violence towards other fans, or hurling absolutely unreasonable insults at others, but I won't deride anyone feeling they need to defend themselves either. We're all there to watch the game, and sometimes the emotion gets the best of people and things happen that shouldn't or things get said that probably shouldn't. That's why security is at most events, to keep things from really turning ugly. But while I don't want to completely rely on security, I can say in my experience of being a fan, I've learned a few things.

Originality counts, a lot. Anyone can yell a curse word, or tell somebody they suck. But find something interesting but not widely known, and hurl that, and hey, it shows some smarts. Sometimes the best insult is what doesn't get used, because there are athletes that feed off fan venom, so you can insult them better by being quiet. Making noise is great, and if some of the language gets dicey, it happens. I'm not going to say I've never uttered curse words in games, but I try and be careful as best as possible. But if I'm in section 107 and with my crazies, most people realize it may not be a tea and crumpet circle, so you're going to hear and see things that might not be for the faint of heart. I've even read ESPN's list on heckling, and it's actually pretty good.

But my issue here is that the school districts are trying so hard to protect kids from things, it makes the world almost unreasonable to live in. I get that nobody signs up in sports to get pummeled by 100 points in a game, or to have somebody from an opposing school refer to you as a dick simply because of the colors you are wearing, but it happens. And to sit back and naively think that we can solve the problem with calls of sportsmanship and manipulating rules to control the rules and environment is just stupid. That's a great lesson to be teaching kids, if you don't like the rules or the the game, just wait for someone to change it if it's not fair, and if you get an apology because the other team is better, you should feel good about them saying "we're sorry we made you feel bad because we're gooder than you". And they wonder why so many kids hit the business world after school, and it hits back hard because it's not always fair, it's sometimes not very nice, and the world doesn't owe them shit, even if you work hard and play by all the rules. But by all means, if you make sure the score in a game isn't too insulting and make sure everyone gets a trophy, by all means, you've done a great job of educating them about life.

I get that schools have it tough, I'm married to an educator and my mother in law works in a school out here. They talk about the classroom challenges, the crazy directives from the districts, the absolute insanity that happens in classes as they try to do more with less while making sure that no child is really left behind, while having a general public that thinks most teachers are under worked and supremely overpaid. I honestly felt that way until I really understood the challenges that teachers deal with, and realize that it's a wonderful but potentially thankless job. When I was a corporate trainer, I always had the threat of taking a person's job away if they didn't pay attention in class, but you can't do that to a fourth grader. And trust me, if they could, I would have expected that to be implemented by our last president.

So by all means put sports in this environment and sanitize the experience where all schools are the Wildcats, nobody keeps score cause we are playing for fun, and we all get a trophy and juice box at the end cause everyone is a winner. Sports is supposed to be fun, but it teaches you lessons of hard work, discipline, working as a team, and working towards a goal. I get that most sports now have a price tag and it's frustrating for some kids to pay money and sit on the bench, but honestly, I learned as much in practice as I ever did in games. It's about accomplishing a goal, and being respectful to your teammates, the officials and your opponents, while realizing that your opponents and their fans will give you shit for being the other team and officials will miss calls or make calls that you don't agree with. It's reality, and the way things work, and the sooner we teach kids that lesson, the better off they are in dealing with the challenges in the future.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

100th Post - What Do I Win?

Seriously, we can put men in space, we can cure diseases, and we can create some of the world's greatest masterpieces, so tell me in what planet does this item sound like a good idea? I mean really, you can't operate a seat belt, so you need help with making it work better? I love American ingenuity, but seriously, a lot of what we develop is simply to take advantage of stupid people into sending their money for things. Granted, we can't legislate intelligence, and I try to avoid having government pass laws to protect people from themselves, but seriously, I think it's about time to consider it. Because I can't think of anything redeeming about this product at all. And yes, I'm fully aware of where the product ends up on most of the female clientele.

I love reading about how Sunday's Super Bowl was the best game ever, and it immediately should be ranked amongst the best games ever. Uh, seriously, here? I can think of at least 5 games that I found more interesting and were better overall games from start to finish. (Elway's first Super Bowl win, Norwood's missed kick versus the Giants, the Giants win last year, Patriots first win in 2002, 49ers win in 1982 just to name 5 right now, there could be more.) It's not that the game was all that boring, either. You had two evenly matched teams, both teams made big plays, and the fourth quarter was back and forth, so that was good. On the flip side, you had uneven officiating throughout the game, non existent running games, and really a first half that bordered on sloppy for both sides.

But we are in an era of Super Bowls that don't suck, so really, fans right now may not remember the trash that really was the Super Bowl until about 2002. Games weren't close for the most part, and when they were, it was true back and forth, nail biting classics. Otherwise, the games were over by halftime, so the excuse was to get drunk and watch the commercials until something else was on television. Now, in the golden age of Super Bowls, there really hasn't been a blowout in a while, so I think each game gets thrown on the hyperbole of great games, even if it really wasn't. Pittsburgh played very well, and made plays when they needed to, but if the game ended and Arizona won, it wouldn't have been a huge surprise because for the most part, they played well. Yes, the forth quarter was a classic battle, back and forth, with some huge plays, but I couldn't consider the whole game a true classic.

But as a sports fan, I'm entitled to my opinion, and so there will be plenty of other dissenting views, and that's OK. One of the great things about sports is that discussions like this really share knowledge between sports fans, and so you impart history and information between people that know and share passion. Unfortunately, you get the other side where people from the modern era tend to forget the things that just happened 10 years ago. Seriously, when the NBA was polling current players about the best shooters of the game, they mentioned a lot of good players. From the current ranks. With nobody from the previous eras even remotely mentioned. How can you have a discussion of great NBA shooters and not include Larry Bird or George Gervin? Oh, that's right, they played before the era of Sports Center.

Which is where the whole classic thing bugs me the most. If someone hasn't seen it, apparently it either doesn't exist, or it's too obscure to be true. And I don't want to sound like a sports fan that uses the tired analogy of walking up hill barefoot to school to describe my experience in being a fan while I was younger, but when you could only watch one MLB game a week on TV, when NBA was an only occasional watch, NFL was restricted to what you got on your market area, and your newspaper box scores were the way that you learned more about teams and players, it makes you appreciate what an era we live in now, with sports anytime, anywhere. But by the same token, games and performances get taken for granted, and history seems less relevant because it's the here and now.

True fans of the game appreciate the current, learn about the past, and look towards the future with open eyes and hearts. I miss some of the simplicity of being a fan when things were more simple, but at the same time, being able to get scores and highlights anytime spoils me greatly. Being able to watch a Trail Blazer game while checking the Gonzaga score on my phone is priceless, and something that every sports fan appreciates. But in appreciating that, it's also important to remember where we came from.

As far as MLS updates for Portland, there are a couple of important items. The City Task Force keeps meeting to try and hit the deadline to recommend that Portland either officially apply for a team or defer the idea for later. Randy Leonard has asked the group to keep on task to meet the deadline, and focus on soccer rather than baseball right now. While it's important to get that task done, the issue is that MLS will be making its decision within the next month or two, and we need to get things in order now or lose an opportunity here. On February 24th, the Task Force will be taking public comments, and I'll post information about where it is, and what you can do to help. It's important to make your voice heard here, and let the city know that this idea has merit, and we would support MLS coming here. I understand the city has important issues, but at the same point, we have a chance here to do something special and bring top level soccer to the Rose City.