Friday, October 30, 2009

Read It And Weep...

Read this information and weep if you are a baseball fan in Portland. Weep if you are a sports fan, weep if you care about the long term future of this city, weep if this decision just makes you frustrated about the “process” that people around here keep talking about, because today is a truly frustrating day for all of us. The game to find a home for baseball continues, and the list of potential sites grows, as Merritt Paulson decided to suspend negotiations to put a ballpark in Beaverton today.

This doesn’t close the door to a ballpark being put out there, nor does it mean the park couldn’t end up out there. It just means that the Beavers can’t rely on the timeframe of Beaverton to get the particulars in motion to meet the construction schedule, so they need to open up the situation to other groups in the hopes to get things figured out by the start of next year. Opponents of the idea will sit back and rejoice this situation, saying that we’ve won this war on the “boondoggle” of the ball park and it’s a matter of time before Paulson has left the city with his teams in tow.

So then I ask these people, then what happens? You have a park that still has money owed upon it, and suddenly you have no tenants to help you pay off the debt, so who pays? We all do. Think that other potential owners will look at Portland and see this as a place where they could build a winning, financially successful franchise? Hardly, as potential businesspersons have to look at this situation and what happened with the Lumberjax, and see what this city really is at its core. We love our NBA team, and everything else can just fall by the wayside.

Seriously, how is this city supporting two full time sports radio stations yet we only have one true major sport within our area? It’s because we love our Trail Blazers no matter what, and if you just mention something about them, there will be those that will talk anytime, anywhere at great length no matter what else is going on. We all love to dream about what might be with the team, potential players and trades, the future of the NBA, and we’ll drop everything to talk with others that share our affliction. It’s ratings gold, but at the same point, if you like other sports within the city, you’re second class.

There’s enough traction to get attention with the MLB and NFL teams up north, and during football time, the Ducks and Beavers can wrestle some time away, but for the most part, we are Trail Blazers through and through, and that helps prove we are a solid, committed market. But it also labels us as completely small minded because we can’t see past what we can to see the potential of what might be with something else. God forbid the Trail Blazers ever went through financial trauma, and see what the market would do. Wait, we did, and nothing dramatically changed. The television coverage here is some of the worst in terms of seeing games unless you have Comcast, yet we put up with it and fill the stadium each night because we love our team.

And it’s that love that makes it hard for us to look at anything else and give it any sort of attention. Soccer may be a wonderful thing in town, but if it’s such a good idea, why doesn’t the team pay for it like Paul Allen? Well, Paul Allen paid for most of the arena, but had some help from the city to make it happen, and they are also in control of any development in that area, even if the city owns the Memorial Coliseum. We got lucky that our basketball guy is one of the richest men in the world, and he’s figured out that we love our team enough that we’ll do just about anything and put up with just about any antics and still keep coming back.

The naysayers don’t want their tax money going towards a stadium, yet don’t see a problem with monies going towards other businesses that may or may not bring jobs to the area. I get that stadiums aren’t an exact science in economic development, but some of them work very well in jumpstarting areas, and no economic study done about stadiums has completely captured the full impact of what a new stadium brings. It’s hard to pinpoint every stream of income that a team generates and understand the impact and put it in a study, but hey, they try really hard. The truth is that stadiums may not completely revitalize an area, but as a component, it can help within an overall plan. And, apparently, the bars and restaurants outside stadiums that are full of people don’t generate any economic impact.

It’s redistribution of income, so it doesn’t really matter. And I suppose those people have never really cared enough about anything to give up their vacation time, spend thousands of dollars and travel and other supplies just to follow a team and show their passion for something. It’s easier to just keep things as they are, because we live in tough times and the economics of the world mean we have to be conservative. If we make a decision about this, what happens if it’s wrong? There's been other cities that have had problems with ball parks, so we have to be careful we don't fall into the same trap, despite the fact that the deals proposed for baseball put the majority of the risk on Paulson and left the city's revenue streams in tact.

We elect our officials to make tough decisions and run the city, yet there are those fringe elements that spend their time distrusting everything about the process, while a huge majority is too busy living paycheck to paycheck to even care about anything more than the bottom line. And if I’m a fringe element, I can make up pithy things to scare this mass group into some activity, even if it’s inactivity or wanting to force a vote. It's important to micro manage these groups, because apparently the people need to be trusted more, yet we're the ones that elected these people to represent us in the first place. I can imagine this is why we don’t have people beating down the doors to run for public office.

We’d rather talk and talk and talk, and hope that something happens instead of taking a chance and making something occur. Even when you have a solid idea with good financial return expected, giving a city an asset that could be around for years, it’s easier to play the “what if” game and give our love to a team that cares about as much for us as they care about their bottom line. We don’t want to make a decision, let the process happen where it may, and things will be just fine as long as the Blazers are here.

Never mind that during this process, we’ve given ourselves an image that will be hard to shake. We’re not the city that works, we’re the city that would rather talk about things, and only work if it makes sense and everyone is in agreement. The only problem with this kind of leadership is that it does nothing more that ensure the status quo of keeping things as they are. There’s nothing visionary, nothing earth shattering, nothing game breaking, it’s more just care taking. Maybe that’s something you all can get behind, but I can’t. I’m tired of this process and tired of this area getting in its own way despite the best intentions. I don’t want to envision a PGE Park sitting empty in 2011 with no teams, but today, that reality became much more likely that anyone wants to admit.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Post 200 - And the Worms Are Flying Everywhere

I’ve had to look in the mirror a lot lately, and face myself and the choices I’ve made. It doesn’t sound nearly as dramatic as it has been, but then again, it’s thrown me off quite a bit so maybe I’m making it smaller than it appears.

It wasn’t that long ago that I was living by myself in Northwest Portland, happy with my job and friends and dealing with the realities that came my way. Granted, I probably wasn’t exercising as much as I could have been, I’d accumulated a pretty solid amount of debt for one person, and I lived in a smallish studio apartment, but I felt happy about my place in life. Then I get a phone call that changes everything, and I end up a week later saying goodbye to my mother due to cancer, which shook my foundation in ways I couldn’t even begin to fathom. It’s now a bit over 4 years since then, and I’ve changed almost everything about myself. I got married, I shaved my hair down, I moved out to East County, I gained a pack of cats, and I even changed my last name, but perhaps the biggest change was in my faith.

Up until my mother’s death, I practiced Catholicism. I didn’t attend mass as regularly as I should, but there was a simplicity and comfort in being part of that fabric that held to my foundation. I could time the ceremony in 45 minutes, knowing where the prayers hit in mass, the responses and when to say them, the songs that came up, it was a huge comfort. Or it could be considered a huge crutch, depending on how you looked at it, but what it did allow me to do was keep some connection with my family and the supreme being I’d grown up with. My beliefs hadn’t been questioned, and I’d even allowed my faith to influence my decisions relating to dating.

And my mother was the bedrock that influenced a lot of things I’d done up to that point, and so losing her was a huge upheaval in everything. I tried to follow the advice of some who said leaning on my faith would help me understand what happened, and where my place was after everything was done. And so I prayed, and went to mass, and prayed some more, and the more I did this, the more questions that came and never seemed to have an answer. It was at this point I’d met girl, who wasn’t like anyone I’d met before, and she had something that I’d never encountered before. She had a strong sense of self, and stayed true to her beliefs, and while she could relate to other ways of being, she remained true to what she knew. Amongst many things, this was one of the traits that I found appealing to me, and I still find that tenacity adorable. The fact that she’d been able to do this and not have faith in a god of any kind went against everything I’d known or dealt with, and because of my own crisis of trying to figure out where I fit in the world, I walked away from the faith that I’d known.

I’ve had to deal with this decision only a handful of times, such as when I visited my grandmother back in 2006 and brought girl to meet her. She recently passed away, but my grandmother never missed a mass in her 99 years of life because her faith was her stability, her beacon, her way. When grandma had asked me about whether we attended church and whether girl would convert, I said yes. Granted, we’d never talked about it up until then and I knew that there was no way girl would ever embrace church, but at the same time, I felt that glossing it over was the right choice. Now, I think I would have enjoyed the conversation that girl would have had with my grandmother, because it would have been one for the ages. I’m not sure who would have won, but I know that they would have left that discussion with mutual respect or crazed yelling. I just know that at that point, I wasn’t ready to walk away from my faith completely. But after months and months, the decision made more sense and I’ve never looked back until this past weekend.

A very dear friend of mine was getting married to her beau, and it was the first time I was attending a full Catholic service without fully being able to participate as a practicing Catholic. I wasn’t quite sure how I would feel about this, because I couldn’t even equate the feelings I was processing. I knew exactly what would happen, what songs would be sung, the readings that would be shared, the sermon the priest would provide, but yet I wasn’t part of that world anymore. It was like knowing the secret codes and messages to know what was going on, but not feeling comfortable about having that information. Even now, the whole concept was extremely foreign because the prayers and words didn’t carry nearly the same meaning as they once did.

Granted, I find that believing in something is important, and I can respect anyone’s set of beliefs no matter what they are. To me, it’s important to believe in something, even if it’s something or nothing, even if it’s a supreme being or an unknown power, and even if it’s simply in yourself. And I know that many find comfort in having belief in something as part of a community because there is comfort in a collective experience. But I’d rather people have faith that is personal to them and means something to them rather than just go through the motions because it’s comfortable. I’d spent my adult life doing that, and when the time came for me to find my faith, I found that what I had wasn’t right for me and it was time to find faith in myself. I still believe in a supreme being, but the relationship is much more transparent and accessible without formality.

And what is perhaps funny about it was that it’s not that far from something I’d found back in high school. Sunday mornings for me used to be about church, but I was the only churchgoer. And with having a limited amount of time to do things and me being a distance runner in high school, I started to complete my long distance runs Sunday morning when things were quiet and I could fit it in my schedule. While I was getting exercise and feeling better about myself, I didn’t realize that the runs soon became conversations with the being about things going on during my run. It was my time with it, and I began to treasure this simple custom that gave me great comfort. This wasn’t a talk in church or me talking to someone to talk to him for me, it was me talking to them unfiltered.

After I went to college and my Sunday mornings became more about sleeping in, I lost this tradition, and never regained it. I’d never realized that in trying to find faith, I’d had it right in my hands way back when, and to get it back, I’d just have to remember the simple lessons of believing in something. I can thank a lot of people, especially girl, for helping me find this, and I’ve never been happier. And while I’ve honestly looked back and thought about what might have been, I’m confident that my choice of path is where I need to be. And when it comes down to it, that’s all anyone can ask of themselves.

Granted, I can make this sound really simple, but this hasn’t been nearly as cohesive as I’ve made it out here. It’s tough to go against things that you’ve known and felt for years, and realize that where you were then isn’t where you are now. But I had to figure it out by pulling it apart, making it relatable, and respecting the path and the method to get here. And remembering that faith, just like many things, is entirely a personal experience, and something that we all need to figure out where it fits in our lives in whatever form.

What helps is having a world that respects faith in its various forms, and realizing the simplicity of embracing a belief in whatever form it takes. That’s the major rub, because while there are those that respect differences, others feel that their beliefs and thoughts are more important for whatever reason. And they use the cloud of faith and belief to preach those and push their agenda wherever, whenever. For some, it’s more important that people believe exactly what others believe because it’s the right way.

To me, I put faith in an analogy of putting 10 people in a room with a table, vase and flower, and then asking those people to describe what they saw. You might get some common themes, but there’s no way that all 10 descriptions will exactly match each other, and that’s why faith is important, but must be a completely personal experience. There might be benefits in being part of a group, you might need prayer, songs, meditation, or it could be chanting, but the paramount building block is that your faith is all about what works for you. And others should respect that because it’s part of who you are as a human being, regardless of what those beliefs are.

I know these words might not resonate with everyone, and that's Ok with me, I felt I needed to say this for my own benefit, mostly because I felt better expressing my thoughts about my faith, and what happened. Perhaps you'll find some insight into what I went through, or relate to what I experienced, or it may cause you more resolve in whatever you believe in. Regardless, I hope you enjoyed the tale, and can respect it for what it is - one person's grappling with what it is and where his place is within this wonderfully complex universe.

Monday, October 26, 2009

I've Been A Bit Busy...

I don’t think I would have believed it had I not seen the replays, or heard about the wackiness from this match after reading the reports. It was apparent after reading this that Sunderland was the best team on the pitch this day, but at the same point, soccer can be a quirky, cruel game at times. The best team doesn’t always win, and sometimes the game ends in a draw, which may not be deserved. However, there are times when the margin between winning and losing is razor thin, and in this instance, it was a most unlikely fan prop that affected the outcome. To think that professional footballers are distracted by a beach ball enough to miss the actual soccer ball is something I thought I’d never have to consider, but suddenly there it is.

That is one of the many aspects to the beauty of this game, you are never completely sure what you might see in a 90 plus minute timeframe. For those of us that have caught the fever, it’s a really easy thing to sell, which is why many of us spend our early morning hours watching games from across the world to see what incredible things might happen. It doesn’t take much to sell us on the prospect of the future for Portland and MLS, we can say we’ve seen it and are already preparing for whatever may happen. Many of my fellow Timbers Army members have already secured our tickets for the 2010 season and beyond, based simply on the optimism of the future and what MLS will bring to the city. We don’t know what players will be here, the coaches, the team color and crest, and what PGE Park will look like for the upcoming 2011 opening for MLS, but we have faith and hope. Those are two very powerful emotions to have at our disposal, and so we wait expectantly for 2011 to arrive.

The road there is paved with good intentions and a lot of crazy obstacles capable for distraction. The USL First Division’s future is cloudy at best, as a schism has developed between select clubs and the USL management, who some insiders consider “draconian” in their control over member franchises. It wasn’t that long ago that the USL was being looked at as the soccer league most likely to survive competition with MLS. Here in 2009, the combined efforts of MLS conservatively monitoring and controlling the financial future of their league while providing potential jobs for all races and genders interested is providing a stable foundation for the future. As we’ve talked about here before, the USL is having all sorts of issues trying to figure out what their future holds, and the first shots have already been fired in this mess.

If this was the only issue going on, I could see finding a strategy and just try to mitigate the mess until 2011 comes along. However, the baseball issue in Beaverton still is looming about, and the future of baseball still has some impact on what soccer does, because until their future is determined, the construction schedule and go-forward plans for soccer are tentative at best. The city and Beaverton mayor Denny Doyle is excited about the prospect of baseball coming to the Westside, and are prepared to move forward with their plans even with no determined site. Opponents, meanwhile, have started mounting their campaign to put the whole idea up to a vote, concerned about the long-term debt this project would bring to the area. The longer this issue goes on, the more uncertainty there is surrounding MLS and Portland. While the deals for soccer and baseball are being considered separately, there are still a lot of co-dependencies that must be solved before the future brightens up.

This hasn’t stopped the Timbers from moving forward with their efforts to rebrand the team as MLS, and reach out to fans to promote the new team. The Timbers have hired Nemo Designs to create a marketing campaign designed to get the word out about MLS to those fans who may not know anything about soccer, the Timbers, MLS, or what is happening in 2011. They are embracing some rather interesting marketing ideas, based on the buzz created from the Internet and other social networking sites, like Twitter and Facebook. While Nemo understands the Timbers Army and what they bring to the table, they are looking to seize the non-soccer fans or general sports fan to help fill the stadium.

I get the fact that the Timbers need more than just the hardcore fans in order to sell this idea long term, and the fan experience needs to be inclusive for everybody. The Timbers realize people like me are going to show up week in and out without much prompting because we are already hooked on the product, and so they don’t need to do much to keep me interested. Creating a buzz requires a concentrated, coordinated branding where you see the logo in various spots, building to a big campaign as the season approaches, and the targets are usually in non-traditional places. In the article, the marketing ideas vary from foosball tables to roving advertisements on MAX to the possibility of a reality show centered on the team.

For traditional fans like myself, I shudder to think about some of these ideas because it seems to go against things that I’ve witnessed up until now. The Timbers brand has been built up to now on various word of mouth campaigns, some limited advertisement, and the work of the Timbers Army to draw folks to various matches. The results are evident, as the Timbers’ average attendance increased by 13 percent in 2009. People are showing up to watch this team, because they are talented, the games are entertaining, and the Timbers had a good winning season.

There are other reasons for the spike as well, as people come to PGE Park for the atmosphere, the cheap beer, and the scene to be seen right now. With increased media attention, there have been folks that have latched onto the Timbers momentum, and have been showing up in droves. These newer fans may not understand the traditions, the songs, the atmosphere, but they want to be part of what’s going on. This reality has caused some tension between the groups of fans, which I will label the veterans and the tourists.

Veterans have been here from the very beginnings, when the seats were plentiful and the tradition was just being built. They encouraged friends, co-workers, and strangers to come watch soccer in Portland, and worked tirelessly to get the word out about this team. Many of these people have spent countless hours and dollars in supporting the team, from traveling all over for road games, creating banners, signs and chant sheets, and completing various community projects with the intent to get the word out about the team. These people care about the history and tradition of their team, and really get frustrated with those that don’t understand what it took to get here or simply don’t care to get it.

Tourists simply want to show up to have a good time, and have heard through the grapevine that the Timbers are the place to be for various reasons. Whether it’s for the cheap beer, crazy antics, or cute members of the crowd, they show up in droves. They may not understand the chants, what to do with the cutup papers, or what the songs are all about; they want to come and have fun. I don’t know their reasoning here, but it could be everything from wanting to be part of the bandwagon, to wanting to belong to the community but not sure how, to just simply wanting to be there to be seen. There might be some of these people who want to get it more, but they might be scared off by the veterans, who get frustrated or impatient with those that don’t follow the team in the same way they do.

It’s a constant struggle, and things aren’t going to change anytime soon. I’d love to have some of the newer fans want to know more about the traditions of the TA, but I can’t force them to honor it despite my efforts. The Timbers Army has set itself up as a “leaderless collection” of fans, but after being here for years, I know the key members of this team because you learn quickly who the movers and shakers are within this group. Some people don’t mind doing the heavy lifting, and many ideas have died a quick death because they weren’t embraced by this core of folks. I didn’t learn this overnight, it was important to me to learn about what was going on within this group because I wanted to. So I asked around, and the rest is history.

It’s perhaps this struggle that epitomizes what the TA is going through right now, and something that I wrestle with internally. I resent people riding on the coattails of the success of the TA, becoming a bandwagon fan when it’s cool to join up. They may or may not care about history or tradition, they want to hang out and yell with everything else. I guess I can understand that to an extent, but at the same point, I learned more about the culture and attitude of this wonderfully dysfunctional group, and felt like I’ve gained so much more by simply caring about the team, the crest, the history. I became a true fan, and less of a customer just looking for the hip thing to drop some disposable income.

There will be a lot of discussion about this whole dynamic, and I’m not sure there is an easy way to solve this. I know the current Timbers organization really wants to build their brand for the future, which may mean some traditions has to go away or be altered, and that thought has begun to apply to some attitudes about the future. I want this idea to succeed in a grand level and have others see what Portland and the Timbers are all about, but I’m also very concerned about making sure the tradition and history remain as much as possible.

In talking about this issue, I wish I could come up with a way to solve all sides of this concern, but for now, I think there’s a few things that can be done to resolve the tensions. Veterans need to understand that things in the future might not be the exact way they are now, but change sometimes is a good thing. However, it’s important to share your thoughts about things so that certain traditions can be honored if possible. Unlike our rivals to the north, we don’t want to just wipe the slate clean and consider the 2011 Timbers as a brand new team without an identity. Tourists need to realize that there are people that really care about the team and how things are done, and if you want to know more, you are encouraged to ask. If you want to be part of this, expect that some people are going to ask you to contribute in some way, and that shouldn’t be a problem if you want to stand in the fan group. Moreover, to everyone, support the club and the efforts as best as you can. You might not agree with every idea that comes down the line, but if you care about your club, you support them no matter what, and you can take a sense of pride in what they do, win or lose.

POST SCRIPT (October 26, 2009)

I’ve read the words written above and sat on posting them for almost a week, and I still believe in the concept of them, even if it’s not exactly how others feel. I think most of the issues happening now could be solved with communication and understanding, but then again, the gift of civilized discourse is a lost art in our current world. It’s no longer important to be right as much as it’s important to be remembered with a pithy catch phrase or worshiped within a group of similar minded followers. We live in an incredibly smart, but fragmented world in terms of beliefs, and people don’t seem to respect differences as much as they have previously.

There’s no better evidence of the fragments surrounding Merritt Paulson, the owner of the Timbers and Beavers, who is trying to solve bigger problems than those being dealt with in our fan group. Columnists have been trying to figure out why there is so much hate for Paulson, and in Sunday’s Oregonian, the question is asked again because the writer openly says that Paulson and Portland should be a good fit. I couldn’t agree more that Paulson is an asset to this town, despite all of the things being said about him.

I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like for someone in the public eye to be as vilified as Paulson is anytime his name appears in print, as he tries to move forward the plans for both the Timbers and Beavers. Comments range from soccer being completely gay to Paulson having a silver spoon to genuine frustration about Paulson’s father, who may or may not be involved with the economic crisis that actually is impacting the plans for soccer and baseball here. It’s true that Paulson’s dad is a part owner of the team, and it’s true that Merritt has had some missteps in the press. However, the anti-tax, anti-sport, anti-Paulson crowd would make you think that Merritt is pure evil incarnate.

It’s no secret that I’m an advocate of this plan, as I’m with any stadium plan that helps cities and teams. Cities get a chance to revitalize areas within their area, keep the teams from nomadically moving about, and they form a partnership with the team towards the future. Teams, meanwhile, get the benefit of having someone own their facility, while contribute to the long term benefits within the stadium area. While there are some opponents that claim that stadiums aren’t good economic engines, even the most intelligent economists can agree that there are streams that teams generate that don’t get directly counted in economic impact studies. They tend to focus on direct revenue streams that the team directly benefits from, but doesn’t look at other factors, like people going to restaurants or pubs to watch games, team merchandise purchased from another vendor, and things like that.

But admittedly, like my discussion about tourists, I’m tired of hearing the opposing voices, simply because a majority of them can’t be reached no matter what. There will be some opposing Paulson simply out of a selfish desire to keep Portland the way it is, instead of thinking progressively. And for such a progressive city, we think entirely too small-townish in our desire to keep things “weird”. We love our farmer’s markets, we have zombie pub crawls and a Lovecraft film fest, and animals here get taken care of better than some people, but mess with our process and things come crashing to a halt. There is such a desire to keep things quirky and different that even the most obvious changes to help have to be pulled apart and scrutinized to the minutest of details. And many ideas, even those with obvious merit, can’t survive such an intense process. I’m never going to advocate removal of the constituent’s voice in making decisions, but when your electorate can’t even agree on the most simple things, does it really make sense to slow down things to make sure the voices all get heard?

The people in the know can't wait for us to arrive, it's about time to put up or shut up, Portland.
We can prove the naysayers wrong, and just hope that something else falls into our lap, or step up and keep quality sports entertainment in town for a reasonable cost for everyone. It's your call.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Quandary of Conscience

I'm having a rather tough day all the way around, but it's probably not for the obvious reason one might expect. I don't like leaving the bowling alley after our Tuesday match and realize half way home that I failed to sign out at the lounge, so my card was still there. I don't like being frustrated at myself or being frustrated at girl, who tried her level best to distract me from my self-pity to no avail.
I'm also trying to figure out some personal issues, but part of the problem is my desire to think things through to over-thinking capacity. This can lead to confidence concerns as I deal with the various challenges in life, which never really stop no matter how much we might want a moment to collect ourselves. I know what my skeletons are, and I'm trying to work through the process to become more comfortable in my own skin. I know that I love girl more than anything, and so it's important to me to get these problems resolved to help me be a better person.
And part of that process is coming to terms with some of my old loves, one being the Portland Trail Blazers. I have loved this team quite a bit since before I moved here in 1989, and I've had great memories of 20 years of classic wins, heart breaking losses, wonderful players, and tons of memories that I will always cherish fondly. But the Trail Blazers broke my heart this past February, and I'm not even close to being over what happened.
It was part of the MLS to Portland efforts during February and March, when I was attending the initial hearings for the initial plan to bring baseball to the Rose Quarter by tearing down the Memorial Coliseum. It was the recommendation of many groups that this was the best plan for everyone, and it appeared the Blazers were on board with it, even going so far to include a baseball stadium in artist renderings of the new site. It was later that afternoon when J. Issacs, a Trail Blazer vice president testified that this was a bad idea, and the Trail Blazers couldn't support the plan because "it would do irreparable harm to the Trail Blazers."
I sat there in complete disbelief at what I was hearing, and while the plan earned enough support to get the initial approval, the entire situation never sat well with me. The Trail Blazers have failed miserably in their efforts to revitalize the Rose Quarter area, and this seemed like a great idea to bring more business to an area that needed it. The Blazers were also responsible for upkeep to the Memorial Coliseum, their old home, but it had fallen into such disrepair that even their anchor tenant, the Portland Winterhawks hockey team, was in danger of losing credibility with their league for playing in a "substandard facility."
The months following included a wonderful Trail Blazers playoff run, while the baseball idea at the MC fell apart when architects and other artists in the community started a campaign to save the MC because of its architectural and historic significance. The city of Portland relented on this idea, and after a disastrous attempt to put the ballpark in Lents, gave up on baseball. The city of Beaverton has picked things up from there, recently agreeing in principle with Beavers owner Merritt Paulson on the preliminary framework of an agreement to put the Beavers in Beaverton. The MC got historical designation earlier this year as a historical monument, meaning that any further plans for changes would need to meet the legacy of the building.
The agreement in Beaverton is far from a done deal, as the agreement isn't site specific and still requires a council vote to secure agreement. Meanwhile, residents of the area are banding together in an attempt to put the issue to a vote of residents before anything can proceed, which puts the project timeframe of starting construction into jeopardy. Paulson has indicated that changes to PGE Park must start in early 2010 in order to be done in time for the 2011 MLS season, and any residental vote would push that timeframe out. They only need signatures of 2,200 Beaverton residents in order to force the vote, which means all the planning done so far could be rendered moot if the whole thing is put to vote.
While this drama is playing out, the MC is hosting a Trail Blazer exhibition game tonight versus Phoenix, which is being billed as a "step back in time" to when the Blazers played there. They'll be throw back uniforms, reduced ticket prices, and Bill Schonley will even be back to call part of the game. For some people, it's time to dream of what once was going on, and see the building as a true gem. A few days ago, a blog post from a locally well known site mentioned a tour of the MC and new plans with the Trail Blazers and Winterhawks working together to refurbish the MC into a hockey arena for long term use.
The post was very interesting and full of wonderfully rosy visions of what might be, but there's absolutely no mention of how to pay for this pipe dream. I've attended hockey in this city for years, and I truly believe they deserve a place in the conversation here about their future, but I'm sensing a train wreck of major proportions about to happen here, and I'm not happy about it. Soccer is being made as a scapegoat for kicking baseball out of PGE Park, while the best site for baseball in the area in my opinion is being re-purposed for something that benefits the Trail Blazers.
I understand our most beloved franchise has dealt with economic problems and hard times, and could have very well left the city during these dark times, but they didn't. They have the right to protect their investment and do what they can to make money, but where I object is the issue that they want control over an area that they don't own, but have direct influence over. The Blazers want to ensure they get the best pot of funds in any refurbishing of the MC, and the baseball plan didn't include anything for them. The city owns the land and the MC, and so the Blazers just can't do what they want to the area, so they throw a wrench in baseball and are now coming up with an idea that benefits them.
There's plenty of other blame to throw around, but the Trail Blazers are the most culpable here in my opinion. They could have looked at the situation and realized that baseball could have brought people to the area year around, and revitalized the area, but instead, they didn't see enough dollar signs their way. The MC needs extensive renovation that could have been done over the years, but instead, the building has just sat there being used for various events on the cheap. And as much as I don't want to see this happen, there's a small but very real possibility of either baseball leaving Portland or MLS being asked to allow the teams to share PGE Park if Beaverton's plan falls through, which essentially puts soccer and baseball back to square one.
I think the world of the players, and think they'll have a great year. I know they will be a power within the Western Conference, and the NBA will continue to have a stronghold in the area. I just can't be part of it, because I can't resolve the player end with the business end right now. I didn't renew my ticket package with the team because of this, and was very honest with my representative about my reasons. While the team prepares to play, I find myself conflicted in listening to the games on the radio or watching them on TV.
I'm sure there will be a point when this will all pass, and I can safely resolve the issue once the future of baseball in the Portland area is more secure, and MLS is securely on the 2011 radar. But right now, those situations are cloudy at best, and it's mostly because of the actions of one team in scarlet and black. It's tough when your two loves are fighting with each other, and right now, I'm choosing my love of soccer to support. I'm sure that I won't be missed in the turnstiles or watching at home, the team seems to have their bandwagon filled to the brim with fans. I just wished that my basketball team would have been more faithful to me when I needed them to step up, especially with me being there when they needed me during the dark ages.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

When Did Winter Show Up?

I love the fact that the weather has gone from nice and crisp to freaking cold in a matter of hours. Sunday, I played in a soccer match outdoors at Delta Park where the temperature was fairly reasonable, and today, the wind has been about 30 miles per hour and it's been raining from all directions. Not that I mind the rain at all, but I'm used to more of a gradual transition between the seasons. Thankfully, I remembered my jacket and umbrella today.
Was scanning the sports headlines, and ran into this nugget about a high school football game that didn't quite end the way you'd expect. Plymouth HS in Canton, Michigan blocks a field goal during a game against Westlund John Glenn HS to apparently win their game, but in the celebration, the Plymouth players didn't realize the blocked field goal hadn't crossed the line of scrimmage so the ball could be advanced. An alert John Glenn player picked up the ball and ran into the end zone untouched, and John Glenn won the game. There's been official protests about the result, and Plymouth players are upset at "having a win taken from them." 
The problem here is that there's an important lesson to be learned here, but I'm not sure the Plymouth players are really getting what happened here. In their desire to celebrate victory, they lost focus and the rules dictated that the other team won. It's not like they lost on a technicality, they lost because they thought the whistle had blown and the game was over. Apparently, the whistle hadn't blown, and an alert player from the other team took advantage of the distraction. You play until the whistle, and let the officials do their job, even if they can't seem to get things right. And if you lose, do so with class; instead, Plymouth plans to protest and follow through with having the result overturned. So apparently, we don't like the result, we protest until we get what we think is deserved. Doesn't matter if the other team actually was paying attention and won in a strange, but within the rules sort of way. It's important to play to the end and win or lose with class.
Speaking of officiating, more calls are being made to expand instant replay in baseball after a rough weekend of controversial calls, including a missed fair ball in the Yankees - Twins game and a couple of missed tags during the Phillies - Rockies series. It's rough to pinpoint one play and putting the entirety of winning or losing in one place in time, but we do that especially if you're a fan of the losing side. Rockies and Twins fans are rather upset about things, and probably feel like the umpires are conspiring against them. Granted, that's not the reality of things, but it certainly can feel that way, especially for the Twins because the ball was fair by at least 5 feet.
Baseball is at least trying, putting umpires on the left and right field lines to help catch things, while football has been using instant replay in a relatively efficient manner for a few seasons now.  But to expect human eyes to catch everything that is happening in a split second is incredibly naive, especially with the prevalence of television replay that can display a missed call over and over again for viewing, even at the park itself.  I know some purists would prefer we live with the results of officiating, but at the same time, we're going to bitch and moan at any missed call. Technology can help catch things eyes might miss, and I think all sports need to seriously look at bringing in replay for close calls. Football does get it close to right, putting a time period on the review and providing multiple angles for perusal, and it's a lot less clunky than the original ideas. It's time to make the plunge, especially for soccer where you have one center official trying to see everything and make all the calls. It would work, and could avoid some serious grumblings.
Baseball in Beaverton is closer to reality after it was announced that a preliminary agreement had been reached between the Portland Beavers and the city of Beaverton to bring baseball to their city. There's still some devil to the details, as the site hasn't been determined and the council must agree on the framework, which includes some funds from residents and contributions from Merritt Paulson. The plan calls for $59 million dollars in investment from various sources, and provides for a solid mix of resources to bring baseball to a deserving market. I know there will be some people upset at using tax money to bring baseball to the area, but at an investment of $4.50 per resident each month in extra taxes, it's a small investment to bring quality entertainment to Beaverton. Paulson does things right, and having the Beavers in Beaverton is a win for everyone involved. There's more discussion around this forthcoming, but it's an encouraging start.
Finally, there's a lot of hoopla around tomorrow's Trail Blazers game at the Memorial Coliseum against the Suns. It's being billed as a tribute to Bill Schonley and the past Trail Blazer teams that played there, and it's a fairly nostalgic event for a pre-season game. While I admire the sentiment quite a bit and am glad that Schonley is getting kudos for his long tenure and skill in calling basketball games, I feel this event will do nothing more that reinforce the fact that the Memorial Coliseum deserves a better fate and could be used for something better than a back up arena. With the arena now gaining historical designation recently, it's going to be difficult to do anything long term to update the area, but hey, spending time and reminiscing about past glories will be a blast. I figure we'll have the MC around for the 75th anniversary and we can go back in time when the city had more vision.
At least the team is listening to its consumers and is going to make more of their broadcasts available for fans outside the area, while Comcast still plays hardball with the broadcasting rights. There will be costs involved, but at least they are trying to do something to help fans held hostage while the corporate entities fight over money to be made, especially those that live outside the Portland area. It's a long time coming, but my hope is that they'll get this done before the warmer spring weather returns next year. I'm not holding my breath, but at least I'll be bundled up.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The USL Just Can't Seem To Get It Right

Last year in the USL-1 Championship, the Puerto Rico Islanders were the top team in the table, won their playoff series to advance to the championship game, represented the USL in the CONCACAF Champions League, and kept the travel and player movement straight. After winning their series, they’d bid to host the championship game in front of their rabid fan base, but instead, they were outbid by the Vancouver Whitecaps, who had also advanced in the other semis. While I like Swangard Stadium, it’s only a 6,000 seat stadium versus Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium’s near 20,000 seat capacity, and the Islanders play in an environment where soccer is as important as necessities. Vancouver ended up winning the game and the title, but the situation left a bad taste in many fan’s mouths.

So this year, the league instituted a two leg playoff, where each team that qualifies for the championship gets to host a match in their home stadium. It seemed like a fair way to ensure that each fanbase gets to celebrate their team’s accomplishments, and each team gets to enjoy the home pitch environment for at least one match. Because of the playoff structure, the matchups are determined quite late in the process, as in the 2009 season, Vancouver and Montreal only clinched their championship berths on October 4th, so it leaves a limited amount of time for fans to figure out travel schedules, much less address television and radio needs.

For this championship, Fox Soccer Channel is broadcasting both legs, which means that the game dates and times needed a bit of flexibility. Unlike PGE Park where the Timbers share the park with Portland State football, Swangard and Saputo Stadiums are single purpose, so you don’t have competition for dates with other sports playing there. It would be agreed that Vancouver would host the first leg the weekend of October 9th -11th, while Montreal would host the second leg the weekend of October 16th – 18th. However, Montreal and Vancouver both have rabid hockey and CFL football fans, and the weekend of Montreal’s match also have a Canadiens match and Alouettes football, so the Impact were trying to find a time that worked.
So far, they’ve indicated a Sunday match, then Saturday early afternoon, and Saturday night, and now apparently Saturday afternoon.

What this process does is ensure that television and other sports fans in the Montreal area are taken care of, but it totally hoses traveling fans. Vancouver fans are justifiably frustrated in trying to figure out travel plans to get to the game on time, juggling work and life commitments with the desire to see their team play. Granted, I have it rather easy, as my wife is as rabid of a Timbers fan as I am, so for us, it’s a matter of figuring out travel date logistics than whether we can actually go or not. I feel for these fans, who want nothing more to travel and see their squad in action, but up until late, you don’t know what date or time the match will occur. Apparently, the match is now on Saturday, October 17th at 2:30 PM local time, but apparently FSC had been advertising a different time up until most recently.

The USL was built from the remnants of the old A-League First Division, combined with other lower division teams, youth squads and women’s teams. Over the years, we’ve seen franchise movement, bankrupt franchises just before the season, questionable officiating, and most recently, an acquisition by another group. Currently, the offseason for the USL First Division is going to be interesting, as it’s rumored that some current USL-1 teams are thinking about forming their own league for the 2010 season. The USL has also been dealing with MLS taking some of the strongest USL markets, as Seattle left the USL in 2009, while Vancouver and Portland join MLS in 2011.

The USL has taken some rather interesting steps against certain franchises that are rumored to be considering the new affiliation, including removing them from their website,
sending letters about player rights and their contract status, and had talks to stabilize the situation between some teams. Some squads are upset with the current USL and the USL, which is trying to find its place in the soccer market place in terms of marketing, franchise makeup, and stability. The USL seemed to be on the right track just a few years ago, finding markets that were able to support soccer, while providing a quality product from higher to lower levels. MLS was also beginning to struggle mightily in the mid 2000’s, as the league struggled to find an identity, corporate support, and legitimacy amongst the top flight soccer leagues.

And now here we are in 2009, and MLS has really strengthened itself after contracting teams early in the 2000’s, struggling to find markets and owners, finding a niche in a fragmented television market, and drawing players from around the world to play MLS. MLS is extremely stable, as they’ve moved past the days where a couple of rich people owned most of the teams and subsidized the league to having their games on television each week, getting quality crowd sizes, and now expanding into new markets. The USL, on the other hand, has watched teams fold in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009, while one First Division team moves to MLS in 2009, and two more leave in 2011. The USL First Division will not have a team farther west than Minneapolis or Austin, Texas in their current configuration if nothing else changes, while their USL-2 division is only located in the eastern part of the United States.

Having two leagues try to find a place in the soccer market place has been interesting to watch, because while both leagues are trying to reach the same fans, they are doing it in very different ways. The USL has focused on a more grass roots movement, keeping to their strengths of having a strong developmental and women’s league, while MLS has gone after casual fans by focusing on television and corporate support. While both leagues have a good working relationship in terms of player contracts as many players move between the league teams, the league management teams have been adversarial towards each other.

The thing is that both leagues have strengths that actually could benefit each other if they combined their efforts. MLS has worked very well to get corporate support, soccer only stadiums for their teams, but also legitimize their teams by getting top international players to play in the MLS. It also helps that the US Men’s National Team has had recent success using players almost exclusively from MLS, thus giving the league more credibility amongst soccer fans. MLS isn’t on par with the top levels of soccer worldwide, but it’s getting close.

What the USL does very well is provide development opportunities for younger players by having a strong youth structure, and a well-devised developmental league. The USL PDL has 68 teams all over the United States and Canada in a well thought out geographic set up, and as such, young players can train and learn in a competitive environment. Teams like Vancouver have seen their success directly attributed to the success of their developmental teams, and MLS made the curious decision a few years ago to completely eliminate their reserve division, which really served as a developmental squad for younger players.

If you took the best of the MLS and USL in a combined effort, you could have a truly strong soccer environment, with the talented players having ample opportunities to progress to the highest levels of US Soccer without leaving the country. But as with situations like this, the USL and MLS prefer to remain independent, as MLS talks about creating a second division of their own, while the USL is working to try and strengthen its foothold in the West and Midwest of the United States. I can appreciate the efforts from both sides, but at this point, I’m wondering what each group is really trying to accomplish here.

If you really wanted to strengthen each league, it would behoove both sides to seek a partnership of some type, so that the ultimate goal of making the United States competitive in soccer on a world class level is achievable. The whole schism of the USL is partly being caused by the search for more money and control for the franchises, which is something that MLS seems to have figured out. There’s huge benefit to be seen here, but because this is such a good idea, it won’t happen anytime soon. What you are seeing now is exactly what happens when sports people with the best intentions listen to their pocketbooks and ego more than their soccer intuition.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Tough End to the Timbers Season

Standing in PGE Park on Sunday afternoon after the Timbers match, my emotions were all over the place after the result. My beloved team, the team with a 24 game unbeaten streak, a top ranked defense, the top ranked offense, playing in front of a rabid 14,000 person crowd in PGE Park where they'd won 10 of 15 games during the season, and the team drew with the Vancouver Whitecraps at 3 all. Unfortunately, they'd lost 2 to 1 up in Vancouver on Thursday night, and since the series was total goals, the Timbers were done and the Craps were advancing to an all Canada USL-1 final.
How we got this point was a rather interesting ride, from the original email that I got from the Craps front office on Wednesday, Sept 23rd offering me tickets up there if the Craps had won their first round series, which would have meant the Timbers, ranked number one in the playoffs, would be paired to face them. I had been covering the playoffs from the first round, and sure enough, the upsets hit as the Craps knocked off the RailHawks, while Puerto Rico and Montreal survived to then face each other.
My Monday was spent talking with my boss to work out vacation time to drive up to Burnaby. I'd also been busy with my other blogging, keeping track of results and figuring out all the possible scenarios. Thankfully, he gets my obsession with the Timbers, and since I had the time, I worked it out to be off Thursday and Friday to drive up to Burnaby, then be back in time on Saturday for a birthday dinner, then Sunday for two soccer matches, my TAFC match and the Timbers second leg at home. Nothing like having a crazy schedule, but it's how things work for girl and I. We're going 100 miles an hour or we're going zero, there's not a happy medium.
Wednesday (9/30), I finished up the tasks I needed to leave work for two days, and then headed off to have an eye exam. I personally love to have doctors dilate my eyes and ask me repeatedly what works clearer, one or two, over and over again. Girl was having her appointment at the same point with the same doctor, and so we were both able to confirm our eyes are healthy and they aren't going to fall out of our heads anytime soon. I soon whisked off to Jiffy Lube to get the car serviced and some road snacks. Girl was working on things at home to get things sorted in our room, as we tried to get our stuff set up for an eventual giveaway/garage sale at some future point.
We awoke Thursday morning (10/1) at 8 AM and got our final tasks around the house settled, including saying good bye to our cats and getting our gear packed up. I'd put together a lot of stuff the preceding night, so there wasn't much to do except get in the car and go once we got breakfast and coffee ready. We left the house at 9:30 AM with the goal to arrive in Burnaby by 5 PM in time to check in to Ramada Inn MetroTown, eat a bit, and then be at the game for the 7:30 PM kick.
I-205 wasn't too backed up, and girl took the first shift of driving. We were making decent time as the morning traffic had cleared up, and we were left with trucks and random senior drivers on the road. Trucks are big, and tend to drive rather defensively, but can't move very quickly, much like seniors in their driving skill, so we got caught behind some cars at points. Once we cleared out of I-205, it became apparent that a few driving rules that we've seen for years heading north would apply:
  • Washingtonians will drive in any lane they want, as slow as they want. This even means driving in the far left lane usually reserved for faster traffic. It never ceased to amaze me how many times someone was driving 72 in the fast lane with the speed limit at 70.
  • Washingtonians will pass in any lane, including the far right. We got passed a lot to the right, as apparently it was OK to do 90 in the far right lane. I'd love to see the driver's manual in Washington to see what the rules say.
  • There's a specific ethnic group that is labeled as being terrible drivers, and when we got caught behind slow drivers or erratic drivers, they represented this group every time. Their food is pretty good if it's free of MSG, but they can't drive worth anything. We had no less than 4 different incidents with drivers of this group, and each one got more and more crazy the further north we got.

Thankfully, the rule of the express lanes in Shittle being in the wrong direction didn't apply going north, as we flew through there rather easily. As a matter of fact, we arrived in Bellingham just after 2 PM, even with a couple of stops for food and loo use, and for me to take over driving. We always have to stop at Scatter Creek, as it's a TA rule to stop there, and just around 3 PM, we hit the US - Canada border.


We actually talked with US officials just before the border crossing, who checked our passports and asked us a few questions about our trip north. They even knew about girl's high school mascot, and asked about the Oregon Native sticker on our car, so they were paying attention. As we were waived forward, we moved to Canada customs, and they asked us why we were going up there. Upon mentioning the soccer game, the official asked us if we were rooting for the Craps, and when we said no, he said you can't come into the country. Girl then said she loved the Craps, and I said the fans were good guys. Plus, as girl put it, you aren't Shittle, which the official then said "We can agree upon that. Have a good time", and we were off. I love border stops in 10 minutes or less.


We entered Burnaby at 4 PM after a short stint on Highway 1, and checked into our hotel. The same clerk that has been there for years was there, and actually remembered me from previous visits, so the check in was really easy. We got settled in our room in the west wing, and the weather was a bit chilly but still pleasant for a fall day. We'd heard it was a 95 percent chance that it would rain tonight, and so we'd prepared by bringing rain gear and sweatshirts to keep warm. Girl had also brought a bottle of wine, which we consumed in our room in a matter of moments. We soon headed to the Jaguar Pub for some pre-game drinks and food.


Because we've determined that girl is gluten intolerant, we spend a lot of time checking menus to make sure she doesn't end up with food that is going to make her sick. We chose a Caesar salad and potato skins, taking out the croutons, while I got a large burger to fill my stomach. While the drinks were strong, the waitress forgot one of girl's drinks and then noticed that the croutons were left on the salad while girl was picking them off, yet she never offered to take the salad back or discount us for the mistake. I soon realized that her tip was dwindling, because that's the kind of mistakes that could cause long term issues. Once the drink was

We soon wandered to the stadium, which is one of the nicer stadiums in the USL. Swangard is a natural grass stadium, and a smaller surface, and you are really close the field, thus making smaller crowds loud. We got our tickets, settled into the TA section, and prepared for the match. While the first half was reasonably entertaining, the Timbers didn't play exceptionally well but were still in it tied at 1. It was then the heavens opened up, and the rumoured rain hit hard. It was rain that was coming up and down and sideways, yet because girl and I brought rain pants and a jacket, we put our gear on and we were fine. It was amazing to watch people scramble to find cover, yet the TA crowd stayed put for the half just getting wet. I never got cold once, but was worried that the rain would adversely affect the Timbers' performance.
The second half saw the Craps get an early goal, and then the rain was broken up by a fog caused by smokebombs from the Southsiders, which caused the field visibility to be questionable for most of the second half. I have no issues with smoke bombs themselves, but setting them off for no reason was just dumb, much less in a way to cause visibility issues. The game ended with the Craps winning 2 to 1, and the Craps fans were more than happy to let us know who won. One fan was escorted out by security as he tried to dance in front of us with his scarf, and when security tried to make him stop, he tried to hit the security officer. Not exactly smart.
Girl and I ended up heading to Safeway near our hotel to pick up things for breakfast in the morning, and because we dressed casual, we could move about the crowd without being identified as Timbers fans. We completed our shopping, ate a bit of food back in our room while chilling in front of the TV, and we ended up asleep by 1 AM.
Friday morning came, and I'd slept Ok, but girl was kept up by the thunder and lightning, plus the curtains let in some light that hit her right in her face, so we moved slowly about to get ready to go. We wanted to leave by 9 AM, but we ended up leaving at 11 AM after eating, checking email, showering, and collecting our stuff. I took the first shift of driving, but with girl being groggy and her back giving her issues, I was ready to make the drive myself if needed.
The drive really didn't have much issue early, as we got through customs with little issue and time, but we hit construction around Bellingham that delayed us a bit. We stopped to allow me to eat a sandwich, then made a quick Taco Bell stop in Tulalip so girl could get some foods, and then we hit the clusterf**k of traffic in Shittle. Everett was backed up, North Shittle was slow, including a car that was in the mediam turned the wrong way in the south bound lanes, downtown Shittle was awful, the express lanes were heading north, Tacoma was crappy, Fife was bad, even Olympia was terrible. We hit every bad stretch of traffic everywhere, and it took almost 3 hours just to make this area. Once we got loose of the traffic, we made good time to get home by 6:30 PM, which meant it took us about 7 and 1/2 hours to get down, but it was about 6 hours going north. The express lanes make that much difference.
Saturday, we took girl's mom to Hawthorne Fish House for her birthday to try the gluten free food, and it was awesome. The food was very tasty and good portions, the help was extremely attentive, and it was reasonably priced, and girl's brothers were able to join up as well. It was nice to meet up as family, and celebrate the birthday. We'd slept in a bit on Saturday from the drive, and our Saturday night was even more mellow, as I worked on my blog for match 1 while getting to bed early because I had a TAFC match at 9:30 AM in Gresham.
Our TAFC match went pretty well, as we lost 2 to 1, but there were a couple of issues. I was involved in what turned out to be the winning goal for our opponents, as I got caught flat footed in the back and they stole the ball from me, and turned it into a quick goal. However, this was at about 30 minutes in, so we had plenty of time to earn a tying goal. And we held them scoreless in the second half, this being the top team in the table. Not bad, and I was feeling optimistic about the Timbers match later that day.
My story of the match is at my other blog home, but it was an amazing, roller coaster emotional day. I was happy, sad, angry, hopeful, excited, crushed, and ecstatic all within a 2 hour period as this crazy match unfolded. I really felt good about our chances in this match, but in the end, the Craps did enough to keep the score level and give them the series win. And I salute them for their efforts, as they are very good fans and classy in wins or losses. I'm not sure who I want to win the USL Final, but it should be an entertaining series if you watch what the Craps and Montreal did to get to this point.
As I sat around Sunday night, I really wasn't sure how to feel as my emotions were all over the place. My schedule is now cleared out as we move to the offseason, and I can concentrate on my remaining games for the TAFC and bowling one night a week. I'll still blog a bit about off season news for the Timbers, because there will be news relating to player movement, stadium developments, and other things to report on, but at the same point, I didn't want this special year to end. I'm proud of the boys, but I wasn't looking forward to the offseason until later this month. That's the crazy thing about sports, you can't always predict how things will turn out, but you keep coming back because of it.