If I wanted water, I would have asked for water.


Friday, April 15, 2011

A New Era Dawns

Note: this post will nod not even passingly at beer. It is, however, a rumination on the cultural evolution of Portland, so you could call it relevant at a macro level.


Portland is famously a terrible sports town. An immigrant city, it has for generations been peopled by incoming waves of New Englanders and Midwesterners who formed their allegiances elsewhere. This is its great virtue: people didn't happen by Portland accidentally; they had to go out of their way to get here. Ironically, our parochialism is maintained by these very besotted newcomers who want to preserve this mossy, quirky gem just as they found it. But it means they remain Steelers and Packers and Red Sox and Yankees fans.

The asterisk to our sports terribleness is the Trailblazers, a team so showered by love that players regularly hang around after their playing careers. They've only won one championship, and yet every year the fans treat them like royalty. (Boston fans, who have the luxury of winning--six championships in three sports in the last ten years--throw their teams under the bus at the first sign of failure.) Portland, a one-sport town. Anyway, that's what I thought until last night.

The Portland Timbers "debuted." Actually, they first debuted back in 1975, in the first of many half-assed attempts to bring professional soccer to the US. But last night they debuted as a major league team--and it felt like it. Despite the fact that it was pouring rain all day and pretty cold, the crowd arrived early and roared. It was a full house, and I don't think anyone there sat while players were on the field. The hardcore fans, the Timbers Army, around whom owner Merritt Paulson has wisely built his fan base, sang from a long list of chants throughout the game. Eventually, the crowd picked up a few of them and joined in. Our new coach, John Spencer, from Scotland, described it this way:
"Even during the warm-up, I thought it was electrifying," Portland coach John Spencer said. "Myself and the staff were talking and saying, 'This doesn't feel like the U.S. No disrespect to anybody, but it felt like you were playing in the (European) Champions League."
In this clip below, you get a sense of what the crowd was like. (It also features a young fella I've taken a liking to named Jorge Perlaza. He's rocket fast, and I hope to popularize the nickname "Lightning" Perlaza. Tell your friends.)



One of the enduring features of the Timbers is the mascot, a lumberman who cuts the end off a log when the Timbers score. (For decades, it was Timber Jim, whose name was retired to the Ring of Honor last night; Timber Joey now mans the saw.) After the Timbers let a three-nil lead slip, Joey walked around the concourse, revving the chainsaw.

In a surreal turn, almost none of the players had witnessed this before. The team is mostly newly assembled, and have been on the road while workers finished the stadium renovation. They seemed to be stunned by the spectacle--but also totally charged up. Here they were, a new team in what was supposed to be an expansion market, and it seemed like the fans had been here for years. It was truly a spectacle and felt like a watershed moment.


Like everything else, Portland's sports enthusiasms mark it as an oddball. but we're no longer a one-sport town.

__________
Okay, one beer comment: it looks like Widmer and Budweiser have sole rights to beer sales, but I couldn't get anywhere near a tap to study it more closely.

20 comments:

Scott Lawrence said...

Great event. The vibe of the whole experience was top notch. Even had a new IPA from Widmer that was very nice to drink. Can't wait for Sunday's game at this point. Even if the energy is only 50% of last night it will be outstanding.

Cheers! Oh yeah, and I offered my whole section free beers after the game at Breakside on Sunday!

ShortSnoutBrewing said...

At $8.50 a pop (at least for Hefe) be glad you didn't get anywhere near a tap.

Anonymous said...

So, Portland can't really get into a real American sport like Baseball or Football enough to get a professional team, but Soccer is OK? I still don't get it. At least it's a step up from that Women Roller Derby crap. ;-)

Patrick Emerson said...

I think soccer fits perfectly into Portland's counter-culture vibe. Embracing soccer today seems similar to the embracing of the Blazers when shaggy haired Bill Walton led them to the promised land. Leave it to Portland to make it cool.

I heard that the Widmers were offering the X114 IPA which is exceptional. I say make it the official Timbers IPA. Hey, there you are: Timbers IPA, I like it.

And a minor correction: Timber Jim was already part of the ring of honor.

As for me, I did my beer drinking at the Deschutes pub beforehand.

joe said...

"people didn't happen by Portland accidentally; they had to go out of their way to get here."

There are plenty of native Portlanders and Oregonians that chose to live here and I'd venture a guess that natives make up at least 2/3s if not more of the population.

Yeah, we have have Packers/Steelers/Red Sox/Yankee fans but so does evey other city in the country, not sure we're unique there.

Anon:

"So, Portland can't really get into a real American sport like Baseball or Football enough to get a professional team, but Soccer is OK?"

Make your way down to Eugene on a fall saturday before you start to opine about Portlander's ability to get into a "real" sport.

Oregonians are great sports fans, the problem is that we aren't a good geographic fit for the big 4 (outside of the Blazers). Give us a chance and we make a scene like we did last night at the Jay Dub.

RCTID!

Jeff Alworth said...

Scott, that sounds fantastic! (And to piggyback on ShortSnout, quite a deal by comparison.)

Patrick, thanks for the correction.

Joe, I don't know where we might find stats on that, but I'd bet quite a bit of money against two-thirds being native. We're talking Portland, remember, not Oregon. Every sample is skewed by personal experience, and mine definitely is, but perhaps 10% of the people I know in Portland are from here. I've never seen anything close to it when I've traveled to other cities.

joe said...

2/3s was Oregonians, not necessarily Portlanders. I lump us all together because this is the only city in the state and if you want to stay in Oregon and live in the city, this is your only choice. You work(ed) in academia, so that likely skews who you hang around with. 90% of the people I know here are from Oregon. But like you said, personal experience skews our perspective.

ben said...

I agree with anon, kind of. While I don't consider myself the arbiter of what "real American" sports are, I am disappointed that we don't have football or baseball.

The evolution of the Timbers seems a little contrived to me, and more of a product of vanity then a true love of sports.

Its also possibly a way for the counter culture elements to reject the culture of mainstream sports fandom while reaping the benefits of cheering for a team.

But there's no questioning that the pagentry and enthusiasm was impressive.

Lane said...

I had a Widmer Hef out of the tap ($8.50). The vendors in the aisles had the X114 and Drop Tops, that I could see, in bottles ($6.75).

I think I'll follow Patrick's lead on Sunday and do lunch at Deschutes before heading to the game.

RCTID

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, Oregon now has slightly more people who were not born here than who were born here.

As a native, I find it very offensive when people like Jeff talk about me like an afterthought, or like I'm not even in the room.

If you all like "real sports" you're more than welcome to move back to Buffalo. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

And don't flatter yourselves that you understand what Oregon is all about. You understand what a bunch of other transplants THINK Oregon is about.

You don't know any natives here because they know each other and don't care about you.

Jeff Alworth said...

Yowza, I seem to have stoked some fires here.

Joe,

You work(ed) in academia, so that likely skews who you hang around with.

No. I worked at PSU, but my circle is comprised of friends picked up over the past 25 years I've lived here, assorted politicos, beery types, and Buddhists.

Ben,

The evolution of the Timbers seems a little contrived to me, and more of a product of vanity then a true love of sports.

I'm not sure that's true. When the women's world cup was held in the US, the stands were packed--and the most enthusiastic in the country. Since the Timber's heritage goes back 35 years, you have affection from older folks, and because a lot of younger people played soccer, you get affection from them, too. We'll see how it plays out, but what I saw last night was far deeper than a contrivance. I will say that Merritt Paulson tapped into nascent interest in a way that was nothing short of inspired--but that's true with the ownership of any beloved franchise.

Lane, wise. I was with Patrick when he drank that beer (I had the rauchbier and INLY Lager and especially recommend the latter) and it was the way to go. The stroll to the stadium was a bit damp, but that won't usually be the case.

Anon 3:42 pm,

As a native, I find it very offensive when people like Jeff talk about me like an afterthought, or like I'm not even in the room.

Sorry to offend, but I think your nerve was raw before I said anything. You acknowledge that Portland is an immigrant town, which is all I did. That's it's character. I didn't say anything about natives.

And don't flatter yourselves that you understand what Oregon is all about. You understand what a bunch of other transplants THINK Oregon is about.

Could be. Your point?

Jeff Alworth said...

Ugh. In case John Foyston sees that last comment, I confess it now: the sentence should read: "...my circle is composed of friends ..."

Bill Schneller said...

Hey Anonymous #1, women's roller derby is amazing and it's a real sport. And unlike most "amatuer" sports like college football, this is authentically amateur. No one gets paid and those women put in an enormous amount of time and effort for the love of the sport. They're incredible athletes and could teach most professionals and pro-amatuers a thing or two about dedication. They also do a lot of charity work for the community. Oh, plus they could drink us all under the table and kick our asses. Check out a bout sometime before you pass judgement. Their enthusiasm and athleticism is infectious.

Anonymous said...

If anything's responsible for the Timbers' success, it's their marketing budget.

Shawn said...

It really rubs me the wrong way when 'natives' declare that they are somehow more important than 'non-natives'. I've lived in PDX for 3 years. I am no more or less important than the guy down the street who has lived here all his life. We're all people. We all live in Portland. Get over your self-importance.

Anonymous said...

@Bill

Besides retro interest in an activity that was created to make money for some sporty entrepreneurs and giving 1950's - 70's men an erection... I would say say Women's roller derby was intended to be a sport as much as Women Mud Wrestling.

Josh said...

Two things.

First, only 45.5% of current Oregon residents were born in the state. 42.8% for PDX MSA. For the state 44% were born in US but different state, 1% born in Puerto Rico and 9.5% outside the US. The US average for people who live in the same state they were born is 59%. Oregon (and Portland) is different due to the heavy in-migration over the past 20+ years. Data from the American Community Survey (5 yr average, 2005-2009).

Second, the X114 was terrific. I abstained from the Bud and while Drifter is ok, my wife found me the X114. Definitely not a NW IPA, but very solid. Looking forward to having it again tomorrow. One of my coworkers found a Lagunitas IPA at the usual beer-only concession stand (not the carts, the normalish stand with only beer, where in the pre-MLS days Tecate was a microbrew).

Hope that helps clear up any confusion.

Bill said...

Anonymous, I would say your opinions are founded on your own misperceptions and not on fact since you obviously havent' seen modern rollerderby. One could say a similar thing of basketball: men bouncing a ball and tossing it about all while dressed in clown-like baggy shorts. Yeah, that sounds a real sport.

JimF said...

As a non-Portlander who nonetheless travels there frequently I'm always impressed at the level of fan support for the Mariners and especially the Seahawks. I've always thought of Portland as a pretty good sports town considering the only major league team used to be the Blazers.

joe said...

Josh, I stand corrected. Jeff, I prostrate myself before you and beg your forgiveness. Another win and another great Timbers game!

Post a Comment

NOTE: Blogspot has been eating some comments, and there doesn't seem to be anything I can do about it. IF your comment doesn't appear, it's not you, it's not me, it's the genuiuses at Google. Sorry--