Sunday, July 19, 2009

Save the Beavers - or Bust

I can't sleep, so I'm downstairs at the laptop, trying to organize my thoughts.

They mostly concern the Portland Beavers.

The Portland Beavers are the local baseball team. They've been around for all but a few years since 1903. They are currently the Triple-A affiliate for the San Diego Padres. And they're being threatened by Major League Soccer.

I've got nothing against MLS. In fact, I'd be thrilled to know the Timbers are being promoted to the MLS if only I could be assured that it wouldn't affect the Beavers. Because I know there are a lot of soccer fans in Portland, and they deserve to be rewarded for being faithful fans.

But I also feel strongly that all of Portland's baseball fans deserve a reward.

I remember a few years ago, when the Montreal Expos were being relocated, and Portland was one of the final cities being considered for the relocation. Boy, did I want that Major League Baseball team. It was so... big. Mind you, I wasn't a kid anymore; I was well into my teens. And yet the idea of Major League Baseball in Portland seemed so magical to me. I could picture the jerseys, brighter white than any the Beavers had worn, against a background of REAL grass (as opposed to artificial turf). My family spent time brainstorming possible team names and colors. We learned the facts and the reasons, Why Portland Is a Major League City.

To this day, we have a bumper sticker on our fridge: "Bring Major League Baseball AND Education to Portland!"

Now we're using those facts and reasons again, but this time it's not run for a promotion to the big leagues.

It's to save our poor triple-A behinds.

Here are some of the facts:
Portland is the third-largest city without a Major League Baseball team (after Sacramento and Orlando).

Five Major League cities are smaller than Portland.

Some say that Portland is not a big league city, judging by the attendance of Beavers games at PGE Park. Many of these like to compare these statistics to those of the Timbers Minor League Soccer team. To those I say: the Timbers play 15 home games a year. Obviously they get bigger crowds than the Beavers, who play about 70 home games each season.

Another reason Portlanders aren't considered diehard Beavers fans? It can be hard to get swept away by players in AAA ball when they're always coming up from AA or going up to the Majors or being traded in clusters for a major leaguer for the parent team. The lack of superstar makes it harder to invest yourself in a team and it's win-loss record.

But that doesn't mean we don't have favorites. The last summer I was home, I went to several Beavers games and always hoped to see Yordany Ramirez playing. If he wasn't, I was pretty happy to watch Pete LaForest. Familiar names such as Manny Alexander, Shea Hillenbrand and Hiram Bocachica come through on breaks from the Majors. And Portland Beaver Chad Huffman received a huge ovation during the Triple-A All-Star Game, and the umpire was severely booed when he was called out on strikes. In his second at-bat, the Beaver was greeted by enthusiastic cheers of "Let's Go Huffman".

I'm sorry to say I've taken the Beavers for granted. Now, however, I got to sleep every night upset at the thought of a Portland without a baseball team. Every morning I read the columns in the Oregonians by people who have ideas for saving the Beavers but no means of carrying them out and almost no support by public figures, such as Mayor Sam Adams, and resign myself to the likelihood that the Beavers will be tucked away in the suburbs, somewhere I won't be able to get to nearly as often. And for what?

So the Timbers can play their 15 games as a Major League team in an improved stadium.

Really, I'm happy for Portland soccer fans. I just think that MLS should not come at the expense of professional baseball, no matter the league.

We may not have a lot of options, but we have some. I hope you'll sign this petition and help us try to keep the Beavers in Portland, their home of nearly 100 years.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Putting the "Home" in "Home Run"

Today was the Minor League All-Star Game Home Run Derby, and boy, what a show.

It was easy to surpass expectations, because ours were relatively low. When the announcer said, "Who doesn't love a long ball?" the three of us looked at each other carefully. Sure, we love a Big Papi Dinger, or a the occasional grand slam that shakes you to your gut. Personally, I was always a big fan of the Brian Daubach come-from-behind shot.

But in general we're not big fans of the home run. They're a little boring. They're exciting, but it's kind of a cheap thrill. A showy, long home run does not seem like good sportsmanship.

The Home Run Derby, however, started with excitement and kept it going all the way through.

It opened with two local high schoolers. The first, Kevin Taylor of Sunset High School, neatly lined eight balls over the right field fence. Eight home runs ended up being the most of any player in the first round. One of these eight was powerful enough to just brush the MAC club balcony and win a free Oregon slider for everyone in the ballpark.

Kinda like that time another Oregonian, Jacoby Ellsbury, won a free taco for every person in the country. (But that's a different story.)

Taylor advanced to the second round, which has to be one of the greatest gifts a guy can get on his 18th birthday, along with Terry Evans (Salt Lake Bees), Portland Beaver Chad Huffman and Shelley Duncan of the Scranton/Wilkes Barre Yankees, who we soon recognized from certain MLB games between the Sox and Yankees.

This led to lots of booing from the stands (okay, granted, there was a little cheering, too).

The man behind me leaned forward and asked, "So, tell me, why does Portland hate that guy so much?"

"Well, because really, most of us are Red Sox fans," I replied, "or, at the very least, Yankee-haters!"

A quick consultation of wikipedia told us of Duncan's writing negative comments about the Red Sox in a 10-year-old Boston fan's notebook, in addition to spiking Tampa Bay's Akinori Iwamura. We booed with increased enthusiasm.

Taylor did not fare so well in the second round and was unable to get a single ball over the fence. Still, his total of eight was third only to Duncan (nine in two rounds), and Huffman (10).

Duncan started the finals and managed only one home run on four outs. His last at-bat sent a long, high ball out onto 18th Ave, just foul. I may be biased but I believe it was a fair call. Some viewers protested, but Duncan really went too far. In a friendly competition, he refused to simply accept probable defeat, instead staying at the plate and trying to convince the officials that the ball was fair, citing the fans who wanted to have seen another home run.

It draws an analogy, in my mind, to the players who do steroids in order to please a brand of baseball, a public, that relies too heavily on showy home runs. Cheating to please the fans doesn't make it any better.

He was an ungracious loser. You see, Yankees fans really think they have class - you can tell by the way the fans refer to the team's clean-cut image with remarks such as "Johnny Damon had to come to New York so he could learn to take a shower". (Easily countered by stories such as the Roger Clemens bat incident, your choice of A-Rod stories, such as swatting the ball out of Bronson Arroyo's arm, rumors of steroid use, and his alleged affair with Madonna, and Duncan's afore-mentioned spiking incident) They don't realize that they are mostly spoiled to the point of taking wins for granted and being terrible sports.

When Huffman stepped up to bat, he received a larger cheer and ovation. He hit one home run, then a second, and won the competition. (He hit a total of five, earning $500 in prize money.)

So: Local Boy Wows Crowd, Hometown Hero is Home Run Champ!

I complained the other day about an obnoxious Yankee supporter at Saturday's Fan Fest. I saw him again today, but this time with his leg in a heavy-duty splint. I wouldn't wish another bodily harm, not even a Yankee fan, but the combination of this sighting with Duncan's embarrassing performance gave me a pleasant thought to last me all evening:

Redemption is Sweet.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Stankee Yankees

It's been a long time since I've experienced much American baseball culture. Although the last time I was here during baseball season was only two years ago, it seems like a mighty long time since I've come into contact with many other baseball fans.

So I still love the sport, and I still keep tabs on my Red Sox, and I still hate the Yankees, and I still get a thrill when I walk into a ballpark or hear the quickened, excited voice of an announcer calling an amazing play.

But I had forgotten how MUCH I hate the Yankees. I even forgot a big part of WHY I hate the Yankees.

There's that annoyingly high payroll, which we Sox fans can't complain about since we're nearly as bad as they are. (Although we still don't get all the big names the way they do, just picking up whoever happens to be hot. The Red Sox are a more crafted team, thought out in terms of chemistry and specific talent and where we can sacrifice offense for a better fielder and vice-versa, while the Yankees just grab whatever name will take the money.)

There's the stupid clean-cut look of the team, and Evil Steinbrenner. There's the obnoxious way they sing Sinatra's "New York, New York" after all the games. There's the fact that the got a new stadium with a non-commercial name, payed for by the city, while the Mets got Citi Field.

But the thing I forgot about was the fans.

I mean, I knew I hated that part, too. But I forgot just how obnoxious they can be.

Yesterday, we got in line to get some autographs at PGE Park, and who should be in line behind my sister and I, but a Yankees fan.

This guy was a real genuine New Yorker, too.

What's the first thing he did?

"Are you real Red Sox fans?" he asked.
"uh, yes", we said, already on our guard.
He immediately asked us if we'd heard of two old Sox players. We hadn't.

The Sox fan in front of us had, though, and told us when they had played (in the 60's). We protested that we were Sox fans before they won. (Even though we weren't there to see '86, we did experience the heartache of the 2003 ALCS and Aaron Boone, and that's really all you can expect of this generation of Sox fans. That moment, and stories of expectation, hope, and heartache gone by.) We also explained that we had lived in Boston, and surprisingly, he did back off a little.

But a little isn't much when you're talking about a Yankee fan.

As my mom pointed out, there's nothing you can do about them. No matter what you say, they'll have a retort. "You won on luck. That doesn't count." "Oh, so 2007 was also just luck?" "Wait till you win four, five years in a row. Then you can talk." Or, "You only won because of Manny, and he was on steroids." You can bring up A-Roid, but it won't make a difference. He'll find something else to throw back at you.

Now I remember why I hate the Yankees.

About 6 or 7 years ago, my siblings and I would give a relentless evil eye to anyone we saw with a Yankees hat. Of course, in Portland, a lot of people wearing Yankee hats are not the kind of people who care all that much, so they must have gotten really startled. I think it's time to brush up that Evil Eye and start using it on the Evil Empire again.