It’s been a long cold winter in the Pacific Northwest for a sports fan. Rooting for Seattle teams has been like cheering on a root canal.
Let’s count up the ways things have gone wrong: the Seahawks players broke, the Mariners spent the most money for the most losses ever in baseball, the Sonics … well, you know about that; as Bill Simmons said so appropriately, they were hijacked. College football was a joke as the University of Washington became the only Division I school to go winless before firing Coach Ty Willingham. Washington State University didn’t do much better. The only claim to fame they could make was beating the Huskies to keep them from getting a win.
Seasons change. The sun comes out and the air gets warmer which causes things to look up. UW men’s basketball just won the Pac-10 title for the first time in 24 years. The WSU Cougars men’s basketball pulled off major upsets over UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State before battling the Huskies down to the wire. Despite the departure of the Hijack City pro team, basketball is still alive, well, and loved in the Northwest.
The Seahawks, thanks to a revolving door on the medical room, have the 4th pick in the draft. There is a lot of buzz right now because fans believe, and I am one of them, that this team still has something left in the tank. Discussions are divided on whether to take a stud player along the lines of Michael Crabtree, the best wide receiver in the draft, out of Texas Tech or solidifying the line with Eugene Monroe, an offensive tackle from Virginia to slide in for Walter Jones should his knee not recover in time. There is even some talk on taking Matthew Stafford, the quarterback from Georgia, to learn at the feet of Matt Hasselbeck. I feel that they cannot really go wrong whichever way they do it. It’s exciting reading the blogs and news sites to pick up little tidbits on players, wondering how they would fit in the team and whether it would make sense to trade down for more draft picks. Whatever happens, there is a great feeling of excitement in Seahawks land.
The Mariners, on the other hand, were trying to find any silver lining they could as they traded away closer JJ Putz to the Mets for a lot of prospects. Raul Ibanez and Willie Bloomquist left in free agency and suddenly some of the best known faces of the team were gone. Baseball geeks talked about whether Brandon Morrow should be the new closer or move to the rotation and whether last year’s big free agency signing Erik Bedard was worth the money or not. His horrible year on the mound didn’t do much to endear fans to him. Shutting down his season with shoulder surgery effectively closed the door on the team’s chances and led to Bill Bavasi’s firing. New general manager Jack Zduriencik came in with a broom, cleaning out the front office before hiring Don Wakamatsu for his first managing position. Casual fans, the lifeblood of ticket sales in past years, were still not paying much attention and the season looked to be a return to the pre-1995 times when a name from the past hit the headlines. Ken Griffey Jr. started talking about coming back to his first team. Websites started buzzing, headlines started being written, fans started talking, and it seemed like all the news was good. From a PR standpoint, signing Jr. was a shot in the arm. When Atlanta entered the bidding, M’s fans held their breath. Time stood still as the announcement dragged on when suddenly, Seattle exploded into good cheer when we learned that The Kid was coming back. Safeco Field, the house that Griffey built, was going to be his home once again. Ticket sales spiked, even in this economy.
Soccer fans were not left out in the cold; starting next week the Seattle Sounders FC will be competing in Major League Soccer’s top division. Co-owned by Hollywood producer Joe Roth, former minor league Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer, Paul Allen, owner of the Seahawks and co-founder of Microsoft, and Drew Carey, the team made a big splash with the big signings of Freddie Ljungberg, famous Arsenal star and Swedish international, and local boy made big, USA team goalkeeper Kasey Keller, originally from Lacey, Washington. Keller is such a big name in local soccer circles; he has a street named after him in Lacey. Signing the coach of the MLS Cup winner’s Cleveland, Sigi Schmid, put the team into the headlines again, showing that the team was committed to competing right out of the blocks. Season ticket sales, already the highest in the league with closing on 22,000 sold, would put the average attendance behind only Los Angeles and Toronto from last year.
It’s a definite growth period in the Northwest sports scene. I plan to cover more of the sports here with more in-depth team articles as well as shorter updates and game coverage. I also want to digress from the major sports and dig into the lesser covered sports such as marathons, cycling, Ironman, rugby, and the hydro racing. I am looking forward to a new soccer season, the Mariners with “King Felix” Hernandez, Ichiro, and Griffey, the Seahawks, the Storm, and the Winter Olympics next year in Vancouver, not to mention a hopefully deep run in the NCAA tournament from the UW Huskies.
It’s been a long cold winter of sporting discontent in the Pacific Northwest, but have no fear fans, the sun is coming out and a new season is on its’ way. It’s time to shed the winter coat and dig out the sunscreen again.