Dog days [dog daze]
- The period between when the Mariners are eliminated from contention (roughly Memorial Day) and the beginning of football season.
- The interval between Timbers fans demanding the coach or technical director’s head and the Timbers playing just well enough to create hope for the future.
- Anytime during the month of August, when Northwest sports fans are counting the days until the Ducks, Beavers, Seahawks, or Huskies can do something – anything- to take their mind off the Mariners annual descent into mediocrity.
Yeah, I know; it’s the end of August. Only a few days until the college football season kicks off…with the NFL will following closely on its heels. When the games matter, we can shift into our fall mindset, when all things seem possible and everyone is a potential BCS or Super Bowl champion. Optimism wins the day, the tailgate parties have an extra bounce, and there’s a nip in the evening air announcing that football season is upon us. This is my favorite time of year…especially since I’ll soon stop thinking about the Mariners and, even better, my Minnesota Twins.
It’s becoming easier to feel good about the Mariners these days. They’ve won 14 of their past 15 homes games and proudly own the best record in baseball since the All-Star break. The Mariners finished off a long home stand by beating up on the hapless Indians and making it look easy. Kinda makes you wonder what might have happened if they’d been able to do this in May, doesn’t it?
After the perfect game pitched by Felix Hernandez, the Mariners seem to have found a degree of inspiration not normally felt at Safeco Field in August. Normally, the dog days of August find fans and the media bemoaning the loss of a star player or two at the trade deadline. The Mariners did complete a couple of minor trades, but can anyone tell me whom they traded? I didn’t think so. With King Felix being their only remaining marquee name, it seemed they were tinkering around the margins.
It’s not as if the Mariners are harboring playoff hopes, but they’re playing for the future and the reachable goal of finishing the season at or over .500. They could possibly be on the verge of being a contender next year. This may just be when “the future” begins to become more than just an abstract concept.
Here in Puddletown, things are somewhat less settled. By now, most Timbers fans understand there won’t be any playoff games at Jeld-Wen Field this season. The lads may not even manage to climb out of last place in the Western Conference. A season that began with high expectations has devolved into a search for moral victories and actual triumphs. Last week’s frustrating road trip to Toronto and New York yielded a draw and a defeat. An optimist might look at those results, recall the Timbers’ meltdown at Dallas a few weeks ago, and call it “progress.” The Timbers scored two goals in both road games, though, something they’d never done before. Sure, they had a 2-0 lead in New York…and then gave up three unanswered goals…but why focus on the negative? Lord knows there’s been enough of that this season.
A large segment of the Timbers’ fan base isn’t being nearly so sanguine in their assessment of the team’s problems. The hashtag #GWOut has been trending on Twitter as an expression of frustration with the job Gavin Wilkinson’s done this season, both as technical director and interim coach. Many fans, myself among them, still don’t understand why John Spencer was fired. Combine that with the trade of Troy Perkins to Montreal, and there’s understandably been a lot of head scratching. Instead of addressing the team’s obvious weakness- the back line- Wilkinson fired a coach who was popular among the players. Then he traded the team’s one defensive stalwart- Perkins- for a goalkeeper with a reputation as something of a malcontent.
I know; I don’t get it either. You don’t fix a flat tire by overhauling the transmission, yet that seems to be what Wilkinson did. Both he and owner Merritt Paulson insist they have a plan and they’re sticking to it. If the plan bears fruit, and it may take a season or two, this lost season will be an unpleasant distant memory. If it doesn’t…well, Timbers fans will be looking to collect scalps. Paulson has enough trouble keeping the Timbers Army at bay as it is; I can only imagine what might happen if things don’t improve. I fear Paulson might wake up one morning to find a severed horse’s head on the pillow next to him, the eyes staring straight at him.
Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Vancouver at least provides hope for the future. The Timbers’ youngsters got the better of Vancouver’s veterans for most of the evening, and they (finally) got a result they deserve. Ironically, the Timbers are in last place in the West, but they lead the Cascadia Cup. If they can beat Seattle at home on September 15th, they’ll all but guarantee themselves the Cup…and they may well still be in last place.
Even with all the Sturm und Drang surrounding the Timbers, in a few days we’ll be able to resume our Ducks/Beavers/Huskies/Cougars rivalry. I didn’t go to any of those schools, but I’ve been a Ducks fan for years. It’s even more fun now, because my girlfriend’s family is split between Huskies and Cougars. Let the fun begin, eh??
Oh…and did I mention that the Trail Blazers open camp soon and the Winterhawks first game is less than a month away? Life in the world of sports certainly is circular, isn’t it? A central tenet of Buddhist philosophy is the belief that human existence is an endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth…sort of like being a Mariners fan, no?
Sports fans here in the Northwest have high expectations of their teams, but the reality is that, as far as the sports world is concerned, we live in Siberia. We think we live in the most beautiful part of the country…and we do. Unfortunately, most of the sports world thinks cowboys preoccupied with fighting Indians populate the Northwest. That’s part of why the success of the University of Oregon’s football team has taken so many by surprise. Most folks are surprised to learn that we have running water and indoor plumbing, much less a successful BCS program.
Overachieving may be a good thing, but we should accept that we don’t have the advantages New York or Los Angeles possesses. We should enjoy success, but also remember to temper it with an understanding of the limitations of where we live.
I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Tune in next week, when I’ll be taking bets on how long it will be before I’m thoroughly sick of Chris Berman and compensate by fantasizing about Suzy Kolber. Yeah, I know; I’m a sick, sick man….