The Monster Hides in the Darkness

The Monster hides in the darkness, always out of sight.
But you know The Monster is always there, day or night.
The Monster is patient, willing to wait things out.
It is always ready to strike, ready for the next bout.

The Monster knows your weaknesses, knows your strengths.
To take advantage of you, The Monster will go to great lengths.
The power of The Monster is strong, for it has the greater might.
The challenge of every day is to defeat The Monster, to win the fight.

The darkness you live in, the fear is always strong.
The time you’ve fought The Monster, it is very long.
There are the battles where you’ve held back The Monster, had it on the edge.
There are the battles where The Monster gets close to pushing you off the ledge.

There are those who say they are willing to help, ready for the bout.
But The Monster has planted that big piece of doubt.
Are you willing to trust? Are you willing to let them come in?
Because The Monster works hard to keep you from the win.

When the battles are won, the excitement is strong.
But The Monster never goes away for long.
And when suddenly things turn for the worse, when another struggle begins,
The Monster comes back and starts the battle again.

You look for help, you see those around you.
You have the hope that there is much that they can do.
But The Monster knows you’re weak, knows it’s ready to atone.
The Monster plants the doubt, that you really are alone.

Some who don’t know, those would rather not care,
Say that it’s all in your head, that The Monster is not there.
But it’s in your head that the battle rages on,
Where you fight to not be The Monster’s pawn.

Then comes the moments, when the battle reaches its peak,
When The Monster goes in for the finale, hoping you are meek.
You feel lost, you don’t know what to do, you have that deep fear.
You try to fight off The Monster, fighting for everything you hold dear.

The battle never ends, The Monster always is ready to fight.
The battle never ends, you have to go with all your might.
Even when there seems to be no hope, when all might go away,
You think about what might happen, then you try to find a way.

Because when you are weak, that’s when you have to be strong.
You have to beat The Monster, it doesn’t matter how long
It takes, because the battle is one that is always about to start.
You and The Monster are never that far apart.

And when it is all at its darkest, when you feel long you can go on,
That’s when you have to say, the conclusion isn’t foregone.
Because The Monster wants you to feel that, wants you to have no hope.
You have to resist that final act, to fight it off, to say, nope.

Otherwise, The Monster wins.

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Endless rejection & never-ending hope: The great roller coaster ride that was 2013

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(Wikimedia Commons photo of the Space Needle at New Year’s by “X-Weinzar”.)

That 2013 was a massive roller coaster ride for me would be a great understatement.

Professionally, it was as bad as I’ve ever gone through. Personally, I’m sure I’ve not gone through a year quite like it. As a sports fan, it’s as good as I can remember.

(And, yeah, I haven’t been here in a while. Meek explanation to follow.)

I think the last time I went through an entire year without a full-time job was when I was 21. I had just come back from spending time in Minnesota, where nothing went as planned. My mother said I should take some time off and regroup for whatever happened next. Soon after I turned 22, I was working full-time in a library and starting to plot my return to college. So the break turned out pretty good, in the long run.

I’m hoping something like happens this time around. Between applications, interviews, classes, a gazillion resume revamps and reformats, endless cover letters and wondering if I’d ever see a workplace again, it’s currently as bad as my professional life has ever been. I’ve been agonizingly close to a job on numerous occasions, while at other times I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t get past a specific point of an interview process or even get contacted. Frustrations have been high, and sometimes it got to the point where I wondered how much more I could take. How many times can I handle getting the emails saying thanks, but no thanks, about a job? How many times can I not get a return phone call, or a return email, about a position? How many times can I impress in the interview, but not enough to get the job? Yeah, the frustrations are great. But all I can do is grind, to keep applying, to keep hoping. Because at some point, I’ll get that job, whatever it is, and all will be fine again. All I can do, is hope.

I did get to start writing again. I have been writing a weekly column for Soccer Newsday, a site that covers many levels of soccer around the world. My focus has been on the Portland Timbers, and I haven’t been short on things to write about. No, I’m not getting paid, but I am writing regularly, and it gives me a bit of a schedule to work on. It’s been fun so far, and it’s even allowed me to add on some followers on Twitter.

(And that’s why I haven’t written much on here lately.)

Speaking of sports…2013 has likely been the best year I’ve had as a sports fan in many, many years. First, there was the run to the Super Bowl by the San Francisco 49ers, and coming so close to actually winning it. Arsenal made the UEFA Champions League again, and finished 2013 on top of the Premier League. The Portland Trail Blazers are stunning the NBA by being one of the best teams so far in the 2013-14 season, shocking a lot of pundits (and fans) in the process. Washington State’s football team made their first bowl game in 10 years, but, being the Cougs, they lost the game after blowing a big lead late.

Then there are the Pittsburgh Pirates. Their run into the MLB playoffs, and getting that first winning record in 21 years, brought my interest in baseball back to the levels of my youth. After so many years, I could say that I was a Pirates fan and not have people give me strange looks. Yeah, they lost to St. Louis in the playoffs, but just being there was amazing. I haven’t screamed at a TV as loud as when the Bucs beat Cincinnati in the wild card playoff. That was fun…baseball, fun! That hadn’t happened in so long, at times I didn’t know how quite to respond. That 2014 could be better makes me smile, and that the Pirates are now contenders rather than afterthoughts is incredible.

Speaking of going from afterthoughts to contenders, may I present the Portland Timbers. What Caleb Porter and the club did in 2013 was nothing short of miraculous. Being one game away from the MLS Cup Final, qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League, being the best team in the Western Conference during the regular season, beating Seattle in the playoffs…things that only could be distant dreams after a horrendous 2012 season. But, that’s what happened. Will Johnson and Diego Valeri became favorites, the ol’ stadium in Portland was rocking like it hasn’t in a long, long time and hope now springs eternal. That was some season, and I can only hope that 2014 can bring more of the same, and maybe take another step or two forward.

Yeah, there was some bad spots in my sports world. That was mainly reserved for the Edmonton Oilers, who at times made me really question why I support them after all of these years. That I love hockey so much probably saved me from going completely AWOL from the Oilers, but maybe someday they’ll be good again. But that doesn’t look like that’ll happen anytime soon.

But, throughout it all, I just keep living. My wife has been my rock, the calming influence when I’ve just about reached the breaking point. Having good friends, those who keep encouraging in spite of my situation, has also been a big help. Someday, I hope to repay them in some way. Then again, for as much as my wife has gone through with me this year, I don’t know if I can repay her enough. She puts up with my extreme lows and my hopeful highs. I can’t say “I love you” to her enough.

So, 2014 is almost here. All I hope for is that it’ll be better than 2013. That there’s a job in my future, that I can be a good friend and a better person.

The line that sticks in my mind is this: “Believe Beyond Reason”. Because, no matter how bad things get, if you still believe, if you still hope, then things will get better.

To you and yours, a great 2014. Let’s hope for good things, for all of us.

And, maybe, believe beyond reason.

How TV rating systems shortchange some sports

I was reading an article not long ago about how Major League Soccer still lags behind in TV ratings, with smallish numbers compared to other sports, and it got me wondering.

Can TV ratings ever be accurate for sporting events?

At this point, I don’t think so. That’s simply because the viewing habits of sports fans have been changing drastically in recent years.

One has to remember that those ratings only count those watching an event from home. While that’s a fairly accurate way to gauge how many watch a comedy, drama or some other recorded event, it’s not an effective way to figure out how many people are watching a specific sporting event.

The first problem is that the rating systems don’t count televisions outside of the home. With a growing amount of people opting to head to bars, pubs, restaurants or other establishments to watch games, that means a large number of viewers will never be counted towards the ratings. This especially hurts the ratings for sports such as hockey and soccer, where fans tend to prefer being at gatherings to watch games with friends instead of being home by themselves. The games have become social events, but the ratings will never show that.

Another issue is that some fans are increasingly watching games online, whether on a laptop, a mobile device (phone or tablet) or a desktop. Some of these sites do count how many viewers they have at specific times, but those figures are not part of the ratings that executives with television and cable networks are concerned with. It’s still the ratings connected with home viewing.

This affects the bottom line with leagues and networks, as advertisers still rely on the ratings to help determine where they should purchase time to promote their products. The effect is that an advertiser may see that a game in, for example, MLS had around 200,000 viewers according to the published ratings based on home viewing, but the actual number may be many times more than that if those watching in bars and other establishments were able to be counted. But they aren’t, and the advertiser is left with a ratings number that is quite skewed.

This doesn’t just affect the “smaller” sports, either. Imagine what the ratings for the NFL would be if those who watch the games in sports bars and restaurants were counted. Weekly records could easily be set, because the the NFL’s fanbase is so massive. The real viewing number for Sunday night’s 49ers-Seahawks game could be 30 percent more than the already-high published ratings, simply because of where people watched the games.

There’s no real solution to the issue, of course. Until Nielsen or some other company develops a way to count the TVs in a sports bar set to specific games, the ratings for a live sporting event will always be lower than the real number of viewers. Occasionally, for some sports the number will likely be much lower than reality.

But money is connected to those ratings. Networks rely on revenue from advertisers to pay for the contracts with sports leagues. Ad buyers will see the ratings, see that some are low, and then look for another show or event to advertise on.

It’s not a big deal to football and baseball, but it is to hockey and soccer. And nothing can be done about it.

What’s next? The continuing ripple effects of Dempsey-to-Seattle

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Clint Dempsey, playing for the US National Team against Belgium on May 29, 2013 in Cleveland. Photo courtesy of Flickr member Erik Daniel Drost.

Five days later, the shock waves are still being felt. Very likely, the Clint Dempsey situation will continue to be a topic for weeks, with many questions yet to be answered.

As Dempsey made his first appearance in training for the Seattle Sounders on Wednesday, it was beginning to look like he would make his debut in Toronto on Saturday. When he steps onto the pitch at BMO Field, a new era in Major League Soccer begins.

Much has been written on the Twitter frenzy that tipped everyone off that the Dempsey-Sounders deal was possibly happening. Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl wrote a fantastic article on how MLS and the Sounders put together the deal, and it raised as many questions as it does answers. The talk about how things went down, and its after effects, will go on for months.

Of course, the deal also shook up the Seattle sports landscape. After all, when was the last time a superstar in his sport chose Seattle for his professional home? Ichiro Suzuki was a big star in Japan, but when he came to Seattle in 2001, he was an unknown on this side of the Pacific. Think about the last major free agent, seen as a major star in their sport and in the prime of their career, who decided to sign with the Seahawks, Mariners or Sonics. There probably is one somewhere that I have forgotten, but the point is that it doesn’t happen often.

Now that the Sounders have Dempsey, what’s next? First of all, they have to figure out where Dempsey fits in with the club’s two other big scorers, Eddie Johnson and Oba Martins. Johnson would likely adjust quickly, as he’s played with Dempsey on the US Men’s National Team for a number of years. Martins would have to adjust a little for Dempsey’s style, but having Johnson around will help Martins get used to his new teammate’s on-field traits.

Not being in the CONCACAF Champions League for 2013-14 and being eliminated early in the US Open Cup may be a help for the Sounders. They can concentrate on making the MLS playoffs, and that they have between 2-4 games in hand on the six clubs above them in the Western Conference standings, a good run could quickly put them near the top of the standings. That also would get them in a better position for a run at the MLS Cup, a major reason why Dempsey was brought to Seattle.

The first big match for the Sounders in the Dempsey Era is likely in Houston on August 17. Not only would it be a homecoming for Dempsey, who is from east Texas, but the Dynamo are much like the Sounders in fighting for playoff position in the Eastern Conference. Add on what will likely be a hot and humid night, and it will be a big challenge for Seattle.

Of course, the one match everyone is pointing to is the Cascadia clash against Portland on August 25. It will be on ESPN2, it will have a crowd that could get close to the MLS single-game record for size and the anticipation and pressure will be high for Dempsey and the Sounders to perform. Their one advantage will be rest, as the Timbers will have played Real Salt Lake at home four nights before.

What will be on the line will go beyond just a win. Of course, there’s Cascadia bragging rights, with a win by either side jumping them past Vancouver in the Cascadia Cup standings. There’s the playoff implications, with both clubs battling to make the postseason. A Seattle win becomes the springboard for the rest of the season. A draw, and status quo holds for another week. A loss, and the critiques of the Sounders, and of head coach Sigi Schmidt, will renew.

A lot on the line for the Sounders over the next few weeks, climaxing with that Portland match. It will be interesting to see how the club plays and whether they can take advantage of the big talent now wearing #2 in the Rave Green.

Failure is not an option.

NHL expansion: Seattle and…who else?

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Seattle’s KeyArena, the likely temporary home for an NHL team in the Emerald City. (Wikimedia Commons photo by “paulyb6″)

Hockey fans in the Pacific Northwest got a major jolt on Tuesday night, and they could be excused if they have started dreaming of pucks in KeyArena again.

A series of tweets by Mitch Levy, the long-time morning host on Seattle sports station KJR, indicated that Commissioner Gary Bettman was getting ready to recommend that the NHL place an expansion team in Seattle for the 2014-15 season. It would obviously depend on an ownership group coming together quickly and that the planned arena in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood is still on track, meaning an adjustment to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) so that the arena could start construction with an NHL team on deck, not just an NBA team.

If this pans out, that means Seattle would be the 31st team in the NHL. They would quickly go into the Pacific Division and be its eighth team. But to balance out scheduling, the NHL would likely need another team to come in at the same time.

But which cities could be ready to host the NHL right away? The obvious choice is Quebec City, as it is already building a new arena and still has Colisee Pepsi (the former home of the Nordiques) available for a temporary basis. Quebec wants the NHL back badly, and with the financial backing of Quebecor, one of Canada’s largest media companies, they may be able to be ready to put something together quickly.

Other cities often mentioned for possible NHL expansion and/or relocation likely couldn’t be ready for 2014. Kansas City, Las Vegas, Houston and a second Toronto team likely couldn’t be ready in time with organization or investors.

Which gives us what may be the wild card in all of this: Portland. Paul Allen is now very interested in the NHL, according to reports from the Rose City. He owns the Rose Garden, which already meets NHL specifications and could host a team tomorrow. That in itself is important, as there would be no lease issues to deal with. While Allen was at one point not keen on an NHL team, especially after he came so close to buying the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1999 and moving them to Portland.

Allen was supposedly involved in talks about the future of the Phoenix Coyotes, and while he never made an offer, Allen is now convinced again that the NHL could work in Portland and be a viable partner with the Trail Blazers in the Rose Garden. Having an owner like Allen in the mix could be very attractive for the NHL, and this is where it could get interesting.

The NHL has long wanted a team in the Pacific Northwest. They’ve also seen how huge the Cascadia rivalry of Portland, Seattle and Vancouver has been for MLS & how those matches have become must-see games, even for some non-soccer fans. There’s also two fewer teams in the new Western divisions than in the East.

Would the NHL take a chance and put teams in both Seattle AND Portland? Would the league push away a guaranteed money machine in Quebec for hopes of an instant rivalry on the ice in Cascadia? This is a big question, and if Bettman wants two teams for 2014-15, and Seattle has to be one of those two teams, then Quebec and Portland could be the only obvious choices for the second team. Quebec would be the heavy favorite, but Portland, with Paul Allen involved, could be a major factor when all is done.

It will be an interesting few months for the NHL as they look to expand. What direction the league goes, who gets the teams and when they will start could be decided in that time.

Time to sit back and see how it all plays out.

Courage, inspiration in the toughest times

When I was younger and struggling to get my career going the way I had hoped, there was a phrase that I would tell myself to try and convince myself things weren’t as bad as it could be.

“It could always be worse.”

At times, as I have been looking for a job over these past seven months, it has felt like that statement has been a challenge to my state of mind. Could it be worse? At times, I’m haven’t been sure.

But two events over the past two weeks has seemed to bring myself out of the doom and gloom that occasionally has overtaken me as the job search has dragged on. Both involved maybe the worst thing of all: death.

First came the passing of a friend whom I never met, at least in person. Shonda Kearns and I spoke to each other on countless occasions, griping about our favorite college teams (she was a Kentucky gal, I a Wazzu grad). speaking lovingly about our families and always curious about what the next thing for us would be. We talked on Twitter, messaged each other on Facebook and even had brief conversations on LinkedIn. There were times when we tried to actually meet, which on the surface wouldn’t seem that hard. She lived in Mill Creek, while I was down the road in Lynnwood. But when we actually tried to plan it, something always came up and it never happened.

That can no longer happen. Early last week, Shonda lost her fight with colon cancer. She faced that cancer with determination, courage and a sense of humor. She was always more worried about the effect on her kids than on her. At one point, it seemed like she had won the battle. But cancer always seems to have one final attack, and when they found those last tumors a couple of months ago, we all knew it was a matter of time. The courage that Shonda had in facing down cancer inspired many of us, and she was in good spirits right to the end. She was a woman of faith, and that faith helped her right to the end.

When I heard Shonda had crossed over, I was hit with sadness, but also relief in that she no longer suffered. But the pain that Lee (her husband), Andrew (her son) and Rachel (her daughter) must feel, I can never imagine.

The last thing Shonda posted on her Facebook page was a photo, taken from her hospital room in Everett. It was of a rainbow, with the end coming down in Possession Sound just off of the Everett waterfront. It seemed fitting, as Shonda touched so many lives. She was that rainbow to many, and it showed her optimism, even as it seemed the end was near. Less than a month after she posted that photo, she was gone. But Shonda’s impact was massive, and she will never be forgotten by anyone who came in contact with her. Even those she talked to, but never met. Like me.

The second was from someone who many know. Scott Simon is a host and reporter for National Public Radio, but for the past week he has been the loyal son. His mother was in a hospital, drifting towards death, and on his Twitter account he shared some of the moments of her final days, as he went to Chicago to be by her side until the end. It was a mix of sadness, humor and admiration for the nurses who took care of her until the end. It may be as human as Twitter gets, as he mentioned his fears, her quips and their special moments. Simon always has been a master with words, and for the past week, he was at his best in what may be the toughest moments of his life.

The sadness that everyone who followed his Twitter account felt when his mother passed on was joint. You could see the sadness in Simon’s words, along with pride of being his mother’s son.

It also hit a nerve with me. I never got that final moment with my mother. She died suddenly on New Year’s Day, 2006. By time my wife & I made it to Portland from Spokane, my stepfather already had her cremated. That I never got that final moment with my mother, who was the most influential and inspirational person in my life, has haunted me since. I can still hear her voice on some nights, and wonder what my last words would have been to her, and hers to me. So, in a sense, I was a bit jealous of Simon, because he got the moments with his mother that I never got with mine.

Death is the final act of this life. After that, there is no more. But even when the final act has happened, the courage shown by those who pass on inspires all touched by that person who has crossed over. It is a life well lived.

Can it always be worse? It can. But drawing strength from those who have faced the end with a smile, and from those who were supported them to the end with love, is the inspiration to keep going and to live life as well as it can be lived.

Because it can be worse. We can no longer be here. And that, above all, is the worst fate we can get.

Enjoy life and be kind to others. We don’t know how long we have to make an impact.

Watching the low-key beginning to Arlo White’s American adventure

There are times when you don’t realize that you’re at the beginning of something special, when you’re about to see someone’s career take off.

A grey, rainy day in 2010 was one of those days.

It was early February, and I was among a number of soccer fans gathered at the George & Dragon Pub in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood to watch some Champions League action. As one of the clubs playing was Arsenal, I was wearing an Arsenal shirt. I was able to be there because I was working a 4/10, Thursday-Sunday schedule at the time, making the early part of the week my “weekend”.

So, as those of us gathered to order drinks, get into our spots and hopefully see a win, we saw a number of people wearing Seattle Sounders gear, men in suits and some media showing up. A few of us wondered among ourselves about what was up and whether it would interfere with our planned viewing.

As it turned out, everyone was there for an announcement. Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer was announcing the club’s new play-by-play man, and the G&D, maybe the most famous of Seattle’s soccer pubs, was the perfect place to make the announcement.

That’s when Seattle got its first look at Arlo White. The former BBC man had been hired to do the Sounders’ radio and TV simulcasts, bringing a different sound than what Kevin Calabro, the former voice of the Seattle SuperSonics who had been the play-by-play broadcaster for the Sounders that first season. He stood in the pub, mic in hand, talking about the great opportunity and challenge that he was taking on. He was thrilled to be there, and thrilled to be in a pub that felt, well, English.

Then, as quickly as the announcement was made, it was done and everyone associated with it quickly left. The G&D quickly returned to being the site of some Champions League viewing, as many discussed whether Arlo would connect to the Seattle crowd.

I remember thinking that I may have been the only one sitting in the pub who knew who Arlo White was. I remembered him from listening online to BBC Radio, whether hosting on 5 Live or calling a sporting event. He was the BBC’s voice of the Super Bowl, and he had just gotten done with that before coming to Seattle to finalize his deal with the Sounders.

Of course, the rest is history. Arlo did connect with the Seattle crowd, and then some. Soccer fans around the Northwest, and around the country, would make Sounders games required listening and viewing, as White quickly became the most respected and well-known broadcaster in Major League Soccer. His career skyrocketed, as NBC made him their voice of MLS just two years later. Now, just over a year later, he’s moving home to England to become NBC’s voice of the Premier League, realizing his dreams and becoming the perfect voice for the network as it expands its soccer coverage. He’s being replaced by the former voice of the Portland Timbers, John Strong, keeping the large Cascadia influence on national MLS broadcasts.

It’s been an amazing 3+ years for White, as his American adventure has led to the job many in England dream of. He’s also left a broadcasting legacy in Seattle, and in MLS, that’s very tough to follow.

That adventure formally began on a grey February day in a dark pub in Seattle. Little did I know, or anyone else who was there, that we were watching the beginning of a unique era in sportscasting in Seattle.