My friend Tim, the exorcist: Column
By Sebastian Moraga
I really try not to hate anything or anyone, but when the Seattle Sounders team executive (who is still there today) looked at me and said, “Your dad’s name is Francisco Moraga? That’d be a good name for a drug dealer, wouldn’t it?” it was pretty hard to not start rooting like mad for the Portland Timbers. Or whoever the Sounders were playing. That was 15 years ago.
Back then, I was the team’s scorekeeper, a volunteer gig I had found while at home from college. The Sounders weren’t the powerhouse they are today. They played in a smaller league, with tiny crowds, their headquarters were in the basement of a church, one of their main sponsors was a small pizza chain, and their scorekeeper was a guy who could not keep track of his car keys, let alone 22 people running at once.
But, soccer is soccer, and I stuck it out, mostly because it was a cool job, and because, well, free pizza is free pizza.
But blood is thicker than olive oil, so when that dude said that about my dad, the Sounders ceased to be special to me.
Except for one day. The final day of the 2002 season would be played in what was then brand-new Seahawks Stadium, today known as CenturyLink Field. It would be the first-ever sporting event at the new field. So, I got my hands on a few free tickets and I invited (of course) my dad, my mom and a dude named Tim Bayliss, whom I had met when I was a freshman in college and who had become one of my best friends.
Bayliss was sick as a dog that day, but he still showed up and waved up at me from his seats to let his scorekeeper pal know that he had made it.
Tim has always fed off the experience of being around people, so it’s no surprise he made it that day. What is surprising is that 15 years later, he points back to that day, a day of coughing fits and shivers, as the day he fell in love with soccer. To the point that when the Sounders became The Sounders, he became an ardent fan, scarves, jerseys and the whole shebang.
I, of course, had wanted almost zero to do with the Sounders for a decade and a half, so when Bayliss started talking about going to a game together, I didn’t pay much attention. But then he said that perhaps after 15 years of do-you-know-what-he-said-about-my-dad, it may be time to let it go. Dad himself had been given God’s red card back in 2012, so he said perhaps it was time to red-card the chip and leave room on the shoulder for, say, a Sounder scarf.
The game was in August of 2017, almost 20 years to the day I met Bayliss in Pullman. So strong was the pull of my bitterness that, glad as I was to celebrate 20 years with one of the finest men I have ever known, I stood in line to enter the stadium and I had not decided whether I would exorcize my demons and cheer for the Sounders, or extend the freeze-out and root the Timbers. This, as I entered a stadium with 60,000 Sounder fans and about eight from Portland.
I got to my seat and sat stone-faced next to Bayliss, who, of course, started talking to everyone in sight. Then it happened.
A mixer in the box, the ball pinballing every which way, and bang! The Sounders scored. The hated, dreaded, you-don’t-talk-about-papá-that-way Sounders scored. And I liked it.
I didn’t cheer or scream or hug anyone. But I did share a high five with Tim and another with a total stranger. And then I thought, “Man, it’d be cool if they scored again.”
After 15 years, it had taken 15 minutes, and I had become a Sounders fan. All thanks to the guy who once said to me, “C-Bay, bitterness is like a backpack you carry around. If you fill it with stones, there’s no room for anything else.”
I can’t explain how that happened. All I can say is that forgiveness knows no schedule. When it’s time to let things go, it’s time to let things go, no matter if you are ready for it or not. As it turns out, I was. I just didn’t know it yet. But my pal did.
As I write this, it’s been a month since that game, but only 24 hours since I last went looking for Sounders tickets. This time, I want to take my son.
This time the only thing on my shoulders will be a first-grader. We’ll have some pizza, talk about Grandpa, and look for Clint Dempsey. And if a familiar face should show up from the executive suites, we will probably say nothing. We will just lift one finger (the index one) and point to our shoulders.
That’s where the new scarves will be.
By Sebastian Moraga, email@example.com