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The Portland Fire had the support, fans showed up

The Portland Fire had the support, fans showed up

This summer would mark the 20th Anniversary of the Portland Fire’s inaugural season in the WNBA.

The Fire joined the Women's National Basketball Association in 2000 as the counterpart to the Portland Trail Blazers while playing all of their home games at the Rose Garden. The team folded; however, after just three seasons in the league.

To celebrate what would’ve been 20 years in the league, NBC Sports Northwest is releasing a three-part documentary series on the Portland Fire.

While catching up with former players, coaches and employees of the organization, one thing kept coming up:

Fire fans were loud, proud, and there were many of them.

[RELATED]: Portland Fire Part 1: The love and excitement for a WNBA expansion team

Former guard Tully Bevilaqua reminisced about playing in Portland

“Oh I loved it,” Bevilaqua said of her time in Portland. “The city itself was beautiful. It was a nice easy going pace, not that hustle and bustle type city so that was definitely appealing to me, very scenic -- going up on that drive, seeing the mountain tops there, especially with the snow peaks on them it was just awesome, so picturesque.”

In 2000, Bevilaqua signed as a free agent contract with the Fire and played with them for three seasons until the franchise folded after the 2002 season. She eventually went on to win a WNBA Championship with the Seattle Storm in 2004.  

Fire fan favorite Jackie Stiles says she was in awe of the fan support in the Rose City.

It was phenomenal. Oh my gosh, the Rose Garden -- what an amazing, amazing environment and facility. And our fans in Portland were great. I know I’m biased, but I felt like we had the best fans in the league. We really drew pretty well and I think we were towards the top in attendance, or I felt that way... Maybe there were just louder, but I loved our fans. They were incredible. -- Jackie Stiles on the Portland Fire fan base

Over their three seasons in the league, the Fire posted an overall record of 37-59.

Stiles, who was selected fourth-overall by Portland in the 2001 WNBA Draft, earned Rookie of the Year on August 16, 2001.

There’s no doubt that the love between the players and Fire fans was mutual.

“The sporting community was, I mean, you had obviously the Blazers -- they were very popular in town. So, there was a passion for it and we became a part of the community,” Bevilaqua said. “It was a great town and obviously you’ve got the Nike campus there as well, so I mean, that was huge just the passion for sports in the city… You could feel it. You could feel it in the air… When you run through the tunnel, and you hear the screams… the hairs on the back of your neck start standing up just thinking about it again.”

Yes, it’s true, Rip City has a lot for people to do and see; it just needs a WNBA team back to really have it all.

You can check out Part 1 of ‘What Happened to the Portland Fire’ right here.

We will roll out Part 2 of 'What Happened to the Portland Fire' on June 30 right here on our website, while Part 3 will be released the following Tuesday, July 7.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is taking over the XFL, what's next for Seattle Dragons

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is taking over the XFL, what's next for Seattle Dragons

Can you smell what The Rock is cooking?

WWE star and actor, Dwayne Johnson, has agreed to purchase the XFL for $15 million, saving the league after it declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April. Johnson and his investors -- which include his business partner and ex-wife, Dany Garcia, along with RedBird Capital Partners -- plan to revive the league.

The Rock confirmed the acquisition in a post on Twitter Monday. 

With my trail blazing partner @DanyGarciaCo & Red Bird Capital, we have acquired the XFL. With gratitude & passion I’ve built a career with my own two hands and will apply these callouses to our @xfl2020 brand. Excited to create something special for the fans! #XFL #fullcircle.

Johnson, 48, played college football at the University of Miami before becoming a professional wrestler and one of Hollywood’s most-known actors. He also played football with the CFL Calgary Stampeders in 1995. 

The Vince McMahon-owned league shut down in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, eventually leading to its bankruptcy decision. The filing came just days after XFL COO Jeffrey Pollack informed employees the league was suspending operations and all employees had been laid off.  

This was McMahon’s second attempt at developing a professional football league after the XFL folded in 2001 due to low viewership. 

While the resurrected league drew mixed reviews, the XFL’s Seattle Dragons dominated in attendance. They drew an XFL record with 29,172 fans in attendance at their home opener against the Tampa Bay Vipers and surged past 10,000 in season-ticket sales in February. 

Could Johnson breathe new fire and bring back Seattle's beloved Dragons? The Emerald City hopes so!

[RELATED: With the XFL suspending operations, we'll miss Seattle Dragons fans]

U.S. women's soccer star Megan Rapinoe is on a mission to make politics cool 

U.S. women's soccer star Megan Rapinoe is on a mission to make politics cool 

US women’s soccer star Megan Rapinoe is calling for change.  

The OL Reign standout has fought for activism, equality and LQBT rights her entire career. Most notably, she became the first non-NFL athlete to take a knee during the national anthem.

Now, Rapinoe is looking to help people see politics in an engaging way. On her Tuesday night appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, the two-time World Cup champion shared what viewers can expect from her new half-hour special, Seeing America with Megan Rapinoe.

[RELATED: USWNT star, Reign legend Megan Rapinoe to host new HBO series]

"I’m sort of on this mission to make politics cool," Rapinoe said. "I feel like politics is always this thing, and it’s sort of meant to like this or packaged just like like, it’s not this cool thing. ‘It’s difficult to get involved in, just stay out of it.’ And then people are like ‘I don’t really want to get involved,’ and it’s like actually politics is engaging with you, whether you are engaging with it or not, all the time no matter what.

"Your whole life is political and especially if you’re a Black person or Black trans woman or a gay woman like myself or a gay female athlete, our lives are political in so many ways, so I’m trying to break it down for people and make it a little more relatable and then get people energized in the civic process, and getting involved in just being more active in their communities, also for themselves."

Rapinoe called the upcoming election the most the important election of her life. She noted the 100 million Americans that failed to vote in 2016. While voter turnout is discouraging among young people, Rapinoe believes those who watch Seeing America could be inspirited to get involved in the civic process. 

“When we all vote, it’s amazing,” Rapinoe said. “We should be trying to be getting as many people involved in voting as possible. It’s one of the greatest things about our country, we live in a democratic country, where everyone can participate and have their voice heard.”

Following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, many are seeing Rapinoe's gesture of kneeling in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick in a new light. 

She began kneeling on Sept 4. 2016, just eight days after the 49ers quarterback gained notoriety for his silent protest. 

She believes the pandemic has opened people’s eyes to “the lies told to them.”

I think people are just starting to connect all of the different dots. We’ve seen what happened to Colin over all of these years and how much backlash he’s got. But all of these things coming to fruition literally what he’s talking about being played out for all of us to see in these videos. 

I guess my hope is that people are starting to connect the dots and realizing that we don’t have to live in a world like this, we don’t have to live in a world where we don’t have healthcare that’s adequate and our schools aren’t adequate. We’re one of the richest countries in the world. We can do better for ourselves and we can do better for the people that are living here. -- Megan Rapinoe 

Perhaps the most important message of her Tonight Show appearance came at the show’s conclusion, when Rapinoe called for justice for Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed in her home after Louisville, Kentucky police officers allegedly executed a search warrant of the wrong home. 

Wearing a shirt with the words “Say Her Name,” the 35-year-old said, “it’s a great time to arrest the cops. Breonna Taylor, Rest in Peace, you went too soon.”

USWNT star, Reign legend Megan Rapinoe to host new HBO series

USWNT star, Reign legend Megan Rapinoe to host new HBO series

Megan Rapinoe’s world takeover continues.

When the U.S. women’s soccer star isn’t making statements with her epic post-goal celebrations, the OL Reign legend is using her time off the pitch to fight for activism, pay equity, and LQBT rights.

Now, Rapinoe is hosting a new series featuring some of the nation’s major political and cultural figures. 

Seeing America With Megan Rapinoe will feature the two-time U.S. World Cup winner in an “ongoing cultural conversation that has been taking place during this significant time in this country’s history.”

Rapinoe will be joined by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Netflix's Patriot Act host Hasan Minhaj and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones.

In the trailer, the star-studded guest panel discusses the upcoming presidential election, the challenges we face as a nation, and how we can move forward together.

It is an honor to host a show with a critical conversation between some of America’s most innovative thought leaders. I am so thankful to HBO for providing such a powerful platform for this important dialogue. -- Megan Rapinoe

Rapinoe has long used her platform to advocate for change and justice. 

Recently, U.S. Soccer President Cindy Parlow apologized to Rapinoe for how the federation responded to her decision to join Colin Kaepernick in protest of racial injustice when she kneeled during the national anthem ahead of USWNT games. She became the first white U.S. pro athlete to kneel during the anthem in 2016. 

Rapinoe joined Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson at the virtual ESPYs in June, calling for an end to racism. She referenced Kaepernick’s ongoing fight for racial injustice. 

Colin Kaepernick never shied away. He knew that discomfort was essential to liberation, and that fighting the oppression against Black people is bigger than sports. So will it be uncomfortable? Yes. In speaking up, will we make mistakes? Yes. That cannot stop us from trying, and not just for a few days or for a few [Instagram] posts. -- Megan Rapinoe

Tune into Seeing America With Megan Rapinoe as the USWNT star once again uses her platform to shed light on important dialogue. The special will air on August 1 on HBO at 7:00 p.m. PT.

The MLB should expand to Portland... so what's the hold-up?

The MLB should expand to Portland... so what's the hold-up?

Opening day for the MLB was on Wednesday this week which reminds us… Portland needs a team.

As the MLB’s 30 teams took the diamond for the first time this 2020 season, the MLB to PDX movement still lives on.

On the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast, hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon are joined by special guest Artie Wilson Jr. to discuss the MLB to PDX movement:

I think having a major league team in Portland would be tremendous for that city. I think the team would do well in Portland. I think Portland is a major league city… that has a tremendous following for teams and the people in Portland are very supportive of athletics.

Wilson is the son of former Negro league and Oregon State baseball player Artie Wilson. A 2012 inductee to the Birmington Borons Hall of Fame, Wilson played for the Birmingham Black Barons from 1942 to 1948. During that time, he was considered to be one of the league’s top shortstops. The Black Barons won the Negro American League championship in 1943, 1944 and 1948, advancing to but never winning the Negro League World Series.

Baseball runs in the Wilson family genes, and hopefully will soon run in the city of Portland.

On July 22, the Portland Diamond Project (leading the movement to bring Major League Baseball to Portland) announced their petition to bring the MLB to the Rose City had reached 60,000+ signatures.

Those who were actively campaigning for this petition included Frye, former Oregon State baseball coach Pat Casey, Jessica Mendoza, Dale Murphy, Isaac Ropp, Jason Suke and many more.

Even Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and Ciara have partnered with the Portland Diamond Project to further this movement. 

The support is there, and now the MLB needs to make it happen. So, what's the hold up?

According to an article in Forbes, dated back in May 2020, "The second six-month agreement between the Portland Diamond Project and the Port of Portland for the 'Terminal 2' site, just north of city’s Pearl District on the Willamette River expired on Wednesday. The group has paid a monthly fee of $37,500 to keep the exclusive agreement in place. The total cost is currently $450,000 for that right but is expected to increase.

"While the agreement expired, Craig Cheek, the head of Portland Diamond Project said that the expectation is that it will be renewed and continue. As to why the continued due-diligence, Cheek said that "a robust traffic and transportation study to examine issues in the area is what the group wishes to deliver before committing investment in the property."

Cheek adds that the group is still working on the infrastructure of the ball park and how to make it more than just baseball, the transportation surrounding the area (because who wants to be stuck in hours of traffic once the game is over), as well as other measures have been halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But stay patient PDX, our time will come.

Listen to the Talkin' Blazers Podcast here.

It's July 23, Seattle Mariner fans -- and you're tied for first place today!

It's July 23, Seattle Mariner fans -- and you're tied for first place today!

Yes, those two sweet words will be heard later today: “Play Ball!”

And for a good many of us, that doesn’t mean football, basketball or soccer. It’s baseball … and it’s finally here. It's opening day!

In a strange sort of way.

The sport has a habit, in the last few years, of shooting itself in the foot and it certainly did that this summer. It could have had the sports spotlight all to itself for at least a month by settling its silly labor dispute.

But enough of moaning about what could have happened, the good thing is that we will have some games to watch. The pandemic has robbed us of minor-league baseball and that’s a shame, but the big leagues are playing.

I’m not sure exactly what the limited schedule is going to do to this season but we’re making adjustments in all parts of our life because of COVID-19 and this is certainly not one of the important things we need to fret about.

But did I say strange? Yes. Consider:

  • Playing 60 games instead of 162 is a big advantage to less-talented teams. Flukes happen in all sports and a few mediocre teams will probably be able to put together a playoff-worthy 60-game run.

  • The mega-talented teams -- basically, as it’s been for most of my long life -- are the Dodgers and Yankees and they could pay a price for a short season. The more games teams -- and players -- play, the more opportunity there is for the laws of average to play out. A small sample size can mean crazy samples.

  • And speaking of that, there is a possibility of seeing someone hit .400. Not a great chance, but a whole heck of a lot better in 60 games than over 162.

  • Players will get sick with the virus, I'm afraid, just as they probably will in the NBA and NHL. The numbers say it’s bound to happen, but I think Major League Baseball is at the biggest risk of not being able to finish its season because it didn’t go to a bubble concept.

  • If there won’t be fans in the stands, there is no real reason to travel all over the country with your players risking contact with virus carriers. The sport should have put one league in Florida, one in Arizona and played in spring-training venues.

  • I’m not a big fan of putting a runner at second base to begin extra innings, as is going to be done. Long extra-inning games aren’t a big problem -- but pace of play is. And that’s what should be dealt with in these games. Let’s get in the box and on the mound and PLAY!

  • No spitting, which sounds great but I will have to see it to believe it. Well, actually, I don’t want to see it.

  • It has a chance to be a very wacky season, but consider this, fans of the Seattle Mariners: It’s July 23 and you are in the pennant race! In fact, you are tied for first place!

  • Well, you are also tied for last place, but who cares? Play Ball! 

Bethany Balcer’s stoppage time goal secures Reign’s first win of NWSL Challenge Cup

Bethany Balcer’s stoppage time goal secures Reign’s first win of NWSL Challenge Cup

It only took 15 shot attempts and three games for the OL Reign to record their first goal of the NWSL Challenge Cup, but on Wednesday, they finally found the back of the net. 

In stoppage time, NWSL 2019 Rookie of the Year Bethany Balcer scored on a header to give the Reign the 1-0 victory and their first win of the tournament. Balcer was ultimately named Budweiser Woman of the Match. 

The score came in the 91st minute when Yuka Momiki, who came off the bench in the 81st minute, found Balcer who nodded in the game-winning goal. 

It feels really good. It feels like it’s been a long time coming. Our first two games, we didn’t really feel like we showed who we are, so it felt good to get the win. -- Balcer told OLReign.com

It was also a special moment for coach Farid Benstiti, who secured his first win since becoming the Reign’s head coach in January.

It was a game like we wanted it to be. The pressure was good and positive for us. We had a lot of pressure to do well. The pressure on the players must be positive. Even if you have to get a result, you have to be calm to be good and to listen to what we wanted, what we expected them to do. That’s the great thing. We expected that. The timing was good for everything. We were humble. We were passionate and we wanted our substitutes to come on the field fresh. It looks like a movie. They are happy because the result is positive.” -- Farid Benstiti

The preliminary round concludes on Monday, July 13, when the Reign and Portland Thorns clash at 9:30 a.m. PT. The Thorns are coming off a 1-1 draw vs. Washington Spirit and remain winless in the 2020 Challenge Cup. 

[RELATED: Despite Lindsey Horan's best efforts Portland Thorns FC draws once again]

Seattle Mariners 2020 schedule released-- Five things you need to know

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Seattle Mariners 2020 schedule released-- Five things you need to know

Major League Baseball is one step closer to coming back! 

After the MLB and the MLB Players Association (MLBPA) agreed to a 60-game season in late June, the framework led to Monday’s schedule announcement. 

The reigning World Series champion Nationals will host the New York Yankees on July 23 to kick off MLB’s mid-pandemic shortened 2020 season that will be held over 67 days.

Players have already reported for "spring" training on July 1. 

For the Seattle Mariners, they’ll begin play on July 24th against the Houston Astros. 

Seattle will play 40 games in their division, the AL West, and 20 games vs. the NL West. The Mariners regular season is expected to conclude on September 27th. 

Here are other things to know about the 2020 MLB season.

  1. Roster— Teams will begin with a 30 man roster for the first two weeks of the season. It will be paired down to 28 players for the next two weeks, and then 26 players for the remaining of the season. Players not invited to participate for the remainder of the season will still be paid.
  2. Universal DH— The MLB institute a universal DH, meaning pitchers will no longer be hitters. A designated runner will be placed on second base at the start of every half-inning during extra innings.
  3. Pitching in— Pitchers must face a minimum of three batters, unless an injury occurs. This will speed up the game and will add more strategy. There are also no rules or restrictions on position players pitching in 2020.
  4. Trade deadline in August— It’s not a long season, but still one of the best parts of the season will happen. Instead of falling on July 31, the trade deadline will occur a month later on August 31, the theoretical midpoint of the season.
  5. Inactive list COVID-19 edition— The MLB will have a COVID-19-specific inactive list that players will be placed on if and when they test positive or show symptoms. There will be no set amount of time for the player to sit out, unlike the injured list, which requires hitters to miss at least 10 days.

Play ball!

WNBA: 5% of players test positive for COVID-19 ahead of bubble season

WNBA: 5% of players test positive for COVID-19 ahead of bubble season

As the WNBA gears up for its shortened season in Florida, the league announced Monday that 137 players have been tested for COVID-19 over the past week and only seven tested positive. 

The WNBA began mandatory testing on June 28 as teams prepare to head to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. 

The league released the following statement detailing the recent tests and plans moving forward: 

In tests conducted of 137 WNBA players between June 28-July 5, seven players have tested positive for the coronavirus. 

Any player who tested positive will remain in self-isolation until she satisfies public health protocols for discontinuing isolation and has been cleared by a physician.

Players and staff from 11 of the 12 WNBA teams will arrive at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida today. The Indiana Fever will delay their travel by at least five days in an abundance of caution due to the CDC’s close contact self-quarantine requirements.

The exact players who tested positive weren't released. But, as noted, the Indiana Fever will delay its travel to the Sunshine State after two players tested positive. The Fever won’t hop on a flight to Bradenton for at least five days. The WNBA’s seven tests account for approximately 5.1 percent of the league. 

Former Oregon State standout and Los Angeles Sparks guard Sydney Weise was the first WNBA player to test positive for the coronavirus in March. She detailed her experience on the Talkin' Beavers podcast with host Ron Callan. 

The WNBA will return to action in late July with a 22-game season all played at IMG Academy.  

Time to tip your cap to some great baseball players who were locked out of MLB

Time to tip your cap to some great baseball players who were locked out of MLB

I was lucky. As a very young boy, I saw Satchel Paige pitch. I saw Artie Wilson play, too. Both spent time with the Pacific Coast League Portland Beavers.

But I never saw Cool Papa Bell or Oscar Charleston or Josh Gibson play. I didn’t see Buck O'Neil play, either, but I did meet him and listened to him deliver perhaps the best banquet speech I’ve ever heard.

All of those men were stars in the Negro Leagues -- for you youngsters, that’s where Black baseball players got their chance to play professional ball before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.

I wish I could have watched these men in their prime. The stories I’ve heard have always entertained me. It was amazing these players were not allowed to be in the big leagues, obviously. We were deprived of their talent and their enthusiasm.

I speak about this because this week marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Negro leagues. Many stories have been told about those days and a good many that I’ve heard speak to the love of the game these men had.

They weren’t paid much, didn’t always play in the best ballparks and often were treated as second-class citizens as they moved around the country. But what I always seemed to hear about was joy. Excitement. Fun. They were playing a game they loved, with teammates they loved.

Wilson became an icon in Portland when his playing days were over. He brightened up every room he entered with a ready smile and caring heart. I loved him and treasured time spent listening to his stories.

He got his start with the legendary Birmingham Black Barons in the Negro American League, played for several teams in the PCL, but loved Portland and retired here. He spent 30 years selling cars for the same company, Gary Worth. He won batting championships in the Coast League, led the league in stolen bases and was a terrific infielder.

He got his only 22 at bats in the major leagues in 1951, before being sent back to Triple-A, so the New York Giants could call up some young kid named Willie Mays.

In 1962, at the age of 42, the Beavers ran short of infielders and signed Wilson, who didn’t hit much but fielded well and acquitted himself well. The sight of him at that age, flashing a big smile, in the infield for the Beavers is a lasting memory.

But playing into old age was what Paige was known for. He toiled on the mound for two decades in the Negro Leagues, pitching nine innings almost every day, they would say. He was known for a fastball that was regarded as the swiftest in baseball. As the years went along, he added curveballs, knuckleballs, his famous hesitation pitch and every other pitch you could imagine to his arsenal.

But he didn’t get as much as a sniff of the big leagues until 1948, when Cleveland signed him as the oldest rookie in MLB history at 42. He managed to pitch in the majors until he was 46 and then spent many years in the minors, including his stint with the Beavers in 1961, when he started five games and had a 2.88 earned run average -- at the age of 54! He actually threw one inning for Kansas City in 1965, when he was 58!

If you want to know more about O'Neil and the others, I recommend a book by the great sportswriter, Joe Posnanski, “The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America.”

Posnanski -- along with Negro Leagues Museum president Bob Kendrick -- has been the one who has sparked this celebration of Negro League baseball.

The idea was originally to get major-league players, during a game, to come out of the dugout together and tip their caps to the players from the Negro Leagues. But the pandemic changed that plan, leaving something even better.

It became Tip Your Cap 2020. And you can read the wonderful story of how it came about, here.

And, I implore you to go to the website tippingyourcap.com to feel the love and emotion of all those who offered video tributes, including four living former presidents and a who’s-who of athletes in all sports.And what better day could you have than the Fourth of July for this -- a perfect time to combine baseball and history.