And buy your kids some peanuts and crackerjacks with our handy guide to cheering for PDX’s hometown teams.
Portland isn’t the biggest of Big League cities. The nearest Major League Baseball and National Football league teams are in Seattle. You have to go to Vancouver, B.C. for the National Hockey League.
But what Portland lacks on the top end, we make up for in variety. The National Basketball Association’s Trail Blazers and Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers are the big deals. The Winterhawks, part of hockey’s top developmental league, and the Thorns, who play women’s professional soccer, are next in the ordering.
Out in Hillsboro, the single-A Hops present minor league baseball the minor league way, which is to say casual, easy and affordable. (And watch out for the debut season of the Portland Pickles this summer, a Great West League affiliated baseball team who will play at Walker Stadium, a hop, skip and a jump away from the MAX station at SE 92nd and Holgate.)
We talked to them all about what you and yours need to know before heading out to root, root, root for the home teams.
Portland Trail Blazers
Before the start of this season, the Trail Blazers took a section in the Moda Center’s 300-level concourse and converted it into 4,100 square feet of kid-friendly space they call Kid City: There’s a sign-making station, and pop-a-shot. There’s a Rip City Tattoo parlor that isn’t a tattoo parlor at all. It’s for face painting. An Oregon Grown display lets kids see how they measure up to Blazers’ wing spans and shoe sizes.
“Kids can feel like they’re in their own space,” says Aaron Grossman, the Blazers’ corporate communications manager.
Is it your first game? Inside the Moda Center’s north entrance (and in Kid City) is a booth where you (or your little one) can pick up a “My 1st Game” button and an official certificate. Nice for the kids, and, Grossman says it helps the ushers, who will likely make a slightly bigger deal about your attendance.
We missed the “My 1st Game” display, but that didn’t stop an usher from handing my kid a set of inflatable noisemaking sticks at the start of the second half. She did this despite what I clearly believe to be a look of abject horror in my eyes. Noise was made, but no more or less than with her voice once, to her delight, she realized she was not only allowed, but encouraged, to use her outside voice inside.
On a 6 pm start, she made it to the end of the game. She only spilled a few of her Dippin’ Dots. One of the Blazer Dancers waved at her and she flipped with excitement.
I’ve often thought the production of NBA games was too loud and busy, but she liked the lights and the glitz. When the streamers burst from the rafters after the final buzzer and a Blazers win, she let loose an audible “Oooh.”
Tickets: Season tickets, partial season tickets, flex plans, single-game tickets. There are options, and the prices are as varied as the possibilities. Best to check the website or call the Rose Quarter box office.
Schedule: Regular season runs from late October to mid-April.
Fan Club: The Rip City Resident program offers fans merchandise and merchandise deals. The Junior Pack ($24.99) includes a mini basketball, a lanyard, a sticker set, a certificate and a surprise gift from Blaze, the mascot.
Portland Timbers/Portland Thorns
There were five other kids and three other dads with us when we went to see the Thorns a few seasons ago. It was just before my daughter’s third birthday. She still talks about the game and every now and then still digs out the flag from her room and waves it wildly around.
I was up every few minutes for food, or a bathroom break, or souvenirs, or more food or just because. The dads all bought beers before the start, and none of us finished our drink. Behind us, a row of women sat enjoying the game and laughing at us. They had a point.
The theory used to say you had to market soccer in this country to kids. They were the ones that played, while their parents were the ones that made jokes about soccer. That was a long time ago.
“Given the rabidity of our fan base, we’re not marketing directly to kids,” Timbers president of business Mike Golub says “We’re marketing to people who love their city and their soccer team.”
There are a lot of them. So many that a Timbers ticket is tough to come by. That doesn’t mean there aren’t options. The best is the LTFC, that’d be the Little Timbers — or Thorns — Fan Club. For $30 you get a Timbers or Thorns scarf, four Thorns tickets to a game of your choice, and a collection of tickets for the Timbers T2 squad, which competes at the level below MLS and plays its games at the University of Portland’s Merlo Field. (T2 season tickets start at $8 per game.)
“With the Timbers, access is so hard,” Golub says, “but we leave a certain number of group tickets for soccer groups and other groups — if they act early.” (In other words: If your kid plays youth soccer, check with league officials to see whether they’ve snagged a discounted block of tickets, and jump on it.)
Online: Timbers.com; Timbers.com/ThornsFC
Tickets: Single-game Timbers tickets start at $18 and are tough to come by. Thorns tickets start at $10.50. A wide variety of packages are available, including group seating. Check online or call 503-553-5555.
Schedule: The Timbers regular season starts in early March and goes through October. The Thorns will start in April and play through September.
Fan Club: Membership in the Little Timbers (or Thorns) Fan Club (aka the LTFC) is $30 and includes a scarf, a collection of tickets, ticket discounts and contests.
There are mascots, and then there’s Barley of the Hillsboro Hops, the adorable alpha mascot. “What’s interesting, a lot of mascots, it’s the kids that gravitate to them,” Hops executive vice president and general manager K.L. Wambacher says. But Barley gets a lot of adults asking for pictures, too. (Probably because Barley is a key ingredient in beer.)
The Hops hit on something with Barley, who anchors the game-day experience, but the spirit is a good old-fashioned easy day (or evening) at the ballpark. “Each year, we want to be more family friendly,” Wambacher says. “We kind of feel like that’s our role. We have to play to that crowd.”
In practice, that translates to as many manageable game times as possible, ample opportunities to run the bases, partnerships with Disney on princess and pirate nights, and a Christmas in July promotion that brings Santa to the ballpark and includes a toy drive.
Behind the outfield fence, there’s a play area packed with inflatable activities: A jump house, an obstacle course, a T-ball game. It sits within easy reach of the best feature in the park — the left field berm. Tickets are $7. You can throw down a blanket, grab some food and let the kids be kids. Maybe even finish a beer. Maybe even see the game.
Tickets: Tickets on the general admission Frontier Family Berm are $7. Reserved seats range from $11 to $16. Multi-game and season packages are available. For more information call 503-640-0887, or visit HillsboroHops.com/tickets
Season: Late June through early September
Fan Club: None, but don’t miss the Fan Fest on May 14 at Ron Tonkin Field. Free hot dogs and sodas. There’s a chance to run the bases, try on uniforms and tour the clubhouse.
“Can I boo now?”
There had been something of a controversial call by an official earlier, prompting a hail of boos. She loved the boos. A row below us, a group of women laughed hysterically as my daughter lit into the refs. Then came the chant.
“What are they saying?”
“They’re saying ‘Ref, you suck,'” I said.
“What’s that mean?”
“It’s like a boo.”
She wanted to boo for the rest of the night. Everything. All the time. She loves booing. She boos me still.
Other than the boo-ing opportunities, the nice thing about the Winterhawks is the players are practically kids themselves. Western Hockey League teams are allowed three overage players. An overage player is 20. Most of the roster is in high school, and they live with local families during the season. Those families were being honored the night we were there, and the woman sitting next to us struck up a conversation with my daughter and high-fived her after Portland goals.
“We try to provide people an opportunity to see a first-class major league game presentation — especially at the Moda Center — at a fraction of the cost,” says Kelley Robinett, Winterhawks senior vice president of marketing and operations.
Knowing Portland isn’t the hottest of hockey hotbeds, there’s a Hockey 101 brochure you can grab at the game, and a companion video online. There’s an array of ticket packages. Some come with hats. The Sunday night game we hit had a manageable 5 pm start. All in all, it’s as easy an in and out as you’ll get at the Rose Quarter.
Tickets: Single-game tickets for kids under 12 start at $17. If you’re coming in a group, consider the “”10 Tickets and 10 Hats” package that works out to $18 per person. Season and multi-game packages are also available. Call 503-236-4295 for more information, or visit Winterhawks.com/tickets.
Schedule: September through late-March.
Fan Club: None, but a lot of promotions. Check the schedule.
In the Stands
Some of the smaller fans — and their parents — give us their best insider tips for rooting on the home team.
“Give up thinking you’re going to watch most of the game,” — Matthew McLean, Trail Blazers season ticket holder and father of Ella, 5.
“Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t spill the Dippin’ Dots.” — Ella.
“If you want to get on TV, try a funky costume, but don’t wear all black. You can make free signs at the booth between entry A-10 and A-11 at the Moda Center, and that might get you on the Jumbo-Tron.” — Nate Adamski, 10, lifelong Blazers fan. (PS: For treats, he swears by the cookie-dough ice cream on sale at the arena.)
“Also, the Blazers Dancers sometimes walk around on the third level and say hi to little kids. That’s a good family level — it’s cheaper, not as loud and there’s less swearing,” — Debi Adamski, Nate’s mom and also a Blazers die-hard.