Matt Calkins, in his first column for The Seattle Times, explains why he left his SoCal slice of heaven and came to the Pacific Northwest.
So there I was, sipping a Ballast Point IPA at San Diego’s oldest tavern, when my buddy asked me point blank: Why would you leave this for Seattle?
And this is what I said.
I told him I think I had a pretty good idea of what Brad Pitt was going through when he had Jennifer in his life but couldn’t take his eye off Angelina. Any columnist lucky enough to land in San Diego typically doesn’t give that up.
Matt Calkins file
Age: 33 Hometown: Los Angeles College: Loyola Marymount University
• Spent the past three years as a columnist for the San Diego Union Tribune, working previously as the Trail Blazers beat writer for The Columbian (Vancouver) and a columnist for the Press-Enterprise (Riverside, Calif).
• Has covered the Super Bowl, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Final, U.S. Open, and CIF water polo quarterfinal between Murrieta Valley and Temescal Canyon.
• Was the starting shooting guard for his high school basketball team. At least on senior night he was.
• Has had his work honored nationally by the Associated Press Sports Editors, Society of Professional Journalists, National Headliner Awards, and Best American Sportswriting series.
• Has heard every ginger joke ever told.
Never mind that I grew up in Southern California and was a 90-minute drive from my parents and extended family. I had found paradise in a city where, if you need to store something at room temperature, you can just leave it outside.
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But Seattle is a place I could never quite shake from my peripheral vision. I first got a sniff of the town’s sports culture when I was a reporter for the Columbian in Vancouver, attending a Seahawks game in a stadium loud enough to make the deaf hear and the hearing deaf.
Braving 130-plus decibels at The Clink left an impression. It spawned a shiver. It reminded me of the difference between a fan base with a healthy sports appetite and one that needs sports as a basic form of sustenance.
At this point, my buddy was just staring at me.
I told him that Seattle’s sports stars are as fascinating as they are entertaining. Richard Sherman, the best cornerback in the world, calls out the commissioner and rags on receivers. Clint Dempsey, the best soccer player in the country, rips referees’ notepads on the pitch and raps lyrics off of it. Felix Hernandez, the best American League pitcher of the past 10 years, shows gripe-free loyalty to an organization that has yet to get him a 163rd game.
Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch are in Seattle. Chris Petersen, Sue Bird and Hope Solo are, too. I’m not saying these are all model citizens, but they provide color and texture to a sports landscape that can be described in every way but dull.
Despite this soliloquy, my friend just kept staring.
I told him that — fine — it would be nice to write about a winner for once. Aside from an offensive line that puts forth the collective resistance of finish-line tape, the Seahawks have the most talented team in football. But the appeal of covering them isn’t just their dominance — it’s the juxtaposition between 2013’s heroics and last year’s heartbreak.
While buying a mattress last week, I asked lifelong Seattle resident Cory Peterson what defines a Seattle sports fan. His response? “We have a chip on our shoulders.”
Man, you would think such a chip would have vanished when the Seahawks captured this town’s first major men’s pro sports championship in 35 years, but Pete Carroll found a way to bring it back with one play call in Arizona. So now you have a star-studded cast playing for a city that — despite finally winning a Super Bowl two years ago — is more desperate for a banner than ever.
That’s unique. That’s compelling. That’s a story that any hack with a laptop would kill for the chance to chronicle.
But this goes well beyond the Hawks. This is a town that has 70,000 fans filing into Husky Stadium one day and 60,000 singing at a Sounders game the next. This is a town with some of the best grassroots basketball in the country and outdoor sports galore. This is a town gunning for an NBA team, pushing for an NHL team, and hoping one day for an MLB team (sorry).
Seriously, though, if I can say anything with certainty about Seattle folks, it’s that they care about their sports. The subjects may be intriguing as they come, but it’s the readers that make this a sports town.
As Dan Good, a bartender at Fuel Sports in Pioneer Square, said: “No matter who you talk to in this city, they’re going to be passionate about one or all of our sports.”
So there’s your answer. That, right there, is why I would leave my SoCal slice of heaven and venture up to the Northwest.
Finally, my buddy looked down and nodded his head.
“I see,” he said, “but it’s also because the Chargers are moving to L.A., right?”
Well, there’s that, too.