PORTLAND — So, Tackle Jon Ryan Night. This is a real thing. Or it could be a real thing, anyway, maybe this summer.
If you’re under the age of 12, and if you’re in Portland on the right night, you could find yourself in the outfield at a Portland Pickles baseball game, chasing the team’s new minority owner, who just so happens to be Jon Ryan, the Seahawks’ ginger-coiffed punter.
What happens, you know, if Jon Ryan gets caught by this sugar-rushed mob? Might he follow the example of former teammate Marshawn Lynch, who pancaked eager children at his youth camp?
“We’ll see how many drinks I have before,” Ryan says.
Ryan purchased a collegiate wood-bat league team in Portland nicknamed the Pickles. I can report, with mild disappointment, that in the 10 hours I recently spent with Ryan, he never made a joke about the nickname that would have been unfit for a family newspaper. (This from the player who thanked departing kicker Steven Hauschka by tweeting, “It’s been an honor to hold your balls for the last 6 years.”)
Ryan wants the Pickles, only a year old, to be wacky and weird — hence the Tackle Jon Ryan Night. But what he’s doing, what he intends to do, what he hopes to do, is not a joke: He wants to build a baseball empire. He even texted those exact words to his business partner/co-owner, Alan Miller: “This is the start of our baseball empire.”
Different, to a point
In February, Ryan visited Portland with his wife, comedian Sarah Colonna. They went to see the team’s modest ballpark — Walker Stadium in southeast Portland. Just about everyone agrees the old stadium needs touching up, but Ryan proudly texted a picture to his brother.
Naturally, his brother had a question: What’s that area behind home plate? Ryan explained the area behind home plate was, in fact, reserved for the best and priciest tickets.
“And he said, ‘It would be a great area for a foam pit,’ ” Ryan says. “I was like, ‘Dude, I know that’s something we probably would have talked about years ago, but that’s where our best-selling seats go.’ And he said, ‘Every seat comes with a pass to the foam pit.'”
Ryan wants the Pickles to be different — just maybe not that different.
“I want to be 35-year-old Jon Ryan who takes 10-year-old Jon Ryan to the park with his crazy ideas,” he says.
If that doesn’t work as Ryan’s mission statement, surely this will: “We’ll definitely have a beer with you in the stands — if you’re buying.”
Life after football
At a Portland bar that rings a bell every time a patron buys the staff a six-pack of PBR, Ryan gets sentimental. Some players say what they’ll miss about football is the camaraderie, the relationships. Not Ryan. What he’s going to miss is punting.
“I usually start punting around mid- or late April,” he says. “This year, I started punting about three weeks ago. I went to Los Angeles Valley Community College. The first day, I went out and kicked 50 balls, and I was walking on air the rest of the day. That’s the way I’ve done it for years. Actually, I don’t like it if people come with me because that’s how I’ve been doing it since I was 7 years old — on a field with five balls just kicking back and forth. For me, it’s almost therapeutic. I went out there for the first time this year and kicked, and even Sarah was like, ‘You’re the happiest guy.’ ”
Ryan signed a four-year, $10 million contract with the Seahawks last March, but he turns 36 in November, and lurking somewhere out there is the end of his football career. (He jokes that he will end up kicking for the LA Kiss, an arena-league team).
What he has discovered over the past decade is that he also loves baseball, even though he quit playing when he was 13. He has owned Mariners season tickets for nine years. This spring, he went to 12 games at the World Baseball Classic in three cities: Miami, San Diego and Los Angeles, where he lives with Colonna in the offseason. There can’t be another player in the NFL who can talk more authoritatively about minor-league and independent baseball teams.
“I’m one of those Google weirdos,” he says.
When Ryan is interested in something, he tends to be a bit obsessive. While preparing to appear on the TV show “American Ninja Warrior,” he messaged as many former contestants as he could find. Several years ago, he emailed the commissioner of a now-defunct independent league to inquire about starting a franchise in Regina, Saskatchewan, his hometown. He invested in a sports agency and went as far as to fill out the paperwork and take the test to become a baseball agent.
“It went right through the very end with the Players Association,” he says. “They were like, ‘When you retire, we can totally do this for you. But right now there are too many — what’s the word — conflicts of interest.’?”
Ryan no longer wants to be an agent. But he does want to be a hands-on baseball owner, involved in merchandise, promotions and concessions.
“Up until this point,” he says, “the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do was football. I could honestly see this being my post-football career. In a way, I get more nervous the older I get because I love football more and more. If you would have asked me that seven, eight years ago, I would have been like, ‘Nah, I’ll be fine.’ Now I’m like, ‘Maybe it will be pretty rough when it’s all over.’
“I’ll be honest with you: I will be fine, but it will be hard. It will really be hard.”
Recipe for success
OK, so the baseball empire: Jon Ryan wants to build one with his partner, Alan Miller. Wants to start with the Pickles. Change the logo, change the merchandise, host concerts, roll out promotions, upgrade the stadium.
If that’s all a success, he and Miller want to buy more teams: minor-league teams, independent-league teams, teams from all over.
How they go about that is their Rubik’s Cube, the lab the Pickles offer. It’s hard to pin down Ryan, though, either because of the beer or his enthusiasm or both.
“I feel like I’m rambling,” he says. “I’m so excited about all the different possibilities. Part of me doesn’t know exactly what my purpose is for this, but at the same time I have a million ideas, and I’m glad I have a platform to put them out there.”
What’s the proper way to spend an evening after buying a baseball team? Drinking beer, of course.
Ryan and his co-owners find a table at a brewery in downtown Portland.
A few minutes later, a Seahawks season-ticket holder sticks out his hand. He wanted to buy Ryan a beer, he says, but apparently the bartender told him five other people had already done it (graciously, Ryan downs another Porter anyway). The fan says he knew it was Ryan because a waitress mentioned that some Seahawks player was there, a punter or something. Ryan offers one correction.
“I’m actually a baseball owner,” he says. “Have you ever heard of the Portland Pickles?”