From the Stands: A father's love shines through at Providence Park
Walking down the street, Jesse Leineweber cuts an imposing figure. The hulking former rugby player wears his beard long, his hair buzzed and has both arms covered in full-sleeve tattoos. Indeed, from a glance, Leineweber seems custom-built to lead cheers in the North End. But during a recent match at Providence Park, the season ticket holder headed to the East side of the stadium rather than with his bearded brethren in the Timbers Army. Next to him sat a shy little girl holding a Barbie, wearing an autographed Timbers jersey and a pink tutu.
Eloise, age 6, is Leineweber's daughter. She's cautious, but friendly, her soft voice and look-away smile typical of kids her age in such a large, public setting. The two have seats just south of midfield, where Jesse has been a season ticket holder since the Timbers moved to MLS in 2011. Leineweber splits his time with Eloise with her mother and when they are together, Timbers games have become a bonding experience for them.
"Every time I have her on a game day, she comes with me," said Leineweber. "At Timbers matches we get to cheer and laugh and talk and see friends together."
Jesse, 34, is a game designer living in Northwest Portland. His company, Warrior General, has produced sports and music games, putting Leineweber at home and on the computer most days. Getting out and into the city, especially with a young daughter to look after, was too much for Jesse to pass up when tickets became available in 2011.
"I'm a little bit of a homebody," admitted Leineweber. "But the atmosphere in stadium is active and engaging and loud and fun. You can go crazy or take it easy, but either way you’re with your little one and smiling."
Creating a new Timbers supporter one game at a time has been Leineweber's mission, starting with an Axe Society event in 2011. The team held an event for the inaugural MLS season ticket holders to spend some time with players on the field at Providence Park. Both Leinewebers took to one player in particular.
"Kalif [Alhassan] is our favorite player," said Leineweber. "We got to meet him. She has a jersey with his autograph, I have a jersey with his autograph. We both just like his style, he's got that flair."
The plan to add Eloise to a new generation of Timbers fans has worked perfectly. When she was younger, Leineweber would have to bring an iPad and toys to keep her from becoming lost in the action. But as Eloise has grown up, so too has her involvement in the game. Now, the younger Leineweber is up and cheering on defense, screaming and celebrating goals as green and gold smoke pours from the capos in the north End.
It's that atmosphere that Leineweber said was a big reason he purchased tickets for the Club Level section three years ago. Portland is becoming known around the world for their supporters, which Jesse said encourages young fans to join in.
"The way that the Timbers Army operates in the stadium, it feels like a student section," said Leineweber. "In a lot of stadiums, you lose that. It's nice to have the drum beating for you all game long."
Much like the Timbers Army supports the club, Leineweber is his daughter's biggest supporter. Above all else, the sense from the two is a very close connection, where daughter is happy to be along with dad no matter where they are. In spending time at Timbers matches, the two get to experience a bond, creating a multi-generational support of the team. But even more important for Jesse is seeing his daughter simply have fun, and get to be a kid while watching a big, crazy game on the green turf in downtown Portland.
"Seeing Eloise happy and smiling fills me up with a joy that I can’t really describe," smiled Leineweber. "I’m convinced it's magic. Watching her grow and learn is incredible."