Portland Lumber Jax defenseman Brodie Merrill talks tough about lacrosse, jet lag, and being mocked by Canadian teenagers.
Players in the National Lacrosse League make somewhere in the neighborhood of $15,000. That could be a dinner tab for players in other major sports. So I’m guessing suiting up for the LumberJax is something you do for the love. Exactly. I like to compete just like any other athlete. But in order to do it, there’s a big commitment. Right now that means lots of traveling. That’s definitely the most unglamorous part of the job. But at least the team pays for my airfare.
Why would you live in Toronto and play for Portland? Well, I got drafted by Portland [in 2005] out of Georgetown University, and initially I relocated and lived here during the season. I’d lived in Vancouver, BC, before, and I saw living in the Northwest as a cool opportunity to experience something new. This is my fourth year, though, and my family is all in Toronto. That drew me back to Canada. But I still love Portland. We came in as an expansion team, and we’ve built up a loyalty, and I really feel like I’m part of the growth of the team. That’s why I continue to play here.
So with the extra travel, what’s your typical game week like? I’ll be in Toronto Monday through Friday, then I’ll catch an afternoon flight to Portland on Friday. That gets me into town around ten at night. Then we have a throw-around on Saturday morning before that night’s game. Then I take the first flight out on Sunday morning. Sometimes I actually spend more time in the air than in Portland.
Has the lacrosse fan base in Portland evolved since the LumberJax have been in town? This is our fourth year, and, for sure, the fans are becoming more educated about the rules of the game. I think our success [the Jax are the defending West Division champions] has been significant to the game’s growth in the Northwest. Compared to other lacrosse centers we have an average turnout in terms of numbers, but the audience is very enthusiastic. As a player, you appreciate that.
Where does lacrosse rank on the toughness scale? It’s definitely a physically aggressive game. What I appreciate, though, is that it’s got a lot of elements of other games: the fast pace, high action, and contact of football or hockey, but also the finesse of soccer. And yeah, I’ve definitely been laid out on numerous occasions.
Is there a typical injury you guys have to be particularly wary of? Since I’m talking to you with my foot sitting in a bucket of ice, I’m going to go with busted ankles. But there are also shoulder separations, concussions, and lots of wrist and hand injuries because of the stick slashing. It’s a pretty balanced mix of pain.
Everyone on the team seems to have a day job. What’s yours? I run the lacrosse program at a private school called the Hill Academy here in Toronto. It’s strictly for athletes in grades nine though twelve.
Do your students follow your games? Oh, yeah. Lacrosse is Canada’s official summer sport, so they watch the games and follow my stats. Which is not always a good thing. Sometimes after a game I’ll come in and get some Monday-morning quarterbacking. You know, everybody’s an expert. After a particularly bad game, I just want to duck my head and sneak into my office.