Jim Serrill comes across most days as a mild-mannered fellow who trims trees around town. But during soccer season, Serrill transforms into "Timber Jim,'' the Portland Timbers' chainsaw-cranking mascot at PGE Park. From 1978 through the demise of the first Timbers franchise in 1981-and since the Timbers returned in 2001-Timber Jim has sawed slabs off a victory log and swung from the stadium rafters. And at age 51, he still climbs to the top of a 75-foot wooden pole during the second half of games. Serrill put down the chainsaw long enough to discuss the diehard Timbers Army fans in Section 107, the death of his teenage daughter in a traffic accident last August and the time he incited a riot in Canada.
WW: How'd you get started as the team's mascot?
Timber Jim: I called the Timbers' office and asked the general manager if I could bring a chainsaw to a game. My brother and I used to sit in Section 107. Our idea was to liven up the crowd after a goal and extend the celebration. Eventually, he acquiesced and said, "We'd like to have a guy on the field saw a slab off a log when they score." I went from being a fan in the stands to sawing slabs.
And the pole-climbing tradition?
That got started during a dead game. They had a microphone on the field, and I was trying to start a cheer. It went over like a lead balloon. I figured I needed to do something to get [the crowd] going. There was a wooden light pole where the metal poles are now. I climbed up there and threw my rope over the cross arms and I came down about 30 feet while hanging upside down. I started swinging back and forth and fired up my chainsaw. Every time I asked them to do a cheer from then on, they went along with it. Then I threw in the back flips later on.
You still do back flips at 51?
Well, no. They're more of a controlled crash. None of my acrobatics are that hot. The crowd likes it, so I try to wing it. As long as I can do it without getting hurt, I still go for it.
Why don't you go on the road with the team anymore?
There's a story about an episode in Vancouver [B.C.] in the old days. We were in a playoff game and it was packed-33,000 people in Empire Stadium. We won and I was doing my thing. I was in their face, and the Canadians didn't like that. I got attacked. I incited a riot; and a bunch of Canadians came out of the stands. One guy hit me with a big bag of ice and cold-cocked me. The next thing I know, I'm being escorted out of the country by the Canadian police.
Why don't teams ever bring their mascots to Portland?
It's dangerous. I'm in a movie called Behind the Mascot [mascotmovie.com], and I talk about how there's only a few of us that don't work in suits. A lot of mascots have poor visibility, and they wear big feet. In an unfamiliar stadium, they're pretty clumsy. Plus, there have been college mascots over the years that have been really roughed up.
How does this generation of Timber fans compare to the '70s?
Wilder. Section 107 is huge. [The Timbers Army] is known across the United States.
Our crowd is very vocal. They're passionate.
Do things ever get too crazy?
Yeah, we've got to stop throwing flares on the field. It would be nice if we didn't light them at all, in my opinion. I also really don't care for potty-mouth stuff. Every time the opposing goalie kicks the ball, we [chant], "YOU SUCK, ASSHOLE!" There's a more creative way to do chants. We're trying to draw a family crowd. Shakespeare could tell you to go to hell and you would be looking forward to the trip because he was eloquent. But everybody's good-natured, and I've received huge love from the Timbers Army. You would not believe how they've held my family up during such a difficult year. This has been, for me, hell. My daughter was 17 and these people have...it's very difficult to talk about. They love me and I love them back. I'm not going to try to change them.
Any truth to the rumors that Timber Jim will retire soon?
I take it year by year. This year was real important for me to do. I'd like to see the traditions continue until somebody comes along that will climb the pole. There will always be someone around to saw the log. Those things will always continue. Whoever it is that replaces me is going to need to do some tricks. It's important-otherwise the fans won't follow you.
See Timber Jim at the next Timbers home game at 7 pm Saturday, May 28, against the Virginia Beach Mariners.