Tuesday, July 25, 2006

ALL SPORTS EDITION (Suitable For Both Sexes)

(P1) Political

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(P2) Philosophical

Soccer, Cycling, and the Prospect of World Peace

Granted, I may be a bit different, but I recorded and watched at least portions of all 32 World Cup games, and I wasn't alone. Millions, perhaps a billion people worldwide also watched what Brazilians call "The Beautiful Game." I learned that years ago Nicaragua and El Salvador stopped their war to watch. This time, the civil war in Ivory Coast ceased firing at least as long as their team was playing. North Korea actually urged its citizens to root for South Korea.

Something there is about futbol that captures the hearts and minds. If only we could interest our own sports fans to tune in. I went to a sports bar to watch Mexico play Argentina. The game wasn't on any of its many TV's. At JC Penney's, I attempted to engage a Mexican-American man in discussion of Mexico's passionate play, and he said that, instead, he had watched NASCAR. There is something about Most Americans that (with the possible exception of something like Olympic figure skating) won't cross borders for sports. Is it provincialism? Are we so geographically and culturally removed from the other continents that we couldn't care less, and, worse still, are so many xenophobic? Do we have a President who, before invading Iraq, had visited only Mexico? (That was a purely rhetorical question.) Are our children so juiced on the speed and violence of video games that attaching their attention spans to 90 minute games of strategy and beauty holds little or no allure?

And what of the Tour d' France? I recorded each day's stage race. I suffered as Floyd Landis went from first place to eleventh after "hitting the wall" in the Alps. How incredibly inspiring when, after being written off by everyone but himself, Landis somehow performed one of the greatest feats in sports history by marshalling the impossible physical and emotional reserves which carried him totally up and away from the pack the next day!

All of this not only unites the world but reflects great credit upon Americans. How proud I was to be an American the day the U.S. soccer team, a man down, inspirationally tied eventual World Cup champion Italy! For the most part, however, the papers and pundits reported that the Americans had been losers in the World Cup.

I used to propose that the government support every American citizen with a 6 month travel allowance, tax breaks, and anything short of force to encourage travel abroad as a way of overcoming rampant xenophobia. Of course this idea is impractical. Face it, politicians would prefer suicidal tax breaks during time of war. So, ok. How about at least expecting our leaders to get amped up over the most major international competitions and encourage (by example) our citizens to participate in the excitement with the rest of the world.

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(P3) Poetical

The Art of Baseball Poetry
by Mike Shannon

A baseball poem should be high and tight
As a fastball on a hitter's night,

As a line drive off the tarp,

Lazy as a high fly ball
Fungoed to a pitcher near the wall--

A baseball poem should be artless
As a rookie's heart.

Ball poems should be tossed around
Before returning to the mound,

Felt, and scuffed, and squeezed
Until the proper grip is found,

And caught in the pocket, if you please,
To furnish the diamond that old popping sound,

Ball poems should be tossed around
Before returning to the mound.

A baseball poem should be yellow at night:
Not trite.

For year-round lifelong love
The broken laces of a fielder's glove.

For joy
Calisthenics in the Arizona sun and a bird dog in the bushes.

A baseball poem should be


FRED said...

well the world cup wasnt an afterthought in boston.. the northend (little italy) was a great place to watch any of the games and the streets and pubs were filled during the final. The mayor set up a monstrous screen in the city center, which was filled with spectators for EVERY USA GAME and the final .. in the southend, a large.. very large contingent of french nationals watch and celebrated. It was amazing and a lot of fun. BTW .. the us womens team has started the road to 2007 world cup.

Duncan said...

How many of you readers have ever attended a soccer World Cup? There is no greater display of sports passion than at a World Cup match.

At the 1986 WC in Mexico, I remember standing in the rear of our suite to allow guests a better view and hearing a tumultuous roar from the crowd of close to 200,000 in Azteca staduim. Rushing forward to see what had transpired, I was told that a star player had made a great pass to a team mate. My response: "Oh."

Yes, in soccer (really, if you are going to be a died in the wool soccer fan, then at least call it football as the rest of the world except for the US and Australia which have their own football. BTW, the Austrailian WC team has a nickname, the Socceroos, which I think is great. Why don't all national soccer/football teams have nicknames?)you can have a tie, or equal, final soccer.....oh, except, of course, if it's the World Cup or other prestigious tournament or match, when you have the nail biting, breathing holding excitement of the Penalty Kick decider.

As for the strategy of the game, I have yet to see it, other than some teams sometimes play a more defensive or offensive game. For a three year period I attended a lot of international soccer matches around the world and I studied intently to try and understand why and how this game evokes so much passion. It seems to me the strategy is to be get the ball to the player nearest the goal and see if can get a shot. I'm sure there are many TACTICS, like criscrossing manuevers, switchback drives, etc, but that's not strategy.

Then there's the dreaded off side rule. Why does this rule exist? To prevent one team from getting an advantage on its opponent, a la the basketball fast break. Excuse me. I thought the essence of sport is competition and the essence of competition is getting the advantage on your opponent. Hence, the tennis term Advantage.

Okay, enough negativism. Soccer is an international sport that brings many nations together in the name of sport and creates an atmoshpere of good healthy fun and comardarie and the US should have more of it and learn to like it as the rest of the world does. Learn how to head butt your opponent when the ref isn't looking. Learn how to badger your opponent by calling his mother and sister every dirty name you can think of until he loses it and head butts you on worldwide TV, gets ejected from the game therby helping his team lose the Cup.

Oops, negative again. Okay, the reason the rest of the world is passionate about soccer and US isn't is because most of the rest of the world has no other major/professional sport to be passionate about. Soccer can be played nearly anywhere, anytime by any number of people with anything that resembles a ball and a goal. I've seen kids in Africa kicking around a bunch of rags tied together. Kids in the US wouldn't dream on playing with anything less than a $30.00 Wilson.

One of the US TV commentators during the WC pointed out that parents most often direct their kids into sports that are lucrative at the top levels. I've made this point before: A. Rod signs a $30mill contract to play baseball, how much will the star US soccer player get? Do the math.

Further, US citizens today are after instant thrills and gratification: the basketball fast break and ensuing dunk; the Hail Mary pass in football; the "Big One" in NASCAR. Watching 22 guys kick around a ball for 90 minutes with little or no score begs the question When does the game start?

Edward Coletti said...

Nice job, Fred and Duncan.

Yes, Fred, I watched Italy/Germany with a bunch of rabid Italians at a bar with what looked like a 35 foot HD screen, great party!

Hey, Duncan, Brazil's Ronaldinho makes more than $35,000,000/yr! His contract is worth over 100 mil. The bucks in futbol are not in the US, but in the international market. Ronaldinho plays in Spain for Barcelona. So, if little Ronnie Beano's mom on Staten Island were looking for a sport to encourage Ronnie to play for eventual bucks, soccer could well be the ticket, and Ronnie need not have to weigh 300lbs or be seven feet tall. More than 6000 international contract players have come out of Brazil alone! This is the way to assure success for the eventual real US National Team - The "Yankee Doodles!"

Larry Carlin said...

Bravo for your All Sports Edition, Eddie! For me, the only thing (slightly)more satisfying than Italy's whopping soccer victory over France was watching Floyd Landis in the comeback race! Of course, you know that is my "cyclist" spirit coming out. But when they make a list of the all-time great comebacks, Landis' come from way behind victory has got to be up there. Perhaps even more thrilling (at least in the moment) than all of Lance Armstrong's victories combined! What have I said? I mean, Lance came back from cancer, for God's sakes.

One last thought! I am in total agreement about your comments about American citizens for the most part not being able to "cross the borders" and get behind other countries in other sports. It's very sad, and alas, terribly provincial. But when you look at the Man in the White House....oh, let's not go there!

Duncan said...

Good point, Ed, about Ronaldinho making more than Tiger Woods. All little Beano has to do is learn Portugese, move to Brazil and become a soccer star. I will never say never, but no US athlete that I know of has ever become a star in International sports for another country. Exceptions that come quickly to mind: Steve Cauthen, horse racing; Phil Hill and Mario Andretti (well, US citizen) World Champion Drivers. Okay, you can all make up your lists now and show me how dumb I am. Floyd Landis was racing for Switzerland (one must ask why), but I think the jury is out on that victory.

I remember the FIFA folks back in '86 telling me that if the US hosted a World Cup, the country would become as fanatical about the sport as the rest of the World. Oops, wrong on that one. The same is true of Formula 1 racing, the America's Cup (which will won't be back to this country for a long time, if ever)steeplechase racing, and on and on.

Meet the US sports fans Xeno Phobia and Jingo Istic. Not all of us, or course, but when a Mexican/American says he'd rather watch NASCAR than the World's Cup, what hope is there?

Anonymous said...

that comic is pretty great.
I think it's interesting that Americans just have to think about geography for the first time since 7th grade.