Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The World Cup experience

I was going to write this post on our cloth diapering experiment (which is going well, by the way) but instead I was influenced to write about Turtle's first World Cup experience.

First let me say that I come from a futbal family.  My father was born in The Netherlands, a place I hope to go with him soon, and in our family we played soccer.  Unfortunately I didn't keep with it.  I took up baseball and basketball and eventually football.  Until recently I never thought about why.

Now, I'm a sports junkie.  ESPN is on first thing in the morning.  The worst thing ESPN did was change from repeating Sportscenter to live Sportcenters, because now I constantly think there's some breaking news I might miss and I just keep it on.  I was good with my hands, so I played goalie but eventually moved to sports where my manual dexterity could be put to better use. 

To my father's credit, he evolved right along with me, going from a top notch soccer coach to coaching baseball, basketball, coming to my football games and eventually traveling with my little brother all over the country with tennis racquets in tow. We went to Jazz games, Yankee games, Utah football games... I think my father discovering so many sports with us really influenced my pure love and appreciate for all sports.  I'm a sucker for a good curling match.

Soccer is not a hugely popular sport here in the states.  I'd like to take in a New York Red Bulls game and my old home town finally got a professional team, which is very good, after we moved:  Real Salt Lake.  But it's always been a second tier sport. 

I was talking to a friend as we sat in a crowded Omonia Restaurant in Queens, watching the Netherlands/Uruguay match - a room full of European immigrants and Southern and Central American immigrants - a lively bunch to watch a match with.  (Omonia always has soccer on the tv... always.)  We discussed the game and why it never took here in the U.S. 

We have too many options.

Soccer is a poor man's sport.  It requires a ball. 

That's it. 

A round ball.  You can make a goal out of a pair of shoes.

We did.  As kids we'd play barefoot in the back yard and we'd make a goal by placing a shoes on the ground to mark goal posts.  

My father always managed to score.  He was a young father, when I was a little kid at the height of my soccer playing years, he was only in his early thirties and I remember him having legs like Pele.  He'd flip the ball through his legs and with a magic little twist, he'd have the ball airborne and over my head, a little chip shot that would land softly behind me.

You only need a round ball. 

Here in America, there is another sport where you only need a round ball.  Basketball.

Once you have a hoop up, you have a game.

And hoops are everywhere.  (Thank you department of parks and recreation.)

And basketball is a game of instant gratification.  It's much easier to score and you score a lot.   You can rack up 100 points in a game.  And it's fast.  It's not as spread out as soccer.  It feeds our desire for a quicker pace. 

And soccer loses to that every time. 

And basketball is a gateway sport to baseball and football and hockey.  We have so many options it's almost overwhelming - and good!  Such a cornucopia of events to view and play!

The rest of the world has soccer (or futbal).

And they make it beautiful. 

I tried to describe it to my friends who don't understand the game this way:  Imagine your favorite baseball team is playing in the final game of the World Series.  Your team is down by three runs, the bases are loaded and your teams best home run hitter is at bat... the winning run is at the plate.  It's a full count:  three balls, two strikes...  Imagine that...  FOR NINETY MINUTES.

That's soccer.

So.  Every four years, I geek out, dress in orange and lose my mind a little.  My first experience with World Cup was Italy in 1990.  We were there on my senior trip.  We partied with German fans the night before the final and it was intoxicating.

I didn't go to a single match during the World Cup that took place here in the US and I regret not participating in that experience. 

This World Cup has been special because I've been able to experience it with my baby son.  We've watched almost every match together.   We have matching "Nederlands" and "Hoera Oranje" t-shirts.  I hold him and bottle feed him in the middle of a restaurant full of cheering fans.  There have been many phone calls to my father and it's been interesting that as my relationship with my father has grown even stronger since I became one, too, this thing that we enjoy sharing is happening at the same time.

Yesterday I called to remind him that the game was on.  He was in a Taco Bell drive through getting tacos to take home... he was leaving work to sit and actually watch an entire match - his Netherlands versus Uruguay. 

So here I am with my new son, participating in the thing that only comes around every 4 years but is special to me.  He won't remember it.  He'll only have the photos of it to look back on.  But if the Dutch win the final Sunday - a final they have not been in since 1978, when I was six years old running around with my Grandpa Gerrit in the backyard with a soccer ball and my little mesh soccer shirt - it will round out the most perfect few months of my life. 

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