Just like the Olympics the World Cup takes place once every four years. But while the Olympics is a showcase for hundreds of different events ranging from track and field to swimming the World Cup focuses on one international sport, football, or soccer as it is known by in the US. The game is gaining an audience in the US as the popularity of the sport continues to grow here. In 1994 the United States hosted the World Cup and a lot has changed in the past twenty years. Children in the US now get exposed to soccer at an early age with the growth of youth groups like AYSO. I believe this is where the majority of parents also learn about the sport. For generations while countries around the world cherished their beloved football, the US for the most part couldn’t have given a crap about it. We had our own American football played by real men making tackles, blocking, and running with the ball in our hands towards the goal line. We just couldn’t grasp the concept of a game played with the feet . I remember in Jr. High when the coach said we were going to be playing soccer we all just looked at him with blank stares on our face. It was my first experience with the sport and I was 12-years old. A 12-year old in most any other country would already be a proficient player having spent their childhood playing pick-up games of soccer with their heroes being soccer players also. All I knew at the time was to kick a ball into a net to score. I had no idea how many players were on a team, much less any of the rules. My coach didn’t know much more as he divided the entire class into two teams on the school’s American football field , threw us a basketball since we didn’t even have soccer balls at the school, and told us to kick the ball until it went under the goal posts. There were about 20-kids on each team and we all wanted to score, so all 40-kids just moved around in a mass kicking a basketball. The coach sat back in his chair and read the sports section of the newspaper and occasionally looked up to make sure no one was hurt. The kids eventually bored by a game they had no understanding of soon began venturing off the field until the coach noticed the game had dwindled down to about ten players per side with the others either hiding behind storage sheds or just laying in the grass. That was my only experience with soccer for my entire childhood. Having grown and now with children I got my first glimpse into the game and some of the rules as they all participated in AYSO. With your kid playing it becomes a fun sport to watch. You actually know now what offsides is, what dribbling is, the difference between a goal kick and a corner kick, the positions and an appreciation of the endurance it takes to play the sport. The MLS (Major League Soccer) finally making it as a professional sport after several failed attempts has also added to soccer’s popularity in the US. I actually bought a mini-package to LA Galaxy games and Landon Donovan became a household name. The next big step will be to buy an actual jersey and wear it to a local bar when the US is playing. That sounds like a lot of effort compared to just turning it on at home on my big-screen TV. I hear people line up at the bar at 9am for a 3pm match…not my style.
Back to Brazil, this year’s host country. Some observations, 1) putting a soccer stadium in the middle of Amazon rainforest is either considered a great engineering feat or a huge waste of time and money. Playing one of the world’s most grueling sports in the Amazon jungle couldn’t be good for the body. I’ll be curious what that stadium looks like in four more years, probably like the Temple of Doom from an Indiana Jones movie. 2) Soccer players are actually actors in disguise. The way they intentionally fall in faking an injury gets to be too much at times. It originally looks like their leg has been shattered in ten places when they fall, but if a penalty isn’t called they are right back playing at full speed…Oscar nomination. 3) They let fans bring in anything that can be carried in to a soccer stadium. Big drums, air horns, signs, costumes are all part of the being in the crowd. It’s fun to see but I wonder if any of these fans could get past security at a Laker or Dodger game with a bass drum in their hands. 4) The fans love their teams. I’ve rarely seen such passion for a sport as I do in soccer. It looks like mass hysteria when a goal is scored and when a team loses it’s like a funeral. Having the US in the tournament makes it 100x more interesting to watch. Only 32-teams worldwide qualify for this prestigious event and it is now not a matter if we qualify or not, but how far in the tournament the US can go. I actually know what day and time each US game is and make sure I’m in front of a TV to view it. Soccer has come a long way in the past twenty years in the US and the word is spreading fast. Viva futbol!
Dodger stadium is the third oldest stadium in Major League Baseball behind Boston’s Fenway Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field. It sits on of the most picturesque settings in baseball: Chavez Ravine. The stadium was opened in 1962 and I am convinced that all of the original staff who worked in the concession stands when it opened are still working there today. There is no slower line in the history of sports. Waiting for a Dodger Dog and drink can take an eternity. You are conditioned to accept the ridiculous high prices charged for each item but nothing can prepare you for the wait in line. The workers who are all in their mid-100’s move at the speed of molasses and don’t change speeds no matter how long the line is. Much money has been spent on updating the stadium itself but no attention has been paid to the concession stands. It can easily take two innings to get from your seat and back. The concession system is antiquated beyond belief. You would think that baseball’s largest seating capacity stadium at 56,000 would take a look at how their fans are being served. You would also think that most of the food, particularly in the first few innings, would be prepared and ready to serve. But no, each person in line has to wait for an elderly if not ancient worker to collect each item from a different station and assemble your order. It is agony to watch them pour each Coke one at a time waiting for the fizz to subside before topping each one off, then do it again three more times…and that’s just the drink portion. The hot dogs are generally ready to be served but everything else means your attendant has to go to another station and get the item. The specialty item is rarely ready so the attendant’s just hang out and talk with no reservations about the immense lines before them. Last Friday night I watched one of the attendants each french fries right out of a cup she was using for an order. Other people noticed also but only one lady spoke up but was not heard over the crowd. One of the most frustrating things about waiting to spend a small fortune on cheap food items is that while standing in line you can occasionally hear the crowd roar behind you reminding you that a big play had just happened while you continue to stand with your back to the field. You look up to the small monitor above each concession stand to see what you missed and the anxiety grows. You could show a full length movie on those monitors and those waiting in line would have the time to watch the entire movie. The whole line is now getting uptight while waiting and you’ll hear an occasional ” Let’s move it” or “Hurry up”. But the Dodger concession workers aren’t the bit fazed as they are used to hearing the same thing over the past 50-years. I had the ultimate in waiting when a gentleman ahead of me ordered a cup of coffee right when I was one away from the front. The lady said the coffee was out and she would have to make a new pot…seriously? I had no choice but to wait as I had already sacrificed an inning and a half waiting in this line and she couldn’t take my order until the gentleman’s order was complete. That game when I got back to my seat that I had left in the 4th inning they were now singing Take Me Out To the Ballgame. Going to Dodger Stadium is still a great joy for me as it has been since I was a kid and what’s a game without a hot dog and beer? Unfortunately the same people who attended the concession stands when I was a kid are still there doing business the same way they have since 1962. I think the best solution is to eat a good meal before the game, but that will never happen. Maybe I’ll change my interest from watching baseball to watching concession workers, then I will appreciate the long wait.
Throwing out the first ceremonial pitch at a professional baseball game would be an honor and a ton of fun. Between going to hundreds of games myself and watching Sports Center in the evening I have been a witness to many first pitches. The thing that amazes me is how bad some of the celebrities are in throwing a baseball. Don’t you think you would at least practice once or twice before the game to make sure you can look respectable? It’s incredible at how terrible some stars are. It’s like they’re so famous that everyone around them tells them they look great, sort of like The Emperors New Clothes. If someone were to give them an honest opinion the celeb would either put in some practice time or decline the invitation entirely. Making a spastic first pitch hurts your credibility and is just ugly to look at. Didn’t some of these celebrities ever take gym class? Perhaps the worst ever was super macho 50-cent throwing out the first pitch at a Mets game. He was cheered walking up to the mound , then after the pitch there was a round of boos…it was that bad. Immediately after leaving his hand the ball went straight left and hit the ground like 5-feet in front of him. The catcher didn’t even try for it. Here is a case of someone who just should have stayed home and avoided the embarrassment. The New York media got all over his case for his lack of athleticism and the pitch was shown over and over again on every TV station. It got worse when Fifty tried to defend himself, unfortunately it was taped for the world to see, no defense. The next in line of worst first pitches ever thrown belongs to Mayor Mallory of Cincinnati. Here is a political figure who needs votes and he throws the ball like a 5-year old girl throwing left handed when she really is a rightie…it was horrible. You would think an aide to the mayor would take the time to see if the mayor could even throw a baseball before accepting the invitation. There were a lot of votes lost that day. Then there is professional basketball player John Wall who you would think could throw a baseball being a professional athlete…wrong. The ball hits a photographer in the head and he wasn’t standing anywhere near home plate. Deward Robinson, a ex-quarterback from Michigan, who made it to the pros couldn’t even reach home plate and his job is passing the ball. Even President Obama looked like a goof-ball in his first pitch for the Washington Senators and he is normally a good athlete. There is also a long list of female personalities who took the mound only to make fools of themselves. Mariah Carey takes first place for not even getting the ball past the circle of dirt which makes up the pitching mound. She wasn’t embarrassed at all like the others, “Hey, I’m Mariah Carey, I can do what I want.” Carly Rae Jepsen takes a close second for her abnormal delivery…Call Me Never. Even the Go-Go’s tried taking the first pitch in unison and not one pitch out of five reached home plate. My point is if your ever asked to make a ceremonial pitch at any level go out in the backyard before the day of the game and see if you can throw a baseball. If it’s been over twenty years you may want to practice, or at least practice a throw in front of someone you trust to give a honest answer. Chances are if you don’t at least warm-up your going to like Olympic Track Star Carl Lewis who was also booed when his throw went 5-feet long and 10-feet to the left. I once thought it may be a bad case of the nerves when throwing a pitch in front of thousands but now I’m convinced people just walk out to the mound and try to throw a baseball for the first time in years which brings disastrous results. Here are some basic tips for you when your a big-time celebrity and asked to throw out the first pitch at a professional game. 1) Confirm the time and date you will be throwing so you have at least a week to prepare, 2) set aside some practice time and measure out the distance you will be throwing and actually try it, 3) Get to the game early as the first pitch occurs before the official start of the baseball game and warmup your arm with a game of catch for a couple minutes, 4) remain calm as nerves can make an unnatural throw occur, and 5) wave to the crowd as you leave the mound. I’m still waiting for the call to throw out the first pitch at a Dodger game…must have lost my number.
Tough Question…which is your favorite monster? King Kong came on the scene first (1933) and although incredibly large and powerful he also seems to have a compassionate side. Godzilla(1954) is pure monster intent on destroying anything in it’s path and with it’s size, power, and peanut sized brain. I am slightly prejudiced toward King Kong myself having watched him stand on top of the Empire State Building a 100 times swatting down airplanes only to eventually succumb to man’s fear of him. Godzilla lovers find enjoyment in his ability to simply kick-ass which he does well. Kong comes from a scenic island in the Pacific called Skull Island where he lives with other over-sized animals, but Kong is the largest and strongest of them all, he is King. He is captured by an American film crew who take him to New York to be exhibited as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, then all hell breaks loose as he escapes from his chains. Godzilla is a enormous, violent, prehistoric sea creature awakened and empowered by nuclear radiation. It’s clear that Kong is an oversized gorilla while Godzilla is an amphibious reptile like monster that resembles a Tyrannosaurus dinosaur. In terms of looks I have to give Godzilla the point. Godzilla is a Japanese creation and many believe he is a metaphor for nuclear weapons with the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still fresh in the Japanese consciousness. Both are icons in the monster world and both have been the star of multiple movies and comic books. Kong even has his own ride at Universal Studios. What King Kong lacks in brute force he makes up in intelligence when fighting his enemies. Godzilla is all about brute force with little intelligence…he could take out a city much faster than King Kong. What I like about Kong is that he seemed to enjoy kicking back on his own private Pacific island until taken away by a group of foreigners. He becomes destructive only when put in new surroundings and displayed as a freak show. He was actually trying to save the live of the beauty when climbing the Empire State Building with her in his hand. Godzilla on the other hand does not like humans or anything else that gets in his way. His mission is to destroy anything and everything. Surprisingly Godzilla does not eat human beings but instead sustains himself on radiation. That doesn’t men he won’t kill them with a stomp of his foot or a big swing of his tail. It would seem that Godzilla would have the upper hand in a fight with King Kong and the two actually met and fought in the 1962 Japanese classic, King Kong vs. Godzilla. Godzilla comes on land in Tokyo and begins to wipe-out the city with his atomic breath. The Japanese army has no solution so they go to Skull Island and drug Kong in hopes of bringing him to Tokyo to fight Godzilla to the death. The plan goes array when Kong wakes up and breaks his chains (again). When Kong reaches the mainland he meets up with Godzilla and an epic fight begins. Kong hurls some large boulders at Godzilla, but Godzilla shoots his atomic breath at Kong’s chest forcing the ape to retreat. Godzilla continues his rampage until he is slowed down by 1,000,000 volts of electricity. Kong follows him and the fighting continues throughout the night. They take a break and begin in the morning and Godzilla has the advantage with powerful tail attacks and eventually knocks him unconscious. An electrical storm wakes Kong up and restores his energy. The revitalized Kong starts swinging Godzilla around by the tail and eventually into the ocean. After an underwater battle, only Kong emerges from the water and begins to swim back to his home island. As Kong swims home, onlookers aren’t sure if Godzilla survived, but speculate that it is possible. He must have survived because Godzilla is currently back in the movie theaters again. The first fight goes to King Kong and many are waiting for a rematch.