Soccer?

A lot on the site today about the “cross-over appeal” of the World Cup, and there’s no doubt about it; half the televisions in the Yankee club this afternoon were tuned to it (and half is a lot of televisions), and two of my companions and I stuck around to watch the last 30 minutes of the USA-UK tie.

But, while firmly believing that neither game is as much a sport as it is a cultural inheritance, and freely stipulating that if neither had ever been played and both were invented tomorrow, both would have a hard time catching on anywhere in this electronic age, I have to insist: I just don’t think soccer measures up to baseball in any respect excepting the joy people derive from each.
More over, soccer’s support in this country reminds me of a dining room set we got when I was seven. It and the accompanying swivel chairs were much ballyhooed, and in the style of that Keep-Up-With-The-Joneses era, my mother boasted about them to all the other mothers. Came the grand day of the dining set’s arrivals and the swivel chairs were unavailable, on back order, and identical looking non-swiveling chairs had been given us as loaners. Well, one of my mother’s friends came over and decided to one-up my mother by explaining the history of these chairs, her familiarity with the product, and her superior ability to judge the efficacy of the swivel mechanism. The chairs would not budge, but she would not let that stop her. While seated in one, she lifted it up, half with her feet, half with her hands, and bounced it a few times to the left and a few times to the right. “Yes, I can tell,” she said, “you got the good ones. Not the best, we have better ones, but these are good too.”
In her mind, they swiveled.
To me, that’s an American soccer fan, seeing suspense and action where there is little. More disturbing, perhaps – and maybe this is why European fans in particular are noted for their violence – is the almost complete non-interaction of the spectators with the sport. Fans are kept engaged at all times at a ballgame; in every one of them at least one baseball winds up in the seats, and if you’re lucky, a player will, too. Fans can impact play on the field without doing more than standing and moving their arms (ask Steve Bartman, or, me, in an identical play at Yankee Stadium in 1972 or 1973 involving no less than Moises Alou’s Dad as the fielder). To effect the game, the soccer fan must run on to the field. Or sing. Or run on to the field while singing.
It doesn’t swivel. Sorry.
But enough of that. Back to the world of Daniel Nava and somebody who owns a Bryan Bullington shirt. The Nava story is self-explanatory (has soccer had one like that since Dixie Dean retired?), the Bullington one I’ll get to in a moment.
First, a shot of one of my friends at the ballpark today. 

IMG_2435.jpg

Ex-soccer player himself, was happy with the tie, didn’t see anything special in the US-UK game.
Jason Bateman is a Dodger fan, in town to reveal a new online comedy site he will co-populate with Will Arnett (not attending today’s game). Here, Jason, also the Commissioner of his own fantasy league for five seasons, signs a baseball for a fan who obviously no longer cares about the value of the baseball.
A considerable debate preceded this about where exactly he should sign the thing since the store-bought ball appeared to have a logo placed in the traditional “sweet spot.” I suggested that it no longer mattered, providing his signature was not upside-down compared to the manufacturer’s inscription on the ball itself. If you happen to see this ball on eBay with the inscription erased, this photo will serve as the certificate of authenticity.
EXPERIMENTING WITH AN APP
Downloaded this thing “CameraOne” for iPhone – I think the cost was $1.99 – and it gives you a zoom on the phone. It’s a little grainier than I would like, but not by much. Examples:
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Derek Jeter at the plate, at the left; the Golden Knights of the U.S. Army Parachute team arriving early.
One last image, from last week, a Pirates’ fan missing a foul ball and, in frustration, throwing his glove. He was wearing a shirt representing Bryan Bullington, the first pick in the 2002 draft, who had a lifetime 0-3 record in Pittsburgh. If he’s a relative, that’s one thing. Otherwise, you might want to have a tailor take the lettering off. It’s like going to a Mets’ game wearing a shirt with “CHILCOTT” on the back.
IMG_2413.JPG

19 Comments

As a soccer fan and a lifelong baseball fan, I see similarities in my appreciation of each. To truly love baseball is to enjoy the subtle build up of action, such as a batter fighting off a pitcher’s efforts to get him out during a long at bat or the game of cat and mouse between a pitcher and a runner with intentions of stealing second. In soccer we appreciate the slow build up of an advance forward, with players carefully keeping possession, sometimes passing the ball backwards in order to find the right spot to probe the defense and break its shape. I think both of these sports are for fans who are enjoy the subtleties of a game that takes its time to develop rather than the barrage of scoring in basketball (24 seconds at a time) or the pulsing violence of football (when they’re not standing around waiting.) I do think you have to watch soccer at its highest levels to appreciate it more; the MLS variety is improving but to watch the one-touch passing of a top Premier League team or a Barcelona is to see the true beauty of the game.

I thought about watching the World Cup, but I decided to save my coma for another time.

I did listen to the Cubs/White Sox game (damn MLB and their blackouts). The game was boring until the 9th inning when the Cubs actually scored a run. Mark Buerhle was pitching and I was hoping for at least a little trash talk (I figured another ejection was too much to hope for) The most exciting that happened prior to the 9th inning was Lou Pinella arguing about a safe call at second base. It didn’t last long.

Please tell me you didn’t kiss Jason Bateman.

Keith – this match was not US vs UK, it was US vs England. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland each have their own teams, and in fact, most people in all 3 places would have been cheering for the US today!

I could not agree more with mskenny, and I’m frankly baffled at your provincialism on the matter, Keith. Quoting from above: “I think both of these sports are for fans who enjoy the subtleties of a game that takes its time to develop rather than the barrage of scoring in basketball (24 seconds at a time) or the pulsing violence of football (when they’re not standing around waiting.)”

Provincialism? I wouldn’t take that if I were you. :>)

I don’t think Keith’s statements about fan interaction in baseball vs. soccer are provincial at all. The fact of the matter is that baseball fans don’t run out on the field and stomp each other. Well, Phillies fans run out on the field, but they don’t get stomped they get tasered. Baseball is unique among sports in the intimacy with which the fans engage the players. This has been the case since the birth of American baseball and is still the case today. There is no such intimacy in soccer, and that is the salient point.

I am probably that rare guy who is a die-hard baseball fan (specifically St. Louis Cardinals) but also a big soccer fan (played for 30+ years, president of my local adult league of 75+ teams, big fan of the game). A sports fan in general, truth be told…football, basketball, hockey…I love it all.

But as a big fan of soccer, I hate “soccer guy” who tells the typical American sports fan that “they don’t get it” when they find soccer to be boring compared to the traditional American sports (basketball, baseball, football, etc.)…so I am loathe to become that guy in this particular instance, but there are a few points I’d like to make…

If you think there’s no engagement or intimacy in soccer as it relates to the fans, you obviously weren’t watching today, nor have seen any number of European club matches in the last 50 years. In many stadiums, the fans are literally right on top of the action. And action, (I must wholeheartedly disagree with Keith) there most certainly is plenty. You don’t have to look for it, you just have to know what you’re looking “at”…meaning, I would probably say the same things about the “action”, of lack thereof, in Rugby, or Cricket, or other sports that I don’t watch and don’t understand….but I’d probably be wrong.

But regarding intimacy with the fans, soccer is VERY engaging in that way…seriously, do you see baseball players cavorting with the fans when they hit a home run? No…yet you frequently see players who score goals running directly to the field-side seats, or high-fiving the fans behind the goals.

Can fans “affect” play on the field? Of course not. I don’t really understand that statement. Fans can’t affect ANY sport directly without getting kicked out of the stadium. The cheering and the racousness in any stadium can effect the emotions and adreniline of players, but that’s universal. The exception, of course, if you’re at a Marlins game or something, where guys in the upper deck can have one-on-one conversations with the left fields from 100 yards away…that can be distracting to the point of affecting a game, I suppose.

I really don’t want to be “that guy” who looks down his nose at my fellow Americans who don’t like soccer…it’s not for everyone, and I’m okay with people not embracing it. Like any sport, when it’s not played well, it can be hard to be a spectator (no worse than a Pirates/Astros game). But I hope with the World Cup going on, which is the game at (arguably) it’s finest, that some of you will give it a chance if you haven’t before. At the very least, get behind Team USA. :-)

I am probably that rare guy who is a die-hard baseball fan (specifically St. Louis Cardinals) but also a big soccer fan (played for 30+ years, president of my local adult league of 75+ teams, big fan of the game). A sports fan in general, truth be told…football, basketball, hockey…I love it all.

But as a big fan of soccer, I hate “soccer guy” who tells the typical American sports fan that “they don’t get it” when they find soccer to be boring compared to the traditional American sports (basketball, baseball, football, etc.)…so I am loathe to become that guy in this particular instance, but there are a few points I’d like to make…

If you think there’s no engagement or intimacy in soccer as it relates to the fans, you obviously weren’t watching today, nor have seen any number of European club matches in the last 50 years. In many stadiums, the fans are literally right on top of the action. And action, (I must wholeheartedly disagree with Keith) there most certainly is plenty. You don’t have to look for it, you just have to know what you’re looking “at”…meaning, I would probably say the same things about the “action”, of lack thereof, in Rugby, or Cricket, or other sports that I don’t watch and don’t understand….but I’d probably be wrong.

But regarding intimacy with the fans, soccer is VERY engaging in that way…seriously, do you see baseball players cavorting with the fans when they hit a home run? No…yet you frequently see players who score goals running directly to the field-side seats, or high-fiving the fans behind the goals.

Can fans “affect” play on the field? Of course not. I don’t really understand that statement. Fans can’t affect ANY sport directly without getting kicked out of the stadium. The cheering and the racousness in any stadium can effect the emotions and adreniline of players, but that’s universal. The exception, of course, if you’re at a Marlins game or something, where guys in the upper deck can have one-on-one conversations with the left fields from 100 yards away…that can be distracting to the point of affecting a game, I suppose.

I really don’t want to be “that guy” who looks down his nose at my fellow Americans who don’t like soccer…it’s not for everyone, and I’m okay with people not embracing it. Like any sport, when it’s not played well, it can be hard to be a spectator (no worse than a Pirates/Astros game). But I hope with the World Cup going on, which is the game at (arguably) it’s finest, that some of you will give it a chance if you haven’t before. At the very least, get behind Team USA. :-)

I went to the Red Sox/Phillies game today and as we were taking a walk around Fenway Park before the start of the game, every big screen in every restaurant/bar had the soccer game on. It’s great rooting for the USA, but the game itself doesn’t much interest me. The fans were enjoying it though. Huge huge roars all up and down the street when USA scored.

You had quite a while ago talked about a book – Echoing Green, which I read and believe is the BEST book ever written about the game. While at today’s game, I asked a friend of mine, who has lived and died baseball his entire life, if he knew anything about the Brooklyn/Giants pennant race. He mentioned Thomson and Branca and then mentioned quite casually to me that he thought he had heard somewhere that the Giants were accused of stealing signs. So I told him that I had a few months ago read a wonderful book about that pennant race, and he asked if I had learnt anything in the book about the Giants stealing signs. I said v. little about it and when he was dropping me off at my home after the game, I raced inside and brought the book out for him to read. I can’t wait to hear what he has to say when he gets into it. I bet anything that he is going to absolutely love it. Like me, he loves reading about players from long ago.

I’m also going to buy a few more to give as Christmas presents this year. It’s just so beautifully written and well researched. AND, quite a story.

Kudo’s to Daniel Nava. What a wonderful moment for him & the fans.

Your swivel chair story is hilarious.

To me anyway, soccer has never seemed to gain a strong foothold in the U.S. My conclusion is that, unlike baseball, soccer isn’t a homegrown sport, and we don’t have as lengthy a history with it. Some might interpret its failure to catch on as American snobbery. Maybe. I doubt there’s any real threat that soccer will supplant baseball as the national sport anytime soon.
My beef with soccer is the violence and brutality. (BTW, the South American fans are no slouches when it comes to violence either.)
Goodness, even at the kiddie level. My now-college-aged niece played soccer from the time she was a tiny tot until she suffered a broken leg during a match in which a much larger girl (read: a moving mountain with arms and legs) on the opposing team slammed into her. That ol’ tib-fib never stood a chance. My niece was already in high school by then and that effectively ended her dream of becoming the next Brandi Chastain.
Loved the swivel chair story, Keith. I’ll take any flak I get for saying this, but there is no sport, including soccer, more brutal than the game-playing which goes on between women. Being a woman, I’ve endured many a ?body slam? myself, and dished out a few too. ;)
Keith, I hope that with the passage of time the grieving process is becoming easier for you. It’s good to see you enjoying yourself on Twitter, although how you cope with the haters and trolls . . . well, you’re a lot more patient than I could ever be.
And keep up the good work on Countdown. Your new look on last week’s Thurber Friday received an enthusiastic seal of approval. I could have sworn I heard a few smoke alarms going off. :)

I typically enjoy your columns, Keith, but this one is just absurdly stupid.

It always amuses me when people in the media who have never played soccer at a high level, covered soccer at a high level, or are not soccer fans, try to explain why Americans don’t like soccer. Your answer (not enough fan interaction) is a new one to me though. Its almost laughable about how you say that foul balls constitute fan interaction, but since soccer doesn’t have that – there is no interaction. So, following that logic…football, hockey, and basketball all have no fan interaction. But, football is the most popular sport in the US. So uhm, come again?

Also, you (as well as some of the comments) mention something about how the violence in soccer turns you off. This is ironic, considering how baseball regularly has fans running onto the field (and this year a Philadelphia fan got tasered! – but that’s not violent, i guess?) and pitchers enjoy throwing the ball at the batters head for revenge or disgruntlement over one of baseball’s “unwritten rules.” But…that’s not violent or anything. Right? And, you are again completely ignoring America’s most popular sport – football. This is a sport that involves 300+ lb men slamming into each other constantly. And didn’t the Philadelphia Eagles use to have a COURT with a JUDGE in the old Vet because of the number of incidents in the stands? The very essence of American football IS violence! So, trying to say that Americans aren’t fans of soccer because of its violence is just ridiculous.

I typically enjoy your columns, Keith, but this one is just absurdly stupid.

It always amuses me when people in the media who have never played soccer at a high level, covered soccer at a high level, or are not soccer fans, try to explain why Americans don’t like soccer. Your answer (not enough fan interaction) is a new one to me though. Its almost laughable about how you say that foul balls constitute fan interaction, but since soccer doesn’t have that – there is no interaction. So, following that logic…football, hockey, and basketball all have no fan interaction. But, football is the most popular sport in the US. So uhm, come again?

Also, you (as well as some of the comments) mention something about how the violence in soccer turns you off. This is ironic, considering how baseball regularly has fans running onto the field (and this year a Philadelphia fan got tasered! – but that’s not violent, i guess?) and pitchers enjoy throwing the ball at the batters head for revenge or disgruntlement over one of baseball’s “unwritten rules.” But…that’s not violent or anything. Right? And, you are again completely ignoring America’s most popular sport – football. This is a sport that involves 300+ lb men slamming into each other constantly. And didn’t the Philadelphia Eagles use to have a COURT with a JUDGE in the old Vet because of the number of incidents in the stands? The very essence of American football IS violence! So, trying to say that Americans aren’t fans of soccer because of its violence is just ridiculous.

Oh and affect* – not effect. I’m sure a prominent author as yourself can distinguish between the two?

@sag969
You’re kidding, right? I couldn’t disagree more with your analysis.
Drawing a comparison to the level or severity of violence between football and soccer is comparing apples to oranges. Even your example of a fan being tased is ridiculous. I’m guessing the fan was probably being a jack*** and after failing to do what the cops asked him to do, they tased him as a last resort.
I did a quick Google search (that’s all I have time for) and came up with these two links (out of about 260,000 results) that you might find interesting, horrifying and appalling.

http://www.modernghana.com/news/13951/1/over-120-dead-in-africas-worst-soccer-tragedy.html

http://www.google.com/#q=worst+soccer+violence+in+history&hl=en&prmd=v&tbs=tl:1&tbo=u&ei=DVMWTPa7MqSznAe9wPCmDA&sa=X&oi=timeline_result&ct=title&resnum=12&ved=0CEAQ5wIwCw&fp=f11974faf5e3db50

When was the last time you heard of multiple deaths occurring at a football, basketball or baseball game in the U.S.?
While a tasing incident is unfortunate (though avoidable), and pitchers throwing balls at batters’ heads is poor sportsmanship, this crap in no way rises to the level of the kind of violence I associate with soccer. The deaths of 120+ people in a soccer stadium . . . now, that’s what I call violence.

ashoein:

Rimshot!

Can people disagree on this blog without the name calling? It’s sports, not a matter of national security.

@ ashoein@att.net

Do you really think that all the violence AROUND soccer (not IN soccer) has anything at all to do with the sport?

When people die in a stampede to get inside the stadium, what exactly does that have to do with the sport? If bowling was the world’s #1 sport, and everyone followed it as closely as their religion, and then people died in a stampede to get inside a bowling alley, would you blame the sport?

Your examples have absolutely nothing to do with the actual sport! That has more to do with the culture, custom, and laws of that country. The US, its citizens, and our culture simply cannot be compared on the same level. I think a lot of factors go into violent incidents around soccer games, but I’d guess that the actual sport has little do with it.

Camera Pro Plus is a much better camera app for the iPhone, shot some great photos myself at the Mets-Yanks subway series #1 game 3 (what a game). I had my Yanks cap on.

Another problem with “soccer” in the U.S. is the name. It should be acknowledged as “football.” To adopt the global name of the sport would help increase its profile by acknowledging its global influence and impact. Americans are superb at alienating themselves from the rest of the world. (The NFL should be forced to change its name.)

…okay, maybe the impact of a name change would be virtually nil, but it’s a huge peeve of mine.

@sag969
Sports and sports spectators go hand in hand. Let me put it this way, whether you blame the sport, or the spectators, or the lack of interaction between the spectators and the game ? soccer has a history of violence which is a huge turn-off for me. And your example of the 300+ lb. football players constantly slamming into each other still pales in comparison.
I’m confident that when a sports fan in the U.S. attends a sporting event, that fan has a reasonable expectation to not only be entertained, but to leave the event in one piece and not have to be removed on a stretcher, or worse, in a body bag.
Unfortunately, in (some) countries where soccer is the national sport, there seems to be a certain enthusiasm or loyalty for the sport which, to me, borders on fanaticism, and manifests itself in violence. For those folks, soccer is not “just a game.” And this is where I believe any comparisons to football (or baseball or basketball) and soccer; and comparisons between the U.S. and those soccer-crazed countries ends.
So, again, whether you blame the root or the fruit, soccer conjures up images of violence in my mind that baseball, football and basketball do not.
If the name ?soccer? is going to be changed to anything, ?FOOTBRAWL? gets my vote.
It?s a shame that tasing has now become a part of the sports landscape. But I would wager that a tasing occurs because a fan/spectator is being disruptive, or uncooperative, or belligerent, or running their piehole.
P.S. Bowling? Honestly, there is nothing more disturbing to me than wearing rented shoes where someone else?s stinky feet have been. Ewwww. :(
ashoein

Just a clarification on the “tasing” thing. That was an isolated incident that happened in a Phillies/Cardinals game in Philly. I am not aware of any such “tasings” occurring at any other time.

Some people like soccer. Some people don’t. Moving on.

Bryan Bullington was only years ago… pretty much every player on the Pirates has the potential to be another Bryan Bullington. Wearing a shirt with Bullington’s name on it isn’t any worse than any other player on the team — if you’re going to wear a modern day Pirate’s shirt.

Personally my Pirate shirts have numbers 21 or 9 on them — they didn’t have names on them back then — but you don’t need a name on the back to identify those numbers.

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