Archive for May 2016
The Cubs have reached the quarter post of the season with a 28-11 record. This is unlike anything almost any living Cub fan has ever seen. This has come courtesy of an other-worldly pitcher who has already thrown a no-hitter this season, a pair of corner infielders who punish the ball for RBIs, and a bunch of opportunistic team members who pick up for each other. It seems somebody new is surprising the fans each night with a clutch hit or a hot streak at the plate or some solid innings of work on the mound (the Cubs have the best overall ERA in the NL and lead in a bunch of other team pitching stats, which is probably the best indicator of the strength of the team). Wrap all that up with some solid managing, and you have quite a team. This is causing unparalleled joy at the corners of Clark and Addison, but that’s not uncommon for Cubs fans at this time of year. Even their worst teams over the last 30 years had still not been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention by this time, and Cubs fans have learned if nothing else to take their joys wherever they may find them.
It’s interesting to note, too, that with the Cubs playing so well and the White Sox standing as the second best team in the American League that the inter-league series due to unfold in late June could ignite a civil war. Most likely, Cubs fans will probably do something stupid to Sox fans visiting Wrigley, U.S. Cellular Field will remain The Unfriendly Confines to visiting Cubs fans, and the Tribune will keep the body count, both in numbers wounded and killed. Because Chicago needs more reasons for more violence.
There’s another interesting scenario taking shape for me outside of the forthcoming Cubs / Sox match-up: The Cubs could face the Orioles in the World Series (the Orioles are unexpectedly leading the AL). Who would I cheer for if my all-time team squares off against my hometown team? The Orioles, of course. They haven’t seen the Fall Classic for 33 years, and may never see it again in my lifetime. According to most everybody who has ever heard of baseball, the Cubs are the team of the present and the future. They may well get to the series this year, and several times over the next several years, so there will still be chances to cheer for them if the franchise doesn’t screw things up.
Still… I don’t care. Not yet. I’ve been to a couple of games this year, tuned into a few on TV and radio, and casually watched the standings and stats, but I’m not there yet. I’m not going to be for a few more months. There’s a good reason for that: Soccer.
This is going to be a huge summer for soccer given the Olympics, the European Championships, and the Copa Centenario. It’ll kick off for the US (pun intended) in two weeks when the Yanks take on Columbia, and in a little over two weeks I’ll be screaming my lungs out when the US plays Costa Rica at Soldier Field. It’ll be my first experience going to a US Men’s National Team match, and I can’t wait to get there.
I first wrote about soccer herein when I was in Iowa City two summers ago and had the fortune to live the World Cup group stage matches with American Outlaws. There may be no better way to come into the sport than by being absorbed into the fanatical body of USMNT superfans, and the enthusiasm with which they infused me hasn’t waned since I was with them. I’ve watched almost every USMNT match since then, and have taken a shine to Premier League soccer in the past year (Tottenham Hotspur is my side). In fact, I’ve watched more soccer in the last year than I have in the previous 44 years of my life combined.
I see a lot in soccer, and kick myself now (pun intended) for not paying much attention to it before I took an interest in World Cup soccer some 16 or 17 years ago. One thing that keeps me hooked with the USMNT is the idea that they are the whole country’s team. We can unite behind one unit that plays almost year ‘round to the tune of 15-20 matches minimum. There are no bitter regional rivalries. Plus, a Frank DeFord editorial on NPR last fall said it best: Soccer is the world’s sport because it is accessible to most of the people in the world. The average person can see himself when he watches soccer. There are so few physical freaks playing the game that they are hardly worth noting. NFL and NBA players almost always have to be bestowed with the gift of size, and baseball isn’t far behind in that regard, but soccer players are average-sized men and women in incredible physical shape. It is truly available to everybody; it shows few financial restraints to participation (see: hockey) and is played worldwide with as little as a ball and a pitch. It’s a Socialist ideal in that regard. What’s more, the player pool on the whole isn’t a roving pack of thugs who rape and terrorize college campuses and the subsequent cities in which they play professionally, nor do they assemble posses to travel with them to all destinations, nor do they make a mockery out of the public education system and higher education (see: NCAA football and basketball).
Outside of my enthusiasm for the US teams, soccer on the world stage is an amazing game. A typical European club team features players from several continents and has a world-wide fan base greater than the Cubs or Dodgers or even the damn Yankees. The game moves fast and takes place in a quantifiable amount of time (except in elimination situations), and it’s hard to score goals. So when the ball does find the net, holy crap the bedlam that ensues. I was stunned at how feverish the American Outlaws are when the US scores; I’d probably wet my pants if I were at a Manchester United or Bayern Munich match when it happens.
Given all this, why shouldn’t I be watching soccer?!
Besides the USMNT playing in the Copa Centenario, the US Women are slated to defend their Olympic gold from 2012 and remain a universe-beating entity, and before that European teams will be squaring off in what some consider to be the real World Cup (I’ll be pulling for England). So baseball, especially Cubs fever, is going to have to take a back seat until the feet and heads of the rest of the world decide who is the greatest. I’m sure by the time it’s all over, I’ll be plenty ready for some of the good old American pastime. And it looks like I’ll be riding it into late October.