World Cup Coda: Triumph of the Soccer Moms

UnknownDefining the meaning of teamwork, Germany won the World Cup today with a thrilling victory over Argentina. In the United States, soccer will recede into the background as a third-rate sport, trailing somewhere behind lacrosse and table tennis. That’s the conventional wisdom, anyway, and I don’t believe it applies any more.

Throughout these last several weeks, I’ve listened to a fair amount of sports talk radio, where, generally speaking, the hosts reluctantly mentioned that the World Cup was happening and only rarely actually risked rating points to discuss it. The quadrennial tourney got enough air time, though, for a number of soccer haters to state their shallow case. One of their favorite lines of reasoning — and I heard this on network, New York and Philadelphia broadcasts — was that the only reason that the viewing ratings have been higher is that “soccer moms” have been tuning in.

As if they don’t count. As if football moms and wives and sports-averse brothers and your home economics teacher never watch the Super Bowl.

The point is precisely that the soccer moms and other occasional fans are tuning in. That’s what floats the ratings on a broad basis.

But the upsurge in soccer interest in the U.S. isn’t just because of soccer moms. It’s dads, too. And the kids who’ve been playing soccer in this country for the last two or three decades. My first two kids were born in the early 80s, and my wife and the mothers of our friends’ kids were all soccer moms, piling the youngster into the minivan to play “bunch ball” at the field behind the YMCA or junior high. Those kids of the 80s and those of the early 90s are young adults now, and they’ve been watching the World Cup because they enjoy it and understand the sport because they played it.

This is total conjecture on my part, but I wager most of the soccer haters are fans of the NFL — in other words, those who have the most to lose if soccer’s popularity grows. With the NFL the undisputed king of American sports, football fans have it good now.

But I suspect they’re a touch nervous about the rise of The Beautiful Game.

 

 

Meet the Mets: A first visit to Citi Field

Citi FieldSpending a day at the ballpark with family is always a treat, and yesterday I had the special pleasure of visiting Citi Field for the first time to catch a game with both my sons.

With a temperature in the low 80s, a nice breeze and seats in the shade in Section 311, conditions were perfect to watch the Mets show a surprising outburst of power in defeating the Texas Rangers 8-4 in an inter-league game.

Getting to the ballpark was a breeze, a quick 20-minute train ride from Penn Station on the Long Island Railroad. From there it was a short walk across a boardwalk and through a subway station to the park, a gleaming brick structure festooned with banners of Mets greats from the past. Inside were  all the amenities you expect from a modern stadium. The concourses were wide and offered a convenient selection of food stands and rest rooms without seeming hyper commercialized as I’ve experienced at other parks (see AT&T Park, San Francisco, for Exhibit A).

Our seats were comfortable, the view unobstructed, the sound system excellent, the passageways clear of debris. Had it not been for the pigeons swooping overhead and lighting on the speakers, I almost thought I wasn’t in New York City. But it’s hard to forget you’re in the Big Apple when the oversized guy in the blue and orange jersey three rows in front bellows over his beer cup most of the game. One or two knuckleheads aside, the crowd was family-friendly and well-behaved.

The Citi Field wifi worked flawlessly — something I haven’t found at the parks in Cleveland, Philadelphia or San Francisco in recent visits. So chalk up one more positive for Citi Field. I hope to visit again soon.

 

 

Achieve your dream: Fly to all 30 MLB ballparks

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Is there a baseball fan alive who doesn’t want to visit all 30 Major League ballparks? I doubt it.

This morning I read in The New York Times about Hopper, an intriguing new site that allows travelers to research optimum times to fly from Point A to Point B (and Point C, and Point D, etc.). Read the Times story for the details and caveats, but go straight to the Hopper research page
to learn how you can fly to all 30 MLB cities for a lot less than I imagined.

Hopper lets you plug in the airport of your choice and determines the cheapest or shortest route from there. I chose Philadelphia International and was surprised to learn that, in theory anyway, I could fly the route on the map above for $2,471.

Meshing all those discounted flights with the MLB schedule would be a colossal challenge. But it’s fun to dream.

My National League picks for the 2014 baseball season

These picks and $3 will get you a coffee and donut at Dunkin’ Donuts:

East

1. Atlanta – Top of a weak heap

2. Washington – They’ll make it interesting

3. New York – Struggle, they will

4. Philadelphia – It’ll be a long summer

5. Marlins – It’s always a long summer

Central

1. St. Louis – The team to beat in the NL

2. Piitsburgh – Another fine year

3. Cincinnati – Missing it by “this much”

4. Chicago – Friendly confines but little more

5. Milwaukee – It pains me to place them here

West

1. Los Angeles – It pains me to place them here

2. Diamondbacks – On the upswing

3. San Francisco – Rotation is beginning to fade

4. San Diego – This will be a tight race; they could go higher

5. Colorado – Another year or two of scraping bottom

At the risk of having all my fellow Giants fans bail forever, I’m picking the Dodgers to take the NL pennant and (brighten up, Bay Area!) lose to the Rangers in the World Series.

My Amerian League picks for the 2014 baseball season

These picks and $4.50 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks:

East

1. Boston — Sizemore, win more

2. New York — A close second

3. Tampa Bay — Another “so close” season

4. Baltimore — One of these years, but not 2014

5. Toronto — Still the best team in Canada

Central

1. Detroit — Too much talent

2. Cleveland — Playoffs again, if briefly

3. Kansas City — Better, but not best

4. Chicago — Poor

5. Minnesota — Poorer

West

1. Rangers — Too many bats not to prevail

2. Oakland — All-around strength

3. Los Angeles — Persistent under-achievers

4. Houston — Wild hunch; I may be the only one on the planet not to pick them last

5. Mariners — Sorry and soggy year ahead

I predict the Rangers will make it to the World Series and win the whole shootin’ match, to use Texas phraseology.

Agreed: The Tribe should retire Chief Wahoo

The Plain Dealer came out forcefully in an editorial Friday recommending that the Cleveland Indians drop their long-serving, cartoonish mascot, Chief Wahoo.

I agree.

Years ago, I didn’t.

I made the usual arguments: Chief Wahoo is part of our Cleveland heritage, a rallying point for the whole community — black and white — that unites behind its team. The Indians are named in honor of a native American ballplayer, Louis Sockalexis (who went to Holy Cross College 80 years before I did).

Blah. Blah. Blah.

Now that I’ve had a couple of decades to consider the issue, I’ve changed my perspective. There’s no getting around the fact that Chief Wahoo, a product of an earlier era, is a stereotypical caricature who offends not only Native Americans but many other minorities and a lot of white folk who wish we Americans would put racial and ethnic divisiveness behind us.

This isn’t the first time I’ve taken on Chief Wahoo in this blog, started in 2008 with the idea that it might be fun to use baseball caps as a jumping off point for discussing baseball and other sports. After a “hello world” entry, in my first true post I analyzed the Cleveland Indians cap, a natural in that I am a Cleveland native who grew up in Cleveland Heights as a diehard fan of the Tribe.

Toward the end of the post, I “came out” against Chief Wahoo. My commitment has only deepened over time, and I was glad to see The Plain Dealer make its case.

Notably, the PD doesn’t say that the Chief Wahoo logo should be obliterated. It is part of Cleveland and baseball heritage.

But like the Chief Wahoo sign that topped old Municipal Stadium, it belongs in a museum, to be visited occasionally as a reminder of the good times we associate with it, and of the shame we should feel from a less-enlightened era.

Baseball: The Winter Game

Yes, baseball is the summer game. But that is precisely why it resonates so warmly in the dead of winter for those of us in cold climes.

As I write this post on a Sunday morning from my home in  New Jersey, a good deal of snow still dominates the view through the picture window of our family room. A leonine storm is headed our way today on this second day of March, threatening to dump several inches of snow and probably a bit of ice on us once more. The forecast low temperature for Monday is 1 degree Fahrenheit.

Yet this afternoon I can turn on the transistor radio or, more accurately, fire up the MLB app on my iPhone or iPad and listen to a spring training game from Florida or Arizona. Yesterday, I tuned in to disappointment: the Indians and Giants were both rained out, and the Phillies had wrapped up. I thought I’d try the Brewers-Dodgers, but the only options were LA broadcasts (no thank you). So I managed to catch a couple innings of the Pirates and Rays before errands chased me off the couch and into the cold.

It’s been a long winter across much of the United States, and I’ve had little inspiration to post the last couple of months. But the sound of bat meeting ball coming through a tinny speaker from a distant Snowbird stadium does wonders for one’s mood. It is hope, springing eternal.