Book Review: The Games by David Goldblatt


Author:  David Goldblatt
Title:   The Games
Narrator: Napoleon Ryan
Publication Info:  Tantor Audio (2016)
Summary/Review:

I received a free audiobook copy of The Games through the Library Things Early Reviewers program.

Goldblatt’s history of the modern Olympic Games from 1896 to the present is a top-down overview of the International Olympic Committee and organizing committees more than the stories of participants in the games and particular events that I had hoped for.  Nevertheless, it’s an interesting look at general trends and growth of the Olympics.  For example, in the early 20th century the Olympics were more of a sideshow to World’s Fairs (Paris, St. Louis, London) held over several months  rather than discrete sporting events.  Yet, the Intercalated Games of 1906 in Athens, which were inline with the Olympic movement’s founder Pierre de Coubertin’s vision of a quasi-religious sporting ceremony, yet Coubertin refused to attend.  The Olympics came into their own in the 1920s and Los Angeles and Berlin used the games to make major vision statements for the future.  After some quieter, austere post-war games, Rome, Tokyo, and Munich all used the Olympics to reintroduce their countries to the world, while Mexico City and Montreal attempted to introduce themselves to the world stage.  The Lake Placid and Moscow games are the clearest examples of how the Olympics being outside politics was never true.  The Los Angeles and Barcelona games showed that the Olympics could make a lot of people a lot of money, but Atlanta, Beijing, Sochi, and Rio showed that the Olympics makes money through the most exploitative and neoliberal practices possible.

Goldblatt’s narrative makes it clear that whatever lofty goals the Olympic movement professes the contemporary games fail to live up to them, and that this is pretty consistent with the Olympics’s history.  Whatever joys the Olympics bring, it does more harm than good.

Recommended books:

Football Against the Enemy by Simon Kuper, How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer, and Eight World Cups by George Vecsey
Rating: ***1/2

Advertisements

Movie Review: Harvard Beats Yale 29-29


TitleHarvard Beats Yale 29-29
Release Date: 2008
Director: Kevin Rafferty
Summary/Review:

This football documentary has an intriguing title in that it gives away the final score, yet it also fibs about one side winning a tie game.  It’s a no-frills sports documentary where tv footage of the actual game is interspliced with interviews with dozens of the players who participated in the game.  For Ivy League colleges, it is interesting that many of the players had working class backgrounds.  On the other hand, one team had a player who was roommates with George W. Bush and the other team had a player rooming with Al Gore.  The latter is famed actor Tommy Lee Jones.  The interviews touch on the Vietnam War, student protests, and the sexual revolution, but largely this is the story of men in their 60s reflecting on how one exhilarating moment affected their entire lives.

Rating: **1/2

Movie Review: A League of Their Own (1992)


Title:  A League of Their Own
Release Date: 1992
Director:  Penny Marshall
Summary/Review:

I can scratch this off the list of movies I never got around to seeing.  This highly-fictionalized movie tells the story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League started during World War II.  It’s a generally entertaining account of an overlooked time in sports history but a few things bug me about.  First, there are a lot of broad comedy devices that seems to undermine the professional aspirations of women athletes by just making them look to silly.  Second, the movie feels bloated with the framing device about the reunion at Cooperstown.  I guess I would’ve found it more interesting if they’d tied it more to actual alumni of the AGPBL rather than having older actors play older fictional versions of the fictional characters.  Finally, I thought Lori Petty played her character far too petulantly (although I was happy that her team won the championship at the end).  Other than that the acting is pretty good – Geena Davis is a strong lead character, for stunt casting Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell are actually quite excellent in supporting roles, and I warmed up to Tom Hanks as the angry drunk manager with a heart of gold.  The scene that made me laugh the most is the one where he tries to upbraid a player for missing the cutoff but is unable to find any words.  The thing I get out of watching this movie more than 20 years after it was made is that today we have a professional women’s basketball league and a professional women’s soccer league, but dang it! I just want a professional women’s baseball league, too.
Rating: ***

The Designated Hitter in Major League Baseball: A Solution 


Recently, there’s been discussion in Major League Baseball about expanding the Designated Hitter rule to the National League. The DH has been the subject of endless debate and speculation since it was introduced as an experiment to in the American League in 1973. While the AL adopted the DH rule permanently, the NL has resisted the DH and so for more than four decades the two leagues have played by different rules. In the AL, a designated hitter bats in place of the pitcher while in the NL the pitcher bats for himself. 

I believe that I have come up with a brilliant solution to resolve the DH debate for good, but before I reveal it, let’s sum up the arguments for against the DH. Arguments for the DH include:

  • It adds spark to the offense, and fans like a lot of offense. 
  • Conversely, pitchers can’t hit and fan wants to see any easy out. 
  • Allows players who are talented hitters but weak fielders a place in the game. 
  • Additionally, aging sluggers whose defensive skills are eroding can extend their careers a few years by becoming a DH.
  • Pitchers get injured while batting and base running. 

Arguments against the DH include:

  • Tradition and history. There’s a beautiful symmetry to a game with 9 innings, 9 fielders, and 9 batters. 
  • One of the biggest complaints about baseball is that games are too long. American League games on average are longer than National League games and the DH is a major reason for that. 
  • “Pitchers can’t hit” is not an absolute. Pitchers throughout history have a hit and a wise GM would gain a competitive advantage by having their organization develop and maintain pitchers’ hitting skills. 
  • An aging slugger who extends his career at DH often does so by taking the roster spot of a younger, more versatile player. 
  • Injuries happen all the time, on and off the field and the DH doesn’t stop that. If anything, cross training to pitch, bat, & run helps prepare the body to resist injury. 

My preference is that the DH be eliminated and the game be returned to its purer roots where all players compete in the field and at the plate. But after more than 40 years and endless arguments, I accept that the DH is here to stay. I also believe that the two leagues should follow the same rules. 

So what is my solution? This will initially sound strange but bear with me because I think it’s the perfect compromise. All 30 teams will be able to use the designated hitter, but only on odd numbered days. 

What this means:

  • In games played on odd numbered days (ex: May 1, 3, 5…) all Major League teams may have a DH bat in place of the pitcher. 
  • In games played on even numbered days (ex: May 2, 4, 6…) all Major League teams play by the traditional rules in which the pitcher must bat to remain in the game. 
  • If a game is postponed it will follow the rules of the day the game is actually played. 
  • If a game is suspended and continues on another day it will use the same rules the game started with. 
  • Both games of a double header follow the same rules.  
  • The odd/even rules will also apply to all postseason games. 

Why this works:

  • Just like under current system approximately half the games in a MLB season will be played using the DH rule, and the other half will follow traditional rules. 
  • Unlike the current system, both leagues will be using the same rules. 
  • Fans of the DH and fans of traditional baseball will have plenty of opportunities to see each style no matter which team they follow. In fact it would be interesting if one style of baseball would gain higher ticket sales/TV ratings, although I expect the difference would be negligible. 
  • All teams would get experience in both types of baseball. Pitchers would have to know how to hit, sluggers would have to know how to field, at least half of the time. The imbalance of interleague games where teams are accustomed to playing under different rules would be negated. 
  • Hitters with weak or deteriorating defensive skills would still be able to use the DH to extend their career. In fact, the number of teams competing to offer then contracts would double. As long as they can play half their games as DH, and half as a fielder or pinch hitter, they should continue to be an asset to their teams. 
  • The full-time DH would no longer exist, but this would not be as big a problem as it appears. Most people think of the DH and think of the likes of Frank Thomas, Edgar Martinez, or David Ortiz who played the majority of their career as DH. In fact, in 2015 only 8 American League teams had a player appear in more than half the games as DH: Morales (KC) – 141, Fielder (TEX) – 139, Gattis (HOU) – 136, Butler (SEA) – 136, Rodriguez (NYY) – 136, Ortiz (BOS) – 134, Martinez (DET) – 104, and Encarnacion (TOR) – 85. The remaining teams rotated players among defensive positions and the DH, and would be able to continue to do so under my plan. Most of the players listed above would have no problem playing 30-50 games in the field and the rest at DH. So the change for the AL wouldn’t be drastic while opening up opportunities in the NL. 

So that’s my plan. It’s a bit unconventional but I think it will work. Let me know if you agree in the comments below. Or if you have modifications that would make this an even more effective resolution to the DH, let me know those too. And if you think this is a bad idea but have an alternate solution you think would work, I’d love to hear it. 

Photopost: College Football


I’m not someone you will often find at a college football game, but I got free tickets from work (full disclosure: my employer has a football team) and my son enjoys going to sporting events of any kind.  So on September 26, Peter & I made our way to Harvard Stadium to see the Crimson take on Brown.  A few years back, we saw Harvard run up the score in a torrential downpour against Holy Cross.  For this game, the weather was crisp and clear, a perfect autumn night, but Harvard still ran up the score.

I may not be a big fan of football, but I love historic sporting venues and seeing a game in Harvard Stadium is a treat (when it’s not raining).  It was also nice to be there when a lot of other fans were present for the atmosphere, including a large number of students who we first saw having a rowdy tailgate in the parking area.  Unfortunately, with the score 37-0 at halftime, most of the other spectators departed, making it feel very lonely in the cavernous stadium.  After the game, kids were invited on the field and Peter got autographs from a couple of Harvard players which was pretty cool.

Maybe I’ll do this again in another three years.

Book Review: It’s Game Time Somewhere by Tim Forbes


Author: Tim Forbes
TitleIt’s Game Time Somewhere: How One Year, 100 Events, and 50 Different Sports Changed My Life
Publication Info: Bascom Hill Publishing Group (2013)
Summary/Review:

I received this as an e-book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

In a long preamble to this book, Forbes discusses his lifelong love of sports and his realization as he turned 40 that he could go into sports management as a career.  Fast forward ten years of working on golf tournaments and Forbes discovers that he’s losing his passion for the games.  To address this, he decides to tour the United States for a year attending 100 sporting events  in 50 different sports.  Forbes likes golf and works in golf, so the first 40% of this book is very focused on golf.  I don’t like golf, so this was a bear to read, although there were interesting details about golf personalities and courses here and there.

Forbes comes to the realization that the big-time sports with athletes living large and the control of ESPN over big events are draining his love of watching sports.  Interestingly, he says he finds the behavior of crowds at big events more drunken and violent than a decade earlier.  In my own experience, going to a game was scarier in the 70s and 80s but since the 90s there has been more effort to control crowds, manage alcohol consumption, and create a family friendly environment to the point that the game experience is almost too sanitized.  Nevertheless, Forbes and I can agree that the real thrill of spectator sports is going to be found in lower-level divisions or in sports that are not in the eye of the big sports media complex.

Forbes makes his discovery when the same player helps win a  minor league baseball game that he saw in a college baseball game earlier in the year. His journey changes as begins to embrace minor sports like synchronized swimming, paddling, and high school volleyball.  He discovers communities of families, friends, athletes, and dedicated fans around the many different sports.  Finally, whether it be adult kickball, curling, or lawn bowl, Forbes finds that the best sports experience come from participation.

Rating: **1/2

Movie Review: 30 For 30: “The Day The Series Stopped” (2014)


Title: 30 for 30: “The Day The Series Stopped”
Release Date: 12 October 2014
Director: Ryan Fleck
Production Co: Electric City Entertainment
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: Documentary | Sports
Rating: ***

Review: The ESPN 30 for 30 documentary series takes us back to October 1989 when the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s was interrupted by the Loma Prieta Earthquake.  Archival footage and interviews with players, fans, and sportscasters show how it slowly dawned on the people at Candlestick Park that the shaking and buckling they experienced was in fact the worst earthquake in over 80 years and having devastating effects on the teams’ home cities.  There are some interesting effects in the movie such as rewinding to the time of the earthquake to tell stories from different perspectives such as one Giants’ employee who was climbing a light tower in the outfield at the time of the tremor.  There’s also some chilling discussion of how a reinforcement project recently completed ahead of schedule may have helped prevent a deadly collapse of Candlestick Park.  Then there are surreal moments such Jose Canseco still in his A’s uniform and his elegantly dressed wife pumping gas at the one fueling station that managed to stay open after the quake.  At times this documentary doesn’t seem to know if it’s a sports story or a disasters story, but then again it documents a moment in time when it was uncertain if baseball was not important or if it was a needed distraction to help the communities rebuild.  I think this movie could have been better if the filmmakers focused more on the interviews rather than replaying familiar archival footage, but it’s an interesting glimpse at a moment when the “sports” story became the “news” story.

Book Review: Eight World Cups by George Vecsey


Author: George Vecsey
TitleEight World Cups
Publication Info: Times Books (May 13, 2014)
ISBN: 9780805098488
Summary/Review:

Vecsey, a sportswriter for The New York Times, writes a series of essays and memories of international soccer dating back to the 1982 World Cup in Spain, tying it in with his own love of the game back to his childhood.  The title is a misnomer, because Vecsey writes about Women’s World Cups and Olympic games among other competitions, but the eight men’s World Cup finals he attends from 1982 to 2010 are the core of the book. In addition to some lovely writing describing the games and controversies of the each World Cup, Vecsey gives a sense of the host nation where he and his wife generally set a up a home base for a month.  He writes about the great players of each era from Diego Maradona to Zinedine Zidane.  A major focus is the rise of the United States men’s team from a non-entity to one that regular qualifies for the World Cup and is competitive.  Vecsey also explores the seamy underside of FIFA and CONFACAF with the greed and corruption that runs alongside the beautiful game.  All in all, this is a nice American take on World Cup football from a personal perspective.

Recommended booksThe Grass of Another Country: A Journey Through the World of Soccer by Christopher Merrill, The Girls of Summer: The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team and How It Changed the World by Jere Longman, and Goooal! a Celebration of Soccer by Andres Cantor
Rating: ****

Baseball Celebrity and the End of the Steroid Era


Last night’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game was the keystone of  shortstop Derek Jeter’s season-long retirement celebration. As things tend to go in the sports media coverage of Derek Jeter, it was a bit over the top.  Yet, nowhere among all the plaudits did anyone see fit to mention that Jeter is the last active superstar of the Steroids Era.

From roughly 1995 to 2003, Major League Baseball experienced the scandal of a great number of players using anabolic steroids, human growth hormone (HGH), amphetamines, and other performing enhancing drugs (PEDs).  The fact of the matter is that if a ballplayer played during this era, the odds are statistically in favor of him having used PEDs.  Some used PEDs when they were on the bubble of making it on a major league roster.  Some used them to recover from injury.  Some used them in their “walk years” to try to get a favorable contract as a free agent.  Some used them once and then never again.  Some built their careers around them.

The peak of Derek Jeter’s career coincided with the Steroid Era.  While he’s never tested positive for PEDs, the rosters of his team from that era are riddled with known users.  The win-at-all-costs owner of Jeter’s team sought out the top superstars of the time, many of whom were later documented as PED users such as Gary Sheffield, Jose Canseco, Roger Clemens, Jeremy Giambi, and Alex Rodriguez.  With a line-up of juicers, Jeter’s team won 4 out 5 World Series Championships.  PED use spread through Major League Baseball and entire teams instructed their players in their use in order to compete.

And yet with PED use so widespread, we are told by the sports media that Jeter never touched the stuff.  Even with the rest of the team juiced up and pressuring their teammates not to play “naked,” Jeter maintained a superhuman virtue.  Of course, his virtue was not strong enough for him to speak out against PED use and inspire his fellow players to play clean.  And even if Jeter did play clean during this era, he still benefited from his teammates using them.  How many times did he come to base with runners on base who would not have been there if they’d played clean?  How many of Jeter’s career hits came against mediocre relievers because the starting pitcher was knocked out the game after struggling against a lineup of juicers?

My point here is not to condemn Jeter.  Even if one filters through the glurge written about him, he appears to be a decent player, and he’s a talented ballplayer for any era.  If I were a Hall of Fame voter, he’d have my vote.  The point here is to challenge the media narrative that has framed the Steroid Era as a few villainous players who cheated, while the virtuous Jeter stood above it all and still won.  There are some players for whom the evidence that they used PEDs is as circumstantial as that which I outlined for Jeter (such as Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza), but sportswriters are attempting to punish them retroactively by not voting them into the Hall of Fame and otherwise sullying their reputations.  Nowhere in the Jeter versus the bad guys narrative is there any acknowledgment of the complicity of baseball team management, the sports media, and the fans.  And Jeter himself who would have to have known what was going on, and as I noted above, benefited from PED use regardless of whether he used them or not.  The scandal is not that a few players cheated, but that all of baseball allowed the rise of PEDs because they desired bigger, better, faster superstar baseball players.

It’s interesting to note that in the decade since Major League Baseball instituted more stringent restrictions on PEDS, we’ve seen the decline of the superstar ballplayer common during the Steroid Era.  Many teams now try a model of finding many players with complimentary skills and abilities to build a team (the “Moneyball” approach) as opposed to building around a slugger and a power pitcher, at least those that have won the World Series.  Boston won with a “bunch of idiots” and more recently with a group of mid-level free agent signings added to players rebounding from injury.  San Francisco won 2 out of 3 years with a team of “misfits and castoffs.”  The Cardinals maintain a top-shelf team year in, year out while remaining largely anonymous.  They did have superstar slugger Albert Pujols, but continue to win without him.

Perhaps as we say farewell to Derek Jeter, we can also say goodbye to the the Steroid Era and its cult of bigger, better, faster.  Perhaps now we admire someone for being a great ballplayer without having to pile on the plaudits (or when a human being inevitably fails, the insults).  Perhaps we will be able to enjoy baseball not as a display of exemplary individuals but as a game played by a team (even at an All-Star Game).  That is my hope going forward  as we can finally close the door on the Steroids Era.
Related Posts:

Movie Review: 30 for 30: Soccer Stories


Title: 30 for 30: Soccer Stories
Production Co:ESPN Films
Country: United States
Language: English (and other languages in interviews and archival footage)
Genre: Documentary | Sports | History

In preparation for this year’s World Cup tournament, I watched this series of ESPN films about football/futbol/soccer on Netflix. They all touch upon themes beyond sports and into the realms of politics and human drama.

Title:Hillsborough
Release Date: April 15, 2014
Director: Daniel Gordon
The feature-length documentary tells the story of the 1989 FA Cup Semifinal where 96 supporters of Liverpool FC were crushed to death, and the ongoing story of survivors and family to find justice. I knew a fair bit about the disaster coming in, but the film filled me in on some startling details. For example, the Hillsborough stadium had experienced crushing incidents at previous games. Then there is the extent the police went to slander the victims, ranging from the coroner’s unprecedented decision to take blood alcohol samples from all of the dead (including children) to editing and sanitizing over a hundred reports written by police officers on the scene. The documentary features interviews with survivors, family of the dead, police, and legal experts as well as television and close-circuit camera film of the events of the day. One deficit of the film is the use of dramatic reenactments which are confusing and unnecessary (for example, the story of some police officers playing a cruel hazing prank a few weeks before the match and leading to the transfer of a police chief experienced with crowd control did not need to be acted out). Of all the films in the series this one is the most effective and a must see although very disturbing to watch.

Rating: ****1/2

Title: The Opposition
Release Date: April 22, 2014
Director: Ezra Edelman and Jeffrey Plunkett
Another disturbing film where politics intrudes into sport focuses on the Chilean national team attempting to qualify for the 1974 World Cup. When the democratically elected government is overthrown by Augusto Pinochet, Chile’s national stadium is turned into a prison and torture camp for those deemed dissidents by the new regime. When the USSR boycotts a qualifier game, the Chilean team is forced to participate in a farce of scoring a goal against no opposition in the same stadium. The United States, for supporting the coup, and FIFA, for turning a blind eye to the human rights violations in their midst, come off looking very bad. It’s all very grim, and it feels like this story deserved more than 22 minutes.

Rating:***

Title: Maradona ’86
Release Date: April 22, 2014
Director: Sam Blair
This is more of a traditional sports documentary focusing on Diego Maradona’s magnificent performance at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. A divisive figure, he’s able to capture the appreciation of the world in these games. The documentary excels in its use of archival footage to tell the story, especially the clips from Argentina and the poetic descriptions of Maradona’s goals.

Rating:***

Title: Ceasefire Massacre
Release Date: April 29, 2014
Director: Alex Gibney and Trevor Birney
In 1994, Ireland won a surprising World Cup group match over Italy in front of a fervent crowd of Irish-American supporters in the Meadowlands of New Jersey. This great moment for a perennially poor team came after qualifying in a game over Northern Ireland, earning respect and admiration for the team across the island. But during half-time of this World Cup match, a bar in the tiny of Loughisland was targeted by Protestant terrorists, who opened fire killing six and wounding five. Both stories are interesting, but seem tenuously connected, even as the documentary suggests that the players learning of the massacre affected their play in the rest of the tournament.

Rating:**1/2

Title: The Myth of Garrincha
Release Date: April 29, 2014
Director: Marcos Horacio Azevedo

Mané Garrincha, knees bent by childhood illness, should not have been a professional athlete, but turned out to be an unpredictable and entertaining goal-scorer. He gained great fame from leading Brazil to World Cup Championships in 1958 and 1962. This documentary has a “Behind the Music” feel as it goes into the effect of the “price of fame” that manifested in Garrincha in severe alcoholism and the public turning against him when he marries a samba singer who had been married before. He died bankrupt and alone in 1983, but his funeral turns out to be another big change in public perception as there’s an outpouring of affection for the forgotten hero.

Rating:**1/2

Title: Mysteries of the Rimet Trophy
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Director: Brett Ratner

This is the weakest of the bunch, a hodge-podge of stories of people trying to steal the World Cup trophy (well, some are successful as it is still missing to this day). It feels like a cheezy History Channel doc from the 1990s, complete with archival footage of parading Nazis.

Rating:*1/2

Title: Barbosa: The Man Who Made Brazil Cry
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Director: Loch Phillipps

The goalkeeper for Brazil’s 1950 World Cup team, Barbosa was unfairly blamed for the loss to Uruquay at the Maracanã in Rio. Like Garrincha, he lives out his life treated as a villain in Brazil, but unlike Garrincha is a gentle soul who never deserved any reprobation. It’s an interesting glimpse into the 1950 World Cup and it’s long-lasting after affects, although I still have trouble buying into the mourning that continues over this loss in Brazil when the country subsequently won five World Cups (and counting).

Rating:***

Movie Review: Knuckleball! (2012)


Title: Knuckleball
Release Date: 18 September 2012
Director: Ricki Stern & Anne Sundberg
Production Co: Break Thru Films and Major League Baseball Productions
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: Documentary | Sports | Baseball
Rating: ****

The knuckleball is baseball’s most enigmatic pitch.  Despite its name, it is thrown with the finger tips and unlike any other pitch it prevents the ball from rotating.  This makes the ball move in unpredictable ways that it make the knuckleball difficult to hit.  Yet that unpredictably has a way of coming back to haunt the pitcher, so there are few pitchers who risk using it.  This documentary follows the 2011 season of the only two knuckleball pitchers in Major League Baseball at that time: Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox (now retired) and R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets (now with the Toronto Blue Jays).  These are also two of my all-time favorite pitchers.  The documentary does a good job of explaining the mechanics of the knuckleball and how knuckleball pitchers are treated as an oddity in the baseball community.  It also has some excellent archival footage of the lives and careers of Wakefield and Dickey. If there’s one thing that could improve the movie is to not have so many talking heads and clips of baseball commentators repeating the same basic facts about the knuckleball and perhaps delve into the science and history of the pitch a bit more.

Movie Review: Slap Shot (1977)


Title: Slap Shot
Release Date: 25 February 1977
Director: George Roy Hill
Production Co: Kings Road Entertainment
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Comedy | Drama | Sport
Rating: ****

Another classic comedy that I never got around to seeing until now.  With the closing of the local factory, the Charlestown Chiefs are likely to fold at the end of the season.  Aging player-coach Reg Dunlop (Paul Newman) carries out a series of Machiavellian schemes to increase the teams value so that it will be sold to another owner.  This primarily involves having his team use goon tactics, which successfully draws in the crowds and helps them win games.  Concurrently, Reg also plots to reunite with his ex-wife and reconcile the strained relationship of the Chiefs’ top scorer and his alcoholic wife.

This movie exudes the 1970s in the clothing, music, sexual liberation, and a carefree attitude in a world falling apart.  There are a lot of great gags and lines with much of the humor coming from silly characters like the Quebecois goalkeeper and the uber-violent (and extremely dumb) Hanson brothers.  But there’s also a gravitas underlining the film that keeps it from being just a screwball comedy although not enough to turn it into a “dramedy.”  The ending of the film is utterly bizarre, but it it’s appropriate to the movie.

Book Review: Distant Corners by David Wangerin


Author: David Wangerin
Title Distant Corners: American Soccer’s History of Missed Opportunities and Lost Causes
Publication Info:  Temple University Press (2011)
ISBN:  1439906300
Summary/Review:

A sequel of sorts to Soccer in a Football World, Wangerin’s history of soccer in the United States, this book is a series of essays focusing on particular places and times in American history when soccer flourished.  If there’s a unifying theme of book is the inevitable quote from a contemporary to the effect that soccer’s rise to popularity in the United States is just around the corner.  The negative that can be taken from this is that they were all wrong as soccer remains a niche sport in the country, but the positive is that it shows just how much of a history of the game there is in the United States.  Wangerin explores this historical periods in search of a distinct American style of play that can be built upon as the game continues to grow in the US.  

Topics covered by the essays include:

  • tours of the US by Pilgrims, Corinthians, and other English teams to attempt to popularize association football at a time when violence and deaths were sullying gridiron football in the early 1900s.
  • The creation of a national federation (now the USSF) and the National Challenge Cup (now the US Open Cup).
  • Thomas Cahill, the man who, under better circumstances, would be remembered as the father of American soccer.
  • The success of Penn State’s soccer team in the Depression Era under the leadership of Bill Jeffrey.
  • Leagues in St. Louis create a distinctive St. Louis style of play
  • The Oakland Clippers, champions of the renegade NPSL in 1967 and one of the top teams in the first year of the NASL in 1968, flounder in their attempt to play outside the league against top international competition.
  • 1979, the pivotal year of the NASL.

Recommended books: Once in a Lifetime by Gavim Newsham and The Grass of Another Country: A Journey Through the World of Soccer by Christopher Merrill
Rating: ***1/2

 

Movie Review: 30 for 30: Four Days in October


Title30 for 30: Four Days in October
Release Date: 5 October 2010
Director: Gary Waskman
Production Co: Major League Baseball Productions
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Documentary | Sports | Baseball
Rating:  ****

The ESPN documentary documents the last four games (played over four consecutive days) of the 2004 American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, from the Red Sox point of view.  There’s nothing radical about it from a filmmaking perspective, merely clips of tv and radio footage from the games interspersed with interviews with Red Sox players and some celebrity fans.  I watched it mainly so my 5-year-old son could learn some Red Sox history, and it quickly became his favorite movie.  It was also a nice nostalgia trip to see memorable Red Sox comeback and all the little aspects I’d forgotten (doubly so to watch it without the feeling of twisted intestines that I had back in 2004)

MLB Realignment


On this night where Major League Baseball celebrates it’s All-Star Game, I’m pondering the future of my favorite spectator sport.  There are a lot of changes coming to the game.  This season, each league will be awarding two Wild Card spots meaning a total of  ten teams will be eligible for post season play.  Next season, the Houston Astros will move to the American League creating two 15-team leagues and ensuring the need for interleague games every day of the season.

Both of these changes are being made due to problems that arose from earlier changes in MLB in the 1990s (namely three-division leagues, wild cards, and interleague play).  I believe these changes will just make further problems down the road.  Proponents of the two Wild Card system say that it makes the Wild Card teams earn their way into the postseason by making them face one another in a one game playoff (where the rules of randomness mean either team is likely to win).  Far from being weak interlopers, Wild Card teams have often been the second place team in the toughest division and by my accounting 24 of the 34 Wild Card winners from 1995 to 2011 had regular season records equal or better to one or more division champions in their league in the same season.  In this new scenario, the 2001 Oakland A’s winner of 102 regular season games would have to play the 85-win Minnesota Twins to prove they were good enough to be in the playoffs with the division champion New York Yankees (95 wins) and Cleveland Indians (91 wins). Huh?!   If anything, it’s the “champions” of weak divisions that are getting an easy entry into the postseason and now weaker Second Wild Card teams will have the opportunity as well through a one-game roll of the dice.  I can foresee the scenario where 95+ win team fighting to the last day of the season for a division title and having to settle for the First Wild Card will have to face a rested team with 90 or fewer wins in that one game playoff.  That’s not good for baseball.

Interleague play has it merits.  It’s exciting to see intracity rivalries (Mets-Yankees, Cubs-White Sox), intrastate rivalries (Giants-A’s, Astros-Rangers) and even two teams from cities relatively close to one another such as the Red Sox and Phillies play out.  It’s less interesting when the Red Sox play the Padres or the Brewers, and the Phillies play the Twins or the Mariners.  It’s especially confounding that the introduction of divisional and interleague play means that a team like the Phillies plays their interstate rivals the Pirates far less frequently than they used to.  More interleague play means that teams are playing fewer games against the teams their competing with for a title and often  playing schedules that are composed of teams of different strengths and abilities.  It’s all a bit of a muddle and in the end I think it makes the regular season less interesting and makes it so the teams that make the playoffs aren’t necessarily the best teams in baseball.

For some time now, I’ve been mulling over a plan of the changes I would make to Major League Baseball to make it more exciting, competitive, and fair.  On the surface, my plan seems radical, but I think ultimately it preserves (or brings back) many traditional elements of baseball such as the balanced schedule, regional rivalries, pennant races, and the end of interleague play as we know it.

My Proposal to Improve Major League Baseball

My idea for Major League Baseball would realign its current 30 teams into three regional, 10-team leagues.  A team would face the other teams 18 games (9 home, 9 away) a season in a balanced schedule of 162 games.  There would be no interleague play and no divisions so each and every game would be against a league rival.  Each win and each loss would move a team up or down in the standings.

The advantages of this realignment are many:

  • Regional play would promote rivalries, which would in turn boost attendance and television ratings.
  • It would be easier for fans to travel to more road games, again improving attendance.
  • National games of the week on network and cable TV will also be able to be scheduled to target markets in each of the three regions with appropriate starting times.
  • Regional play would also reduce the wear and tear of travel on the players.   In fact, MLB could promote the reduction in travel as a green initiative since it would reduce the number of air miles the teams would have to fly each season.
  • With as many games as possible played in the same time zone, East Coast fans will no longer have to stay up past midnight to see the end of their team’s road games on the West Coast and West Coast fans won’t have to sneak out of work to see the beginning of their team’s road games on the East Coast.   The starting time for  games will be more predictably the same time every day increasing television ratings.
  • The balanced schedule means that each team competing for a postseason spot is facing the same opponents for the same number of games.
  • Teams can no longer qualify for the postseason by being the champions of  weak division of five teams.

The Leagues

American League:  Baltimore Orioles,  Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Toronto Blue Jays, and Washington Nationals.

The new American League brings together several historic franchises in the Northeast.  Six of these teams are currently in the American League including three charter members still in the same cities as they were in 1901 (Red Sox, Indians, Tigers) and the team with more AL pennants than any other (Yankees).  While Washington has had a National League team since 2005, it also has a long history of teams in the American League from 1901-1971.  This league would benefit greatly from many city, state, and regional rivalries and the ease of travel for visiting fans.

National League: Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City Royals, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, St. Louis Cardinals, and Tampa Bay Rays.

With six current National League teams, the new NL maintains the history with two franchise dating back to 1876 (Braves, Cubs), the birthplace of professional baseball (Cincinnati), and the National League’s leader in pennants and championships (Cardinals).  The NL retains one of baseball’s most storied rivalries (Cubs and Cardinals) and will gain new rivalries in Chicago, Missouri, and Florida as well as other regional face-offs.

Continental League:  Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland A’s, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, and Texas Rangers.

The name is a throwback to an earlier attempt at a third league as well as a tribute to how baseball has grown to cover the continent in this the most geographically spread out of the three leagues.  Six of these teams joined Major League Baseball as expansion teams with the other four originating in Northeastern cities before moving West.  Two of the largest states in the union – California and Texas – are well represented in this league as well as more isolated baseball outposts in Seattle, Denver, and Phoenix.

The Pennant

Historically, baseball awarded the pennant to the team that demonstrated excellence over the course of a long season by winning the most games.  Before the modern World Series began in 1903, the pennant was the championship, but even after that it was considered a major accomplishment.  In 1954, the New York Giants were given a ticker tape parade for winning the National League pennant but not for subsequently winning the World Series.  Since the introduction of divisional play in 1969, the importance of the pennant has diminished as it has been awarded to the teams that play in the World Series regardless of where they finished in the regular season meaning that some brilliant accomplishments such as the 2001 Seattle Mariners 116-win season have been overshadowed.  In my three league system, the pennant would be restored as an honor granted to the first place finishers in each league with considerable promotional effort made to make it an award nearly as important at the World Series championship.

Playoffs and World Series

The top three teams from each league would qualify for postseason play for a total of nine teams.

Third place qualifying round:  The playoffs would begin with a qualifying round for the third place teams. The three teams would be seeded based on regular season performance and play a three game playoff:

  • Game 1: #3 seed at #2 seed
  • Game 2: Winner of Game 1 at #1 seed (winner of this game advances to next round of playoffs)
  • Game 3: Loser of Game 1 versus loser of Game 2 (winner of this game advances to next round of playoffs)
Quarterfinals:  The eight teams would be seeded according to regular season record as follows – First place teams seeded 1-3, second place teams seeded 4-6, and third place teams seeded 7-8.  Then the teams would be matched in a best-of-five series with 8 versus 1, 7 versus 2, 6 versus 3, and 5 versus 4.  The higher seed has home field advantage in the series.
Semifinals: The teams are re-seed by regular season records to play in a best-of-seven series with 4 versus 1, and 3 versus 2.  The higher seed has home field advantage in the series.
World Series:  The two remaining teams face off for the championship of baseball in a best-of-seven series.  The higher seed has home field advantage in the series.

Other Issues

Designated Hitter: For nearly forty years, the American League has played by a different set of rules than the National League by allowing a batter who does not play on the field to bat in place of the pitcher.  With three leagues this rule would have to be addressed and I propose dropping the designated hitter and requiring pitchers to bat for themselves.  The rule encourages specialization by allowing pitchers who cannot hit and batters who cannot field to prosper in the game.  It also encourages aging sluggers to continue playing at the expense of younger, possibly more well-rounded players.   The National League has not suffered from the absence of a DH and if players feel that they are losing a professional opportunity then the rosters may be expanded to 26 players as a tradeoff.  At any rate, most DH’s today are able to adequately field and an organization that encourages its pitchers to become capable batters would gain a competitive advantage over those that continue to accept the canard that “pitchers can’t hit.”

All-Star Game: When the All-Star Game originated in 1933, it was a hotly contested match-up of two competing leagues and a rare opportunity for the fans of one league to see the players of the other league.  Today, many players seem indifferent to the All-Star Game, actively avoiding participating and the game itself is not competitively played with many substitutions made for show rather than strategy.   Nationally televised games and interleague play mean that most players are not strangers to baseball fans.   Three leagues would complicate the staging of a All-Star Game and I would suggest that it is a tradition that has run its course.  Despite not playing the game, I would continue the tradition of awarding All-Star honors with fans voting for their favorite players and a panel of former players and sports journalist also selecting the best players at each position who have been overlooked by the fans.  Other All-Star Week traditions such as the Futures Game and the Home Run Derby would continue based around a new mid-season celebration of baseball of my own devising.

International Tournament: Baseball is growing in popularity globally and I think Major League Baseball should seize the initiative by staging an annual event to celebrate international competition.  The World Baseball Classic has succeeded by pitting the national teams of several baseball-playing countries, but I’d like to see a competition that brings together the best league teams of world together akin to the UEFA Champions League in European soccer.  Since baseball is played everyday it would be difficult to schedule a tournament on the Champions League model, but I believe MLB could host an exciting, short tournament at midseason in place of the All-Star Game.

I would propose an 8 team tournament with automatic berths to the previous year’s pennant winners from the American, National, and Continental Leagues.   I would also give berths to the best teams of Central League and Pacific League of Nippon Professional Baseball.  The final three berths would be won through a qualification process among the best teams from other professional baseball leagues including the Mexican League, Nicaraguan Professional Baseball League, China Baseball League, Korea Baseball Organization, Chinese Professional Baseball League, Italian Baseball League, Honkbal Hoofdklasse (Netherlands), Australian Baseball League and the winners of the Caribbean Series.

The teams would be seeded into two groups of four which would play a three-game  round robin group stage.  Then there would be a one-game semifinal with the 2nd place team of one group facing the 1st place team of the other group.  The winners of the semifinals would meet for the championship in a one game final.  These games would be played over the course of five consecutive days in three major league stadiums (one from each league).  Two stadiums would host group play and a semifinal, while the third stadium would host the final as well as other events such as the Futures Game and the Home Run Derby.  Players who have been voted as All-Stars will be introduced in a pre-game ceremony before the final.  There are some challenges to this international tournament such as the fact that three teams will have to play up to five competitive games while the other 27 teams rest, but I think it would be an exciting alternative to All-Star Game and a good way to promote baseball worldwide.

So that’s my plan for Major League Baseball.  Do you think it would work?  Do you like the changes MLB is currently making?  Do you have ideas of your own?  Let me know in the comments!

Movie Review: The Damned United


Title: The Damned United
Release Date: 27 March 2009
Director: Tom Hooper
Production Co:   Columbia Pictures Corporation
Country:  United Kingdom
Language: English
Genre: Biopic / Sport
Rating: ***1/2

Summary/Review:

This movie is a highly-fictionalized account of the life of English football manager Brian Clough (Michael Sheen) who was able to lead clubs like Derby County and Nottingham Forest to win the First Division championship.  Central to this film is Clough’s short term as manager of Leeds United, one of the most successful clubs of the 1970s and one Clough had been critical of for their dirty style of play.  The film is set up to focus on Clough’s relationships with two different men.  One is Don Revie (the always great Colm Meaney) Clough’s predecessor as manager at Leeds United.  If the film is to be believed Revie’s slight of Clough at a FA Cup match early Clough’s career provided both the motivation for Clough’s success but also his hubris and ultimate failure at Leeds.  The other relationship is with Clough’s assistant coach Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall) who has great skill at scouting players for the team.  The structure of the film with its historical inaccuracies comes off as melodramatic especially since the true story would make as good or better a film.  The Damned United is saved by brilliant acting performances by the Sheen as the mouthy and flashy Clough, Meaney, and especially Spall’s portrayal of the long-suffering Taylor.  I also enjoyed the gritty football action sequences that capture an era of sport long gone.

Movie Review: Mathematically Alive


Title: Mathematically Alive: A Story of Fandom
Release Date: 2007
Director: Joseph Coburn & Katherine Foronjy
Production Co: Vitamin Enriched Inc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: Documentary / Sports
Rating: ***

Summary/Review:

This movie is about something near and dear to my heart – fandom of the New York Mets.  Set during the historic 2006 season when the Mets lead the National League in wins and made it as far as the 7th game of the championship series, the documentarians track several diehard fans through their game rituals and Mets-centered lives.  The premise is very similar to Still We Believe: The Boston Red Sox Movie, but without support of the Mets and Major League Baseball, Mathematically Alive lacks the glitz and production values of the Red Sox film.  Major League Baseball trademarks and ballgame footage (and even Mike Piazza’s face!) are pixellated out of the movie.  The affect though makes this even more of fan-based film, by fans and for fans, and Mets fans true to their blue-color heritage are not about glitz.  I was especially excited to see the son of a good friend near the end of the film pontificating wisely about his favorite team.  A must-see for Mets fans, recommended for baseball fans, and others may be interested if sports fandom interests them.

Soccer Week


1. FC Kaiserslautern 2:0  FC Bayern Munich (27 Aug 2010) – This game was hosted by the oddly named team (is that  like First National Bank?) in the same stadium where the 2006 World Cup debacle between USA & Italy took place.  Defending German and DFB-Pokal champions and Champions League runners up took on 1. FC Kaiserlautern who were also champions.  Of the second Bundesliga.  One would think that Bayern would romp over the recently promoted 1FCK.  One would be wrong.  Bayern played reminiscent of the US MNT getting many chances but unable to finish.  Meanwhile, 1FCK scored two quick goals near the end of the the first half which was all they need.  I tend to favor underdogs, especially plucky underdogs who defeat the champions in their first Bundesliga game in four years, so I think I’m adopting 1FCK as my new German team to follow.  Match report.

New England Revolution 1:2 Philadelphia Union (28 Aug 2010)

I was only able to watch the second half of this game so I had the misfortune of seeing the Revolution playing a man down attempting to defend a 1:0 lead.  They did well for a while but ultimately ran out of steam and lost the win in the 82nd minute and the tie in stoppage time.  For the second time in a row I’ve watched the Revolution throw away a winnable game in what is increasingly becoming a lost season (in between this game and the previous one I watched, the Revolution also lost 4-1 to Kansas City).  At least the Revolution can still win the Superliga cup on Wednesday.  Match report.

By the way, I’ve discovered The Midnight Ride, a fan-produced podcast with good coverage of the Revolution.

Boston Breakers 2:1 Philadelphia Independence (29 Aug 2010)

The Revolution’s female counterparts are faring much better in the WPS.  I only caught the last 20 minutes of the Breakers’ win which brought them closer to second place and shored up an almost certain spot in the postseason.  Watching the game I was a bit depressed to see the Independence playing in a small American football stadium with few fans, something of culture shock after watching so many European games.  At least I’ve learned that the Independence and Union will be moving into a soccer-specific stadium soon, although it is not in Philadelphia proper.  Actually, I figured out that the Boston Breakers are the only team in the WPS that actually play within the city limits of the city they’re named for.  Way to represent Breakers!  Match report.

Internazionale 0:0 Bologna (30 Aug 2010)

I’ve shied away from Serie A because of a perhaps unfair bias that Italian soccer is where all the stereotypes of soccer come to life:  defensive play, diving, not to mention match-fixing.  This match up of the 5-in-a-row defending champions Inter versus the cellar dweller Bologna should’ve been Chelsea-Wigan style smackdown.  It was not.  There was a lot of defense, diving, and who knows maybe even match-fixing.  Dull, dull, dull.  Match report.

New England Revolution 1:2 Monarcas Morelia (1 Sep 2010)

The Revs last chance for hardware in 2010 ended disappointingly in this hotly contested Superliga final.   Morelia pretty much dominated play although Revolution errors contributed to the loss, particularly the first goal which came on a penalty kick after a dumb foul.  Miguel Sabah won the game for Morelia with a gorgeous volley in the 75th minute.  The Revs showed some life with a nice goal of their own by Kevin Allston (his first with the Revs) in the 79th minute.  The Revs had some chances right up to the last second, but alas they will only be Superliga runners-up.  Still this was a fun, fast-paced game.  I enjoyed the passion that was evident on the field and in the stands even if I didn’t like the poor sportsmanship (such as Morelia’s time wasters or Revolution fans throwing things on the field).  Match report.

Armenia 0:1 Ireland (3 Sep 2010)

The Euro 2012 qualifying campaign kicks of this weekend and I’ve adopted my ancestral home squad of Ireland to follow.  At least until they are eliminated.   The opening match in Yerevan, Armenia was not exceptionally well-played but both sides had some action in front of the nets.  Armenia had one particularly breathtaking spell with several opportunities in a row before the Irish defense cleared the ball and Ireland’s skipper Robbie Keane so a can’t-miss-opportunity deflected by the post.  Finally, Ireland broke-through with a 76th minute goal by Keith Fahey, his first for the national team.  A good start to what I hope will be a strong Euro campaign by Ireland.

Other notes:

  • Following my train of thought regarding WPS teams named after cities I looked to see if there were any teams in London that have London in their name.  There are thirteen clubs in the Premier League and Football Leagues and many more in the lower divisions based in London and none of them have London in their name.  I suppose that the club would have to be based in the City of London to earn that name but I doubt there’s room for a stadium there.
  • This week the world of football lost a living link to the first World Cup when Franciso Varallo died.  Varallo played for Argentina the team that were runners up in the 1930 World Cup

Related Posts:

This Week in Soccer


Here’s the report on my first week as a novice soccer fan.  See my previous post Forming an Association with Football for more details.

USA v. Brazil (10 Aug 2010) – A friendly match in the New Meadowlands stadium in New Jersey to thank the US fans for their World Cup support.  Supposedly the experienced US side fresh from the World Cup would have something to show to a young Brazilian team featuring many players appearing in their first international match.  Instead, it turned into an embarrassing rout with stylish Brazilian play exposing the weakness of the USA’s back line with attack after attack after attack.  Only great goalkeeping by Tim Howard and Brad Guzan prevented Brazil from running up the score.  More on this debacle from the Boston Globe.

At the very least seeing Brazilian players in the Meadowlands reminded me of the glory days of Pele and the New York Cosmos.

Mexico vs. Spain (11 Aug 2010) – I stopped in a pub in Boston for supper on Wednesday night and they had Spain’s first World Cup championship friendly at Mexico on the TV.  This game was Spain’s first defense of a lesser-known title, the Unofficial Football World Championship.  Basically the UFWC folks have created a basic title system akin to boxing championships tracing back to the earliest international football match in 1872.  When Spain defeated the Netherlands in the World Cup championship they ended the Dutch run of 21 title defenses and unified the UFWC with the official world championship.  Mexico had a good chance of snatching the title away from Spain with an early first half goal but David Silva of Spain equalized in stoppage time just before the end of the game (the UFWC champion retains the title in a tie).  The drama of the moment was lost on me because the Univision broadcast for some reason reset the clock at zero at the start of the second half so I had thought I was watching the first half until the players started shaking hands.

Bayern Munich vs. Real Madrid (13 Aug 2010) –  Yet another friendly, this team matched two European club powers to contest the Beckenbauer Cup in tribute to the Bayern great Franz Beckenbauer.  It was fun to watch some of the best players in the world duke it out but the game ended as 0-0 tie with Real Madrid winning the cup in a penalty shootout.  Real Madrid’s goalkeeper Iker Casillas proved to be the hero of the match with several dramatic saves.

This leads me to a question which will probably betray my ignorance and American heritage:  How is it that with the goals in soccer being so enormous that there are so many scoreless games?  I mean if you ever stand by one of those nets it would seem impossible for a ball not to get in there no matter how good the keeper and the defense.


This weekend was too busy to watch soccer so I didn’t see any games of the teams I purportedly am following.  I did learn that as a supporter of Everton and the US national team I can be double embarrassed by Tim Howard’s fumble in the penalty area which allowed Blackburn to score the only goal of the game:

I’ve also I discovered a German team with the best name ever:  Wormatia Worms. Granted it’s funnier in English if you imagine annelids playing soccer, and ignore that Worms is the name of city in Germany.  Still, if the Wormatia Worms played higher than the fourth division in Germany I’d definitely start watching their games.

Forming an Association with Football (aka Soccer)


For many, many years I’ve been meaning to pay more attention to soccer.  It’s a sport I enjoy both on the field as well as it’s history and folklore. Soccer has been part of my life since I was a child and played in the Stamford Youth Soccer League and watched New York Cosmos games. Yet I find many obstructions to following the game today outside of the quadrennial FIFA World Cup.  These include:

  1. I live in the United States where soccer coverage is hard to come by, even for our local professional teams.  I seem to be able to take in news of American Football (which I dislike) by osmosis, but have to dig deep to fin anything about soccer.
  2. I don’t own a television.  Even if I did, I probably couldn’t afford the cable packages that include coverage of European football.  Local saloons generally don’t show soccer games either, especially if there’s a Red Sox game on.
  3. I have a family, and a job, and lots of preoccupations that suck up my time.

Nevertheless, with the seasons beginning in the European leagues, I’m committing myself to trying to follow some teams in addition to my local Boston teams:

The choice of teams is somewhat arbitrary although with exception of Barcelona, all of these teams are from cities I’ve visited and enjoyed.

I started today by watching Ajax’s opening match at FC Groningen online. After a quiet first half, things were looking good for my new favorite Dutch side.  Ajax’s new Moroccan forward Mounir El Hamdaoui scored two goals to put the team comfortably ahead.  But as the minutes ticked away in the second half, Ajax gave those two goals back and had to settle for a tie.  According to a tweet I read this is “the first time they give away 2 goal-lead since losing 4-2 at Vitesse on 24 December 2006.”   More on the game from the Ajax website.  I actually missed bot of El Hamdaoui’s goals as I was distracted by my son, but that’s okay, that’s what replays are for.

So as the season continues I’ll try to update on my spectator experiences.  If anyone has any tips or resources for the novice fan, please put them in the comments.  And yes, I do plan to continue to use the word soccer.  I like it’s distinctive and unambiguous sound compared to the more pedestrian football.