We have been fortunate enough to be in Europe for the past three World Cups. The first was a trip we took to Italy when Rees was a baby. We really enjoyed the whole communal nature of the games: how everyone would gather in the piazzas to watch, and the excitement the play generated. It was great fun to witness such elegant athletes play "the beautiful game."
Four years later we found ourselves living in England and then we got to experience World Cup mania again, from a different perspective. England being more of a country of low expectations than Italy, with less self-love but just as much spirit. Also, as a much smaller country than the US, England tends to gripped much more strongly by certain media events. There is more of a group psychology about pop music or celebrities or certain national news stories. The England soccer team is very much part of this media groupthink. Needless to say, the World Cup is a big deal. When the England team beat old rival Germany 5-1, the country was ecstatic, in disbelief, and the headlines read: Don't Mention the Score.
We were happy when our trip to England and Norway this summer coincided, once again, with the World Cup. We were in England for the first England game where they beat Paraguay. We had our charts of the schedule and the teams and we enjoyed watching and hearing the post-game commentary.
The second England game against Trinidad coincided exactly with the time of our flight to Norway. As we were "deplaning" a flight attendant came on to announce the score of "nil, nil." The game should have been over. How could it be? A tie? Moments later the flight attendant came back on to say England had won 2 nil. Happy shouts went up from the passengers at this exciting last-minute victory!
A couple of days later, in Oslo, we watched the England Sweden game in our hotel room. The commentary was all in Norwegian so we didn't really get the subtleties, but we heard the cheers outside the windows when Sweden scored and the huge, happy reaction when they tied.
We followed the games as best we could, spending our breakfasts decoding the Norwegian paper. Sports writing is just about the most difficult thing to understand in a foreign language, I think. Hard enough to understand in English if you are not versed in the game!
Still, we enjoyed cable in the hotels, the brief things we did understand—“ikke rot kort”—and, finally, got to watch in English at Greg's Father's in New Jersey. The semifinal was at the same time as our Jet Blue flight home from NJ, and hooray! Jet Blue offers live TV on its flights. The game ended just as we landed.
Then we had to beg friends who had cable to let us watch the remaining games. I let myself into the house of neighbor one morning to watch with Kadin. Amazingly he let me watch the whole game. Well, actually, I bribed him by scratching his back while watching and he fell asleep. It was divine.
At the end of it all I went into withdrawal. No more suspense, no more building of excitement. I missed the world cup.
So I decided to get into baseball again. Baseball is almost the polar opposite of soccer, but it has its attractions. First, there is a game nearly every day. No endless waiting. Second, baseball is almost as good on the radio as on TV. Soccer is useless on the radio. You can't see the athletic grace the fouls, the acting. You know the score, but that is about it. Reading about it in the paper is almost better.
The pace of baseball (one of its main detractions to some), however, lends itself to the radio. To me this is an asset. The games are long, but you can listen and do other things at the same time. Every pitch has a statistic and a strategy behind it. You can picture it in your head. The suspense builds as the count goes full. Base runners get on base, outs are accumulated, inning pass, runs build.
So, this summer for the first time in decades, I started following baseball again. It was midseason and the suspense still lingered. I got to know the players of the Colorado Rockies and the announcers. It worked to fill the World Cup deficit.
The only problem was, the team did not do so well. Today, the 2nd of October, they are in last place, 12 games out of first in their division, with less than a 500 record. I hope you understand that. I have enjoyed getting back in to the jargon. But alas, the suspense is now over for me. The season done, more loses than wins.
Maybe next year.