Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Discovering the "True" Hometown Team

It was a Saturday afternoon.

One of those late-afternoons/early-evenings where the cloudy skies begin to darken, as if Mother Nature can't decide on whther it should be late-day or early-night. Then, the clouds began to burst with rain.

A cloudy, rainy late-Spring afternoon, and as is protocol for such soggy Saturdays, I found myself going to the mall in an attempt to get myself out of the house.

After spotting a red and blue polo at The Gap, I headed onto 95 North from Warwick en route to my abode. Upon the interstate's Atwells Ave. bend, I spotted the bright beacons shining amid the dark gray backdrop of heavy rain clouds.

There, across Narragansett Bay, I could discern that these glowing light towers were that of Pierce Field, the all-purpose sports stadium in central East Providence. The field is locally known as the home of the high school football team, the Townies, but on this early evening, a different kind of football was being played.

As my curiosity took over and began to steer the wheel of my Acura toward Exit 4 in East Providence toward Pierce Field, I wondered whether the heavy showers were enough to postpone a soccer game I thought would have surely been called off.

I found myself in the field's parking lot, and peered through the corner chain-link fence. Both teams were most definitely playing, as I caught a glimpse of a soggy ball lazily bouncing and sliding on an equally soggy pitch. I couldn't believe that a game could be played in the middle of a driving rainstorm, on a field quickly turning into a virtual swamp before my eyes.

After being drenched in the rain for two minutes debating whether it was worth the $8.00 admission to become a human sponge, I raced back to the dry confines of my car, took one last glimpse of monsoon soccer, and drove back home. This was my quick and rain-soaked introduction to Stingrays soccer.

Naturally, I became curious to the idea of soccer in my own backyard. Whenever such curiosity strikes, my accomplice in crime is Google, and thus, I searched for the stingray site. There it was...along with the schedule, detailing the next game, which would take place the following Wednesday. Barring any other subtropical-like storms, I made it a point to at least show up and take in a match.

Much to my disappointment, under the omnipresent gray skies and wet weather of early-June, a sign posted on the entrance stated that the game was postponed until July 22. Argh! My curiosity would have to wait until a week later, June 14, before I could finally watch the local 11 take to the field.

Well, June 14 finally came, as I handed over a Hamilton, and made my way past the cozy souvenir and concession stand in the corner of the stadium. Along the concrete surroundings, I strolled down the concrete walkway, the game just underway, with a full view of the white and yellow jerseys scurrying for the ball. With almost the entire seating confines at my full viewing disposal, I took a seat on the upper-most bench, perfectly aligned with the center circle. There were maybe few dozen spectators there as well; enhancing the ambience of what is essentially small-town soccer. There were fans of the opposing team, the Vermont Voltage, there as well, imploring their squad to the ball forward on the counterattack.

The night, although somewhat cool, was far more perfect than the earlier rainstorm that had engulfed the region only 2 weeks prior.

The Rays took an early 2-0 advantage, only to see that seemingly insurmountable lead disappear in extra time. Two quick back-to-back goals within minutes and suddenly the game was tied, 2-2. With just over two minutes remaining, the Rays barely hung on and sweated out what should have been an easy win, and instead taking the one point for the tie. If this was the kind of action that normally took place, then I was in for quite a ride.

And an interesting ride it was indeed – although I only attended three more games that year, through the course of these matches, my sports heart grew especially fond of the squad.

This team, which had been playing right in my own hometown for 11 years prior to my discovery, increased my love for the game of soccer. This year, I will become a season ticket holder for the first time in my life, for any team in any sport. It’s the least I can do to show my appreciation to a team that absolutely deserves it.

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