With New Year's nearly upon us, I figured I'd chronicle one of the crazier events I found myself in the midst of this season.
It was my first year as Director of Media Relations for the PDL Rhode Island Stingrays. At the suggestion of my buddy Josh Hakala (who runs the excellent USOpenCup.com website), I figured I'd lend my services to the local side, who, in my estimation, weren't exactly the most promoted club this side of the Seekonk River.
At first, the job wasn't too much of a deviation from my previous work as a beat writer. That was until I got my inbox flooded with hundreds of unsolicited offers from product manufacturers. Some were pretty standard. Scarves, patches, pennants. The good stuff kids nag their parents for. I got a sample soccer toothbrush. My teeth were aglow for weeks.
I also got player resumes. Lots of resumes. Soccer players from - allegedly- as far as Nigeria. They just wanted to play here in the States. Even for a small-time PDL side. If anyone ever doubts that this country has lost its title as "the Land of Opportunity," I can, for a small fee, recover about a dozen of those resumes from my trash bin to comprehensively destroy that argument.
Of course, one of the most interesting moments was when the Reading Rage came to Rhode Island for the July 16th match. Because the home pitch at Pierce Field was being occupied by the city's annual Heritage Days Festival, the location for the game was - wouldn't you guess it - Rhode Island College.
So, about 48 hours prior to the match, the general manager shot me an e-mail requesting directions. I replied with a Mapquest link to the field. Because the field isn't the easiest to get to, I provided additional directions within the campus. In other words, I absolutely helped them get there.
And how do they reward me, the poor fellow who has to craft the match report? With white numbers. On white jerseys. Absolutely brilliant.
It wasn't an issue while I was on the sideline talking to Coach Pereira during warmups. You can spot a white number on a white jersey from three yards away. But a good 25 feet above and 50 feet away from center circle, which, wouldn't you know, is precisely where the press box sits at RIC Soccer Field? Not so much.
Making matters just a bit more challenging was the permanent bug screen affixed to the windows of the press box. The only thing missing was a slow, thick wave of fog parking itself on the pitch and, perhaps, both of my contact lenses simultaneously falling out to really make things difficult.
And so it was up to Chuck, our announcer, Chelsea, our statistician, and myself to discern those guilty of Reading fouls, assists, and goals. Substitutions? Oh, that was real fun, especially because the benches were on the opposite sides of the field. Chelsea had a direct line to her mom, Liz Balasco (director of operations) on the sideline, which helped somewhat, but did prevent the not-so-rhetorical "who was that?" dialogue that ran for good ninety minutes.
Meanwhile, I became a cuckoo bird, running out of the box and down near field level once every, oh, seven minutes to better ascertain which Rage player did what. "Who was that?" "I'll go check." Luckily, I keep myself in good enough shape to where I wasn't huffing and puffing like a big bad wolf. But, after awhile, I did feel like Grover from Sesame Street.*
(This is near....This is FAR! This is Near...This is FAAARRRRR!)
When it was all said and done, the soccer gods made it abundantly clear that they did not approve of these white number/white kit shenanigans: the mighty Rage, with 11 wins at the time, lost to a 1-win club.
Trifle not with the soccer gods.