Sunday, January 23, 2011

One more night

I'm a sucker for nostalgia. I really am. Maybe it's because I was blessed to have a great childhood. Or, maybe it's because I have a sentimental soul. OR, maybe it's just the fact that the late-80's and early-90's were simply an amazing time to be a kid. Or maybe it's all the above.

Whatever the reason, I found myself watching a live feed of an indoor soccer game on a perfectly good Friday night. That may not sound terribly surprising coming from me. But, it wasn't any ordinary indoor game.

No, it wasn't ordinary. The fact that I was willing to endure a frustratingly bad video feed, repeated reboots, some choice, unprintable words (at least on this blog) until, miraculously, a clear video finally came through with only three minutes remaining in the game may hint that this wasn't some game chosen at random.

***

I may have mentioned it a few times here before - and if I did, then go ahead and skip the story between these asterisks - but back during the mid-90's, a time filled with lots of neon, plaid, and use of the word PHAT, soccer was not my bestie. Not even close. For me, it was all baseball, all the time. And nothing else. Even though girls were already on my radar by then, it would take alot more than a pretty set of eyes and, well, a pretty set of something else, to distract me from the game I put all of my dreams into. After all, I was going to play second base for the Boston Red Sox in, like, 2001 and so was my best friend Jesse, who was going to play short, and we'd room together, and we'd have lockers next to each other, and we'd have like a dozen TVs in our apartment. It was going to be AWESOME.

Wait, where was I going with this?

Oh yeah, so at that time, soccer was just another game that wasn't called baseball. It was so insignificant to me a that they might as well have played it on Mars. And this, during a World Cup year, a World Cup in the U.S., a World Cup in the U.S. that was hosting matches less than a half-hour's drive north of my backyard baseball field. I've been called many things, but smart was never one of them.

Granted, I did know that a World Cup was being played here. Sports Illustrated for Kids assured me of this. But, like I said, soccer? They played that in countries I couldn't pronounce yet.

***

Needless to say, I caught very little of that World Cup. Alexi Lalas and Cobi Jones were just two guys who's pictures I'd seen on TV. Alexi was the dude with the ginger locks and goatee. Cobi had the dreads, and later appeared on MTV's Mega Dose, which was about health products, and a bunch of other stuff that flew over my head because I just said no. And that about summed up my knowledge of USA '94, and the remarkable team that advanced to the Round of 16 while I caught rays in an especially large kiddie pool.

***

On Friday morning - last Friday morning, as in the morning of January 21, 2011, which is, what, 16, almost 17 years after Alexi, Cobi, Tony Meola, and their coach, Bora, who spoke funny, grabbed the attention of almost everyone but me that during the summer of 1994 - I got an e-mail. That, in itself, is not extraordinary.*

(*Although according to some of my friends, it is because I "still" use AOL Mail.Never understood the amount of hatred harbored by so many for AOL. Maybe I missed a memo or something.)

What made this e-mail so great was that it contained a link with the following description:

Omaha Vipers vs. USA'94
Soccer
1/21/2011 7:05:00 PM CST

Naturally, my antennae spiked when my eyes sent the message to my brain on the "USA'94" part.

What I'm about to say may be embarrassing. Maybe even a little sad. But, I found myself extremely excited, heck, even giddy, about the opportunity to watch these guys live for the first time in my life. It's the simple things in life, right?

So, anyway, to shorten a good ten hours of anticipation, sweaty palms, and a twitching left leg, I'll sum it up like this: I could not wait to see these guys play.

***

Back to those final three minutes, which I watched with a level of exhileration that I usually reserve for World Cup games: it was more than just a collection of retired players playing an exhibition match at some non-descript arena somewhere in middle America. No. It was much, MUCH more than that.

It was watching the team - at least a good chunk of them - playing together for the first time since that magical summer. And it was magical. Nineteen ninety four was a watershed year for American soccer. Without that World Cup, without that colorful cast of characters that somehow burrowed into my non-soccer brain, and without that record number of people that showed up at the Rose Bowl, Foxboro Stadium, The Meadowlands, and other stadiums, soccer's relevance remains trapped at the recreational level. There is no MLS. And this blog is called House of Baseball.

So, for me, it was more than just another old-timers game. It was a second chance. Maybe even a final chance. A chance to see these guys one more time playing the game that they love. A chance to thank them, some 17 years later, for playing and promoting the game that they love. The game that I love.

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