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Soup of This Day #4: Married with Sports

May 29, 2011

Longworth72's Birthday
The last photo of ‘The Ball’ before it was deflated. Longworth72 is holding the ball. Clockwise from him, Andrew, Michael, Stefan, Adam, Mark, Brother of Longworth72 (making a comical ‘rabbit ears’ gesture), Jonathan (wearing a West Coast jumper and thus deserving of a comical ‘rabbit ears’ gesture) and finally, Ben – ‘Killer of The Ball’ – Photo: Longworth72, 1988. Image cropped by Longworth72.

As I’ve posted previously, my support for the Red Sox began with a purchase of an authentic New Era cap in the 80’s.

I was pretty young and the $50 of scraped-together pocket money is the equivalent of $473,963.52 in today’s money.

Partly because of it’s value and partly because of an innate sense of loyalty I defended that cap and the team it represented fiercely. Never mind that I had barely seen the Sox play or that I was a 26,567km trip from Fenway.

This trip includes a ferry, tolls, and it crosses through Japan. Some roads seasonally closed. Thanks Google Maps.

I was even insulted by my dad purchasing a vastly inferior Yankees cap. It was a .) cheap and b.) a Yankees cap and despite the geographical dislocation I knew that that was just not right.

My love of sport extended to football and not just to the club, Liverpool, but to the actual playing of the game. This was something of a problem as my love for the game was not matched by my ability.

I was enthusiastic without threatening to turn pro, well, ever really. This was perhaps a little confusing to my parents because I was good at some sports, swimming in particular, and I don’t think it ever quite tallied that I didn’t want to stick with those.

This goes part of the way towards explaining why they didn’t bother to replace our football when it got tragically punctured at my 13th birthday party (I’m looking at you Ben Murray). The rest of the distance to the reasoning is made up by a desire for my brother and I to maybe break a few less windows, something which we had achieved with pretty much all sporting equipment, bar a badminton shuttlecock.

Faced with a punctured football most kids just try another sport. Not me and not my brother. We kept playing soccer with the, mostly flat, ball for the next two years.

We could have bought a new one ourselves. After all I was the kind of high-rolling kid who could drop today’s equivalent of $637,198.25 on a baseball cap.

We didn’t do that though and to be honest I can’t think why except that we were a little crazy.

We just kept playing football with a flat ball for two years. It wasn’t easy, lord knows, but we played, sometimes for many hours a day, with a deflated ball.

We only ever played each other because nobody else either liked the game or saw the sense. Our matches took place on a makeshift pitch that included a concrete path, a gate for a goal and a spectacularly large Cape Lilac tree in one half.

The rhythm of the game was simple: My brother would start, vainly attempting to score a goal from kick-off, a feat he achieved maybe once every 40 or 50 attempts. I would get the ball and move out to the outer edge of the pitch before commencing a run-in procedure akin to an F14 landing on a aircraft carrier at night. I’d run directly at my brother, aiming for a ‘nutmeg’, which when successfully carried out sees the ball slide neatly through the legs of an opponent after which it was picked up by the proponent who had deftly nipped around the aforementioned brother.

Or something like that.

It almost never worked and the best I could hope for was the ball pinging off assorted shins before conveniently squirting out in the direction I was running.

My brother’s tactic, employed when mine didn’t work, was to take the ball to a point directly in front of goal before dancing the ball from left to right and back again at a furious pace. The idea being that I would be sent the wrong way, vainly lunging for a ball that was no longer there, allowing him to calmly knock in a goal.

Unfortunately in execution his strategy had a serious flaw. He danced furiously as advertised but the ball didn’t go with him. The end result was a maniacal Riverdance that invariably ended with me kicking the ball away or him falling over, dizzy and exhausted.

Both of our tactics, and they were our only tactics, could be paused by an inadvertent step on the ball. This would squash the ball and the game would be halted by general agreement while we reshaped it into a generalised globe shape. This happened maybe 40 times over the course of a game that could end up 75-70 after half a day.

We were a little committed.

This is not the sad part though. The real show of commitment was that we used the punctured football to play basketball.

Yep, think about that for a bit.

‘Don’t you bounce the ball in basketball?’ you’re gonna ask.

Yep.

‘But how…?’. Don’t know.

Can’t explain it.

Not even sure it’s physically possible.

We did it though and not just once or twice. We had many months of quality hoops with a flat football and a cardboard box perched on a ledge above the garage door. Sure the ball wouldn’t, couldn’t bounce and the box could, would fall down if the shot was successful and sometimes even if it wasn’t. We just kept at it though, driving the lane, dunking and dropping some sweet 3’s from beyond the arc (or ‘woodpile’ as normal people called it). We were committed to the sport, committed to the competition and possibly freaking mad.

Commitment is my theme for the day. The Dockers played earlier and they were dire. Shorn of their big man Aaron Sandilands, they got jumped early by a Saints side that had just 2 wins to their name this season, and they never got back. The final margin was a disappointing 102-56 and their tenuous hold on a place in the 8 means that most fans will be re-assessing finals aspirations.

Yeah, it’s still early in the season but we’re a 1/3 of the way done and the signs are that Freo is lacking the oomph to threaten teams that are direct. Hope I’m proved wrong but I’m not optimistic. Committed?

Yep. The Dockers have shown me pain since their inception in 1995. This ain’t nothing but a regular thang.

The Red Sox are the opposite. This morning they scorched their way to the top of the Division with a 6-3 decision over the Tigers. Tim Wakefield again bringing the good stuff for 7 innings of 5-hit, 2-run ball. God must love a knuckleballer right now because he was on fire – The last 5 were shutouts and 58 of his miserly 83 pitches were strikes (Just 83 Dice-K – You watching?). On the flipside the offence knocked in yet another 5 or more innings, their 5th in 3 games. Ellsbury, Gonzalez, Youkilis and Crawford doing some damage.

Crawford is now .429 over his last 9 games and is rightfully looking up the order (6th for the last 3). Not that the upper end is looking weak.

Speaking of 5 or more in an innings, the Sox took the Thursday matinee against the Tigers a whopping 14-1. The biggest threat to a rampant Boston was a rainout with the grounds staff on standby with the tarps from pretty much the bottom of the 3rd on. Aceves though ensured an official game by quickly getting through 6 innings, 98 pitches and 1 run (Seriously Dice-K, were you watching?).

At the bottom end the bats were on fire. Ellsbury with a 3-run blast in the 2nd was a highlight. Significant contributions from Crawford, Drew Sutton and Josh Reddick. Oh, and Gonzalez, who just keeps on keeping on. Youk and Lowrie quiet but that’s ok as both have been on song earlier this season and I’d back them to come back. The former did a little bit of that in the Friday game as mentioned above.

So it’s easy to be a Red Sox fan right now. Sole possession of first in the AL East. 29 and 22 with 12 from the last 14. 2 and 10 is gone and this is the last I’ll mention it – Since then 27 and 12. It’s interesting to read the panic-mongers backing up.

This team was and is loaded with talent. They were never going to be that bad over 162 games and although the Yankees and Rays stuffed an opportunity to bring some hurt the Sox were gonna be back.

On an aside – The Mariners did for the Yankees 4-3 this morning, gifting the Division lead to Boston. How’s that cheap cap now?

Definitely easy to be a Red Sox fan right now. The commitment is a no-brainer and that cap, worth $837,072.91 in today’s money, is looking sweet (Still have it). It came to mind today because I spent some money on the Liverpool away jersey from the season just ended. On runout, it cost me $50, the same as my cap, almost 30 years past.

It got me thinking – I’d been wondering if I was a little mad writing a blog focused on three teams. Some days the commitment is easy but mostly it’s a slog. Between them the three play 224 regular season games. They will lose a lot of them and it would be convenient to ignore one of them if they aren’t producing good vibrations. I reckon though, the thing is, I can’t give up on them, anymore than I could give up on playing basketball because the football was flat.

Committed?

Yep.

Bat#%@$ crazy?

You better believe it.

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