“Make sure you wear these badges around your neck at all times,” said our host, Karl, in choppy but effective German-accented English. That is not a problem, I thought to myself, as I looked at the words “Skybox 2 – Hospitality Programme” printed clearly on the red badge, with the lanyard dangling from it like some sort of ID card. I was in a swarm of World Cup-frenzied soccer fans outside the stadium, most of them staring longingly at this red badge like it was worth its size and shape in solid gold. Pretty much was, I guess, as we were told the skybox seats for a Brazil game went for about 4000 Euros.
It was Thursday night, and I was being hosted at the Brazil-Japan game in Dortmund, Germany. The fans were a sight to behold. The Brazil fans were as flamboyant as any you’ll ever see. All geared up with yellow and green, wigs, banners, flags, women with yellow and green Brazil bikinis and faces and bodies painted everywhere. They were forming parades and dancing Brazilian Sambas in growing circles outside the stadium. These guys had obviously built a long tradition of rooting for their team and their country. The Japanese fans were outnumbered and overwhelmed outside of the stadium, but I think all of us were surprised once they made it inside. They were incredibly organized and unified. They started with the chants and songs early, and obviously they were all on the same page. I was sitting next to a guy from Spain and a guy from Germany, and although they were impressed with the Japanese fans’ energy, they were getting a laugh at their obvious inexperience. As soon as the ball crossed the midfield line, the Japanese fans would start going nuts. It reminded me a bit of when you see fans in a place where baseball is brand new, or newly popular. Specifically I thought of the 2002 playoffs in Anaheim when their amateur fans would start going crazy for every pop fly to the outfield, not having any idea how to judge the ball. Another example, I had to admit to my new buddies, was when the admittedly hopeless American soccer fans were packing houses to watch the Women’s World Cup in 1999. But the European fans here were not fooling around. I had watched the England/Sweden game a few nights earlier in Antwerp, and the English guys were on one side of the bar while the Swedes were on the other. The difference was stark. The Swedes clapped politely when their team scored, while the English guys almost ripped the bar stools out of the floor when they scored. And on Thursday the Japanese were louder in the minority than the practiced and heavily-favored Brazilians. They weren’t particularly creative, as most of their chants were set to old American tunes like “The Entertainer” by Scott Joplin, but they were all in unison. And they almost blew the roof off the place when Japan scored first on the stunned Brazilians. I called Grossman (the only guy I could think of who would possibly give a cr*p), just to hold the phone up so he could hear the roar of the crowd. And it held up for almost the entire first half. And then it was over. Brazil just completely overpowered them, finishing off a 4-1 thumping.
Most of my nights last week followed the same pattern. My eyes would pop open around 3:30am or so, and that was it. Lots of staring at the ceiling for the next few hours. Acc was dutifully text-messaging me with Yankee scores at about 4:30am every night, so I had that to look forward to, but for the first part of the week I couldn’t buy a win. I was thinking that between Puerto Rico and Europe, the Yanks were 0-6 in my absence. Luckily they strung together a few wins after that. I got back early enough yesterday to head over to the in-laws’ pool with the Mrs. Big Joe put on the game right after we finished up some burgers and dogs, and I was able to sit down and enjoy the Yanks win their third straight.
I sat and watched the Red Sox game today on Fox HD, barely moving off the couch all day. Yawn, Big HGH summoned up all of his juiced-up, HGH-filled muscle to hit another walk-off in extra innings. What else is new.
One good bit of broadcasting from Buck and McCarver today, and one bad bit. In about the third inning, Joe Buck came right out and blurted, “The National League right now is just not good.” McCarver immediately followed, “No,” in agreement. Finally someone in the national media said it. Everybody had been pretending the emperor was wearing a new suit of clothes. Before I left last weekend, I was watching Baseball Tonight, and somebody said to Tim Kurkjian, “Tim, the American League is 12-2 today against the National League.” Kurkjian replied, “True, but I wouldn’t read anything into that.” Really, Tim? You wouldn’t read anything into that? What about now, after a week of the AL beating the snot out of the NL yet again? Are you finally convinced? What exactly would it take? Anyone who has their eyes open can see the truth, and Buck and McCarver finally got into it today. “Outside of the Mets and maybe the Cardinals if they’re healthy, there’s not a team that impresses you in the entire National League,” Buck continued. Well said, Joe. Even today as I’m sitting here the AL is 5-0 on the day.
The bad bit of broadcasting was the inability of those two guys to get past their obvious idol-worship to broadcast responsibly. All they wanted to talk about for the first five innings was how dominating Schilling was, and how he was “back,” and how he had whatever number of strikeouts. What they neglected to mention, not one single time, was that Schilling was not particularly sharp, which manifested itself in his throwing 92 pitches in the first five innings. Now, I’m not going to sit here and insult anyone’s intelligence by insinuating that I have any credibility talking about Schilling. I look at the world through Yankee-colored glasses, of course, and my opinions are going to reflect that. But in this case, I think these two guys were missing a key piece of what was happening in this game. I turned out to be right, in this instance, when Schilling loaded the bases with nobody out and coughed up the lead in the 7th. When Francona went to the bullpen, Buck remarked, almost astonished, that Schilling was at 113 pitches after six-plus innings. Atta boy, Joe. Way to be on top of that…
The Yanks are mired in a rain delay right now, and this one is going to be tough to get in. If they do get it in they’ll be playing in front of zero fans. I can’t imagine anyone is sticking around. The weather isn’t going to get any better for a while, either. It’s supposed to rain all week here in the New York area. That might mean a lot of make-up day-night double headers, which is probably a bad thing, because as Michael Kay likes to remind us, those almost end up in a split. As I’m writing, they just called it. Make-up is tomorrow.
Apologies for the lack of BPS over the last few days, boys. My access was limited. In any case, good work to everybody who propped things up with the comments. Ras, Lucky, Happymeds, Raoul (Raoul, it seems like we always see more of you when the Sox move back into first – either way I’ll take the participation), JD, Triple J, Sean, and Nick. BPS will be back in action all week.
The best news of the last few days was that The Ferocious Lion and Gary Sheffield have both gotten good doctor’s reports. That will be humongous, when those two guys get back. We just need to stay close until then, boys. Just stay close.