Category Archives: Sports

Now This Was a Kiss-Cam Moment!

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Good Evening:

Do sports teams in other nations inflict this upon their fans? During a game here in the US, many venues do something called a “Kiss Cam,” “Kiss-Cam” or “Kisscam,” in which they broadcast live video of couples in the stands on a big screen. At this point the couples are pretty much expected if not required to kiss each other, while all the other fans cheer, hoot, and/or laugh at the involuntary smooching.

It’s supposed to be entertaining.

Late in tonight San Francisco Giants v. Cincinnati Reds game (Giants won 5-3, as starting pitcher Jake Peavy not only got the win, he added a home run to his achievements), the Giants inflicted the Kiss-Cam upon 11 couples.

Couple #9 was awesome.

The camera focused on a man and a woman who stared at the screen, baffled. She turned to his left to look at him, he turned to his right to look at her. Then he turned to his left.

And kissed his boyfriend.

Vonn Scott Bair

Angel Pagan: A Player Who’s a Fan of the Fans.

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Good Evening:

This is San Francisco Giants centerfielder Angel Pagan:

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And yes, center field can become a lonely place to play.

You will find a few players like Pagan on teams that win a bunch of championships in just a few years; they remain totally unknown to casual fans of a sport, mostly unknown to fans of opposing teams, and totally appreciated by the fans of their teams who know that they make quiet but decisive contributions to a team’s success, even if all they do consists of a single critical play during a single critical playoff game.

But I hadn’t noticed one curious aspect of his defense until Saturdays’s 4-2 loss to Arizona.

He will literally turn his back on the game.

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Between batters, sometimes between pitches, he turns around and looks at the centerfield bleachers. Well, no, not the bleachers. He likes to watch the fans. Angel Pagan likes to watch the folks who like to watch him, sometimes even grinning or laughing when he sees an especially colorfully costumed fan. And then somehow he turns around in time and sets himself in preparation for the next pitch. I wish I knew how he does that.

A few more shots from Saturday’s game; overall, my camera work was even worse than the Giants’ offense, but a small handful turned out satisfactorily.

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This gentleman continued a tradition started last year by of all things New York Mets fans: inoffensive, bizarre, sometimes funny insults directed at Hunter Pence. Pence even got insulted by President Obama during the team’s White House visit last month (“Hunter Pence eats pizza with a fork.”). Hence, this sign in response:

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Yeah, we get really strange in the San Francisco bleachers.

I’ll never sit anywhere else.

Vonn Scott Bair

Orange Season in San Francisco. (Weekly Photo Challenge: Orange)

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Good Evening:

It’s that time of year again. San Francisco goes seriously deliriously Orange.

It can get very obvious.

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It can get very subtle (check out the shoelaces!).

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As unbusiness-like as Orange might seem, businesses resort to it.

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Orange Season always starts in March. And these guys always start it:

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No idea why the whole city has gone so flipping orange over the G-Men this year. Everyone knows that 2015 is an odd-numbered year, which means that the St. Louis Cardinals will win the National League pennant, because the Giants only win the World Series in even-numbered years in what might be the first example in American professional sports of a shared dynasty.

But still the City of San Francisco goes orange and black in support of the team.

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If you hail from St. Louis, remember this: while I do not hesitate to congratulate the Cardinals for this year’s pennant, I do not hesitate to remind you that 2016 is our year. But you probably don’t mind. After all, 2017 is your year, too.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–I wonder how Austin, Texas or Denver, Colorado or Knoxville, Tennessee look during football season?

Scenes from the San Francisco Marathon, 2014

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Good Evening:

San Francisco’s annual marathon runs past my Edwardian, and draws a lot of spectators to Haight Street to support the runners with encouraging cheers and signs.

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I ran one of these once–without even training for it. Dad loved marathoning, and back in Connecticut one of the biggest annual events took place at Wesleyan University. Unlike most events, Wesleyan’s route consisted of two thirteen mile loops with a 285 yard tail to the finish line. Therefore, I could run the first loop to set a decent pace for Dad and drop out when we returned to the starting line. However, after the first 13 mile loop, we had long since gotten separated, so I couldn’t find him, and the first loop felt so easy that I decided that running a marathon was much easier than its reputation. Seriously, the first half proved way too easy, so the second half? No problem.

Right.

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I can honestly say that I never stopped. I can honestly say that I never stopped running.

I can also state that at one point I was “running” so slowly that I saw an 80-year-old man with a walker on the sidewalk who was making better time than I was. And he was watching me, too. And shaking his head at me.

I finished bent over double with an unofficial time of 3:08:58. I had not officially entered so you won’t find my name on any roster of finishers.

So I can understand why some people prefer other modes of transit than their feet. Such as letting your father do the work:

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Or perhaps two wheels instead:

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The Marathon is always great fun to watch on an early Sunday morning, and I look forward to next year’s affair.

Vonn Scott Bair

Final Thoughts Misthought on the 2014 World Cup

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Good Evening:

Who am I kidding? I have like, maybe less than zero qualifications to comment on soccer: my predictions on the World Cup were so wrong that even my prediction that all of my predictions would be wrong turned out to be wrong. But once I’ve predicted Argentina to beat Brazil 2-1 in the final, I might as well keep on blundering.

Besides, I can’t help noticing all of the winners at the World Cup.

One of the best aspects of the World Cup consists of this: so many countries come home as winners. You already know about Germany, but after every Cup a bunch of nations go home happy, no matter how many of them lost their final game of the tournament. Here are some of the tournaments other winners.

  • Bosnia-Herzegovina reached their first Cup, put up a good fight in their fairly difficult group, and came away with a victory in their third and final game.
  • Algeria (one of my few correct predictions) reached their first Round of 16, and can say they put up a better fight versus Germany than Brazil. Those players will never have to pay for a restaurant meal in their hometowns ever again, and that’s saying something; Algerian cuisine is quite underrated.
  • Costa Rica: By far the biggest positive shock of the Cup, the team picked to lose all of their games in Group D (one of the two Groups of Death) won the group outright, reached the quarterfinals for the first time, and thanks to the schedule can claim they reached the “Final Five.”
  • France: Thanks in part to the management of Didier Deschampes, France made an impressive comeback from their 2010 disaster and reached the quarters.
  • Colombia reached the quarterfinals for the first time.
  • The United States–somehow–survived the other Group of Death and reached the Round of 16.
  • Belgium reached their first quarterfinals since 1986, darn it.
  • Greece: Round of 16. Not bad at all.
  • CONCACAF. Four teams qualified, America, Mexico and Costa Rica advanced, and all three teams truly earned their places in The Sixteen.
  • James Rodriguez, Colombia. Five games, six goals.
  • The 4-2-3-1 Formation. Still something of a novelty in 1998, a lot of teams resorted to this attacking formation in 2014, which might explain our next winner…
  • Offense. Perhaps we live in an era where the attackers in general are better than the defenders in general. Perhaps the weather wore down the defenders more the attackers during the second half and extra time (all three goals in Belgium-USA came after the 90th minute). Whatever the reason, overall 2014 ranks as one of the liveliest Cups in a long time.

Best of all, my list probably overlooks a bunch of other players and teams who went home happy.

Still, some teams could not go home happy. For example,

  • Every team in Group D that was not Costa Rica. Even Uruguay.
  • Brazilian White. Did anyone else feel surprised that Brazil wore white? I thought they had decided after 1950 that white was unlucky and they would wear yellow jerseys with green numbers, blue shorts, and green socks forever. Maybe white explains their collapse?
  • The English system of player development. This is the second straight Cup where the Three Lions performed worse than their former Colonists, and when even the English coach says (publicly!) that they could learn something from the American system…wow. The USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann doesn’t like the US system of sending soccer players to college, and we still fared better than England.
  • Spain got old. Can’t be helped. All they need to do is bring in the next generation and they’ll play better in 2018.
  • And perhaps a controversial choice: The United States. True, surviving a brutal Group of Death ranks among their greatest achievements. And no one can deny that all other nations must fear a team that becomes more dangerous as the game goes on, thanks to their amazing fitness and psychological fortitude. But aside from Tim Howard, the team looked hopelessly outclassed by Belgium. Also, consider this; they entered the tournament as the world’s 13th ranked team, so going out in the Round of 16 means that by one standard they only met expectations. How much longer can we feel satisfied when we finish +1, =1, -2? What will it take for America to reach the next level?

But that is a matter for the future. Today the United States can legitimately call itself one of many winners in a tournament designed to produce winners at all levels, in all shapes and sizes.

Vonn Scott Bair

World Cup Memories, 1998: The Aristeia of Lilian Thuram

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Good Evening:

Ah, yes–Aristeia, the word that makes you wonder, “The English language actually has a word for that?!” Aristeia has perhaps the most precise meaning of any word in English; it refers to, and only refers to, those passages in Homer’s The Iliad where one of the heroes suddenly becomes invincible and runs rampant over the enemy. For example, in one early passage, Diomedes suddenly becomes so freaking awesome he fights gods–and defeats Aphrodite (the goddess of love had no business wandering on a battlefield), wounds Ares, the Greek god of war, and fights Apollo to a draw.

Aristeia is an awesome word, and it deserves a place in modern usage.

Namely, sports in general and El Mundiale in particular.

San Francisco Civic Center during the 2014 World Cup Semifinal Game Between Argentine and the Netherlands. Note how well camouflaged the Dutch fans appear, cleverly donning the Alert Orange color of the San Francisco Giants.

San Francisco Civic Center during the 2014 World Cup Semifinal Game Between Argentine and the Netherlands. Note how well camouflaged the Dutch fans appear, cleverly donning the Alert Orange color of the San Francisco Giants. You would never know they were Dutch, would you?

During the 1998 World Cup, I temped at a retailer in downtown San Francisco which generously offered hour-long lunches to its temporary employees. So while I could not see the entire France-Croatia semifinal, I could choose to watch either the first or second half. I picked the second half and found a Pasta Pomodoro that broadcast the game.

Darn good choice. The second half, I mean.

In 1998, the nation of Croatia had reached the ripe young age of 7, the youngest nation ever to appear in the World Cup. Croatia had spent most of its seven years embroiled in a horrible conflict in the former Yugoslavia, yet somehow managed to field a team with flamboyant red-and-white jerseys and major attitude. Many of these players had endured seven years of war; did anyone seriously think they might fear 11 foreigners in funny shorts? The Croatians hit the World Cup like a tsunami playing with a combination of recklessness on offense with recklessness on defense, swarming the ball like rabid hornets that had just consumed two too many double espressos. Such a style of play left most of their opponents gasping in the dust, and after a stunning 3-0 upset of Germany in the quarterfinals, began to look like genuine contenders to reach the Finals and even perhaps win.

In their way stood France, the host team and an early advocate of the 4-2-3-1 formation which has become rather trendy in 2014. Les Bleus boasted one of the finest back fours in WC history, so they could throw an extra pair of attackers forward knowing that nothing would get past that quartet. The French offense tallied 15 goals total in the tournament with a type of logical aggression; disciplined, well-developed steady pressure to pry open defenses and gain shots on goal.

France had the cool, but Croatia had the emotions. In the Germany game, Vlaovic scored the second goal and was almost immediately pulled from the game. Why? He could no longer play because he could not stop crying. Not only had he put his country into the semis, not only had he survived the war, but he had also survived brain surgery. Pretty good excuses for crying. So I knew that France-Croatia could become a magnificent contrast and clash of styles, potentially one of the best games of the entire Cup.

The second half began as I sat down to lunch. The first half had ended 0-0, as Croatia’s frantic offense could not dent a French defense that had not yet allowed a goal in the run of play (only a penalty kick vs. Denmark), while the Croatian defense overwhelmed a confused French attack. But immediately after the resumption of play, Croatia won a corner, swarmed into the box, and finally overwhelmed the defense to score a goal (the last Frances would concede in 1998; only two goals allowed in seven games!).

For exactly one minute, it looked like the hornets would win.

Now began The Aristeia of Lilian Thuram, a man who can look you in the eye and say that for 23 minutes, he was the finest soccer player in history.

Thuram played in that famous back four, and in his entire international career had scored the grand total of 0 goals. He was a defender, after all. But he had spotted a weakness in the swarming Croatian defense; since everyone went after the player with the ball, they left open spaces for opponents to infiltrate. When France launched an attack on the Croatian left wing, all of the defenders responded leaving a huge gap in the middle of the box. In seemingly one second, Thuram ran three-quarters the length of the field, collected a pass from the wing, and scored the first goal of his international career one minute after the French had conceded the lead.

And then ran back to his spot, again seemingly in only one second.

I swear it appeared that over the next twenty-three minutes he ran twice as fast as teammates and opponents alike, flying here, there, everywhere, defending as he had never defended before, attacking for the first time in life. Croatia might have played like a swarm of hornets; Lilian Thuram was an entire swarm all by himself.

But Croatia never gave up; why should they? It was only a tie game at that point, and the French were still only eleven foreigners in funny shorts. France didn’t stop attacking either, but they overextended themselves on one offensive. One of the hornets intercepted the ball and fired a blistering pass hoping to find an open teammate who had snuck into a dangerous position.

The ball whistled past Thuram’s ear. He stopped it, and controlled it, with one foot.

Think about that for a moment.

Theoretically, normal human beings can’t do that.

But when your aristeia arrives, you become superhuman. You can stop a ball whistling past your ear with one foot, controlling it the entire time, and then dribble the ball upfield to start another French attack. A few minutes later, Les Bleus tried another attack on the Croatian left wing. As always, the hornets swarmed after the ball. Thuram seemed to teleport himself from the defensive half of the field to almost the exact same spot where he had scored his first goal, calmly collected another great pass, and scored the second goal of his international career.

And then Lilian Thuram’s 23-minute aristeia ended. He went back on defense, stayed there, ran no faster than anyone else, and played the game exactly as he played before his aristeia began. Don’t get me wrong, his normal level of play was outstanding; this was an excellent defender who enjoyed a long and distinguished career in Italy’s Serie A; it’s just that whatever happened to him during those 23 minutes when he was the greatest soccer player in history suddenly disappeared. In fact, in 142 games for France, those two goals were the only two goals he ever scored.

And that’s an aristeia; for one brief, shocking, moment somebody becomes the best in the world at what he or she does, and nothing can stop them.

France held on desperately during an equally desperate counterattack by the team from a 7-year-old country, and the tense, sometimes brilliant game ended with France staggering off the field with a 2-1 victory. Croatia would win the third-place game, stinging the Netherlands 2-1, whilst France would dominate Brazil 3-0 in the final. Thuram played to his usual very high standards in the final, but no better, a very ordinary sort of excellence with no trace of the aristeia that had possessed him for 23 minutes in the second half of a single game.

Did Lilian Thuram know what he was doing during those 23 minutes, or did he “wake up” after they ended and asked a teammate who scored those two goals?

Vonn Scott Bair

World Cup Memories, 1994: Ireland 1 – Italy 0.

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Good Morning:

During the 1970s, I was one of those Americans who knew that the World Cup existed and that the rest of the world considered the tournament rather important. Sports Illustrated would publish a single story covering the semi-finals and finals, and that sufficed. It did not seem possible to me that the World Cup ranked at least equal in importance to the Olympics. Soccer? A single sport that the USA played badly? Bigger than dozens of events combined? No way.

I moved to San Francisco’s Mission District in January 1982, the year Spain hosted El Mundiale. Spanish-speaking immigrants from a few dozen countries call “Da Mish” home, and no matter which restaurant or coffeehouse you visited, you could hear a Spanish language television broadcast in the kitchen accompanied by frequent groans, the occasional stifled cheer followed by another groan, and a rare cheer as announcers shouted “GOAL!” at the top of their lungs.

So I got it: the World Cup was in fact at least as important as the Olympics, just not in the United States. I could intellectually if not emotionally understand that every nation on earth but one shuts down for the Final. I even managed to watch a few games in 1990 on Univision, where a young and somewhat hyper announcer named Andres Cantor introduced me to the word “gooooooooool,” a word that has no exact equivalent in the English language. The World Cup was kind of a big deal–besides, the United States actually played in 1990’s edition after upsetting Trinidad & Tobago in the qualifiers (our first appearance since 1950!), and even scored 2 goals in their three games, conceding only 8.

Then came 1994.

The World Cup came to America.

The San Francisco Bay Area hosted many of the teams and games (venue: Stanford Stadium), and if memory serves, Brazil and their zillions of followers took over the small city of Los Gatos, home of Gary Dahl, the inventor of the Pet Rock. In San Francisco, national flags of the competing countries suddenly appeared in windows where they had never appeared before. In North Beach (our Italian neighborhood) you saw only one national flag aside from the Stars & Stripes; in Da Mish, you saw Mexican, Argentinian, Bolivian, Colombian flags everywhere, predominantly Mexico’s. I lived in the Lower Haight at the time, where you saw a wider selection of flags, predominantly America’s.

And that’s when The Mad Dog in the Fog came into my life.

Colombia-Greece at the Mad Dog in the Fog, Day 3 of the World Cup. Only group play, but the place was so crowded I couldn't get in.

Colombia-Greece at the Mad Dog in the Fog, Day 3 of the World Cup. Only group play, but the place was so crowded I couldn’t get in.

A year or two before the ’94 Cup, a gentleman and Aston Villa FC supporter from Birmingham, England moved to San Francisco and decided that his new home needed an English-style pub broadcasting soccer games from around the world and serving English-style pub grub and beers. So he opened the Mad Dog, replete with Ploughman’s Lunches, Newcastle Brown Ale, Baked Bean and Scrambled Eggs breakfasts, and claret-and-sky-blue Villa kits. His chief bartender was a Chelsea supporter, but somehow they got along well anyhow. Business did OK; the Mad Dog was a change of pace in San Francisco’s bar scene.

Then came 1994.

The World Cup came to America.

Not a bad time to own an English-style pub broadcasting soccer games from around the United States. The Mad Dog in the Fog became a sort of soccer factory with three shifts per day during group play. In the first shift, 10-20 fans from one country and 10-20 from another would sit down, drink one pint per half, eat breakfast, and watch their teams play. As soon as the game ended, everyone would leave, replaced by the second shift: 10-20 fans from one country and 10-20 from another would sit down, drink one pint per half, eat lunch, and watch their teams play. As soon as the game ended, everyone would leave, replaced by the third shift: 10-20 fans from one country and 10-20 from another would sit down, drink one pint per half, eat dinner, and watch their teams play. And yes, I love copy-and-paste.

But one game in group play stood out. Ireland-Italy. Played at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, the game sold out in seconds (literally seconds) and if the home of the New York Football Giants held one million seats, it still would have sold out in minutes. American has tens of millions of descendants of Irish and Italian immigrants (I’m Irish-Scottish-English-French-Swiss-Austrian-Hungarian-Italian myself, maybe a little Russian) and they take pride in their ancestry.

San Francisco has huge Irish and Italian populations, and interest in this game ran even higher than the American games. Stuck in perhaps the most brutal Group of Death in World Cup history with Mexico and Norway (all four teams finished 1-1-1; all four teams finished with a goal difference of 0!), Italy had beaten the Republic of Ireland 1-0 in the 1990 WC quarterfinals and feelings still ran high. I wanted to watch the game on neutral territory and so selected the newish English-style pub a few blocks from home. I figured the Irish would never patronize an English establishment, whilst the Italians still stung from the Liverpool-Juventus Heysal Stadium disaster.

I figured the Mad Dog would be a nice quiet place to watch.

The Mad Dog had to install a portable toilet to handle the, um, "overflow" from the overflow crows.

The Mad Dog had to install a portable toilet to handle the, um, “overflow” from the overflow crows.

The English pub swarmed with Irish supporters.

I did not know that in San Francisco the Irish and English have no issues with supporting each other against common enemies such as Gli Azzuri. About 100 supporters of The Green Army consumed English beers and food as they cheered for their heroes (and I swear they were the loudest 100 people I have ever heard). Well, I supported the US team (just because I’m Irish-Scottish-English-French-Swiss-Austrian-Hungarian-Italian myself, with possibly a little Russian doesn’t mean I’ll root for anyone else) so I kept quiet and no one bothered me. I do know that one person in the crowd supported Italy and even wore the famous blue #10 jersey of Roberto Baggio; he sat next to me and kept even quieter.

The Irish, distinct underdogs, took a surprise first-half lead thanks to Houghton’s beautiful goal (I liked it even more than Wynalda’s free kick vs. Switzerland), and then spent the last 75 minutes of the game enduring one furious Italian offensive after another.During the second half the cameras frequently showed Ireland’s coach Jack Charlton on the sidelines, looking about as cheerful as if he had just swallowed whole an entire porcupine. Despite the grim demeanor, the 100 in the Mad Dog roared their approval of the man every chance they got.

This seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to get on the good side of the Irish supporters. So I tapped the shoulder of the nearest Green Army member.

“Excuse me, even though I’m American I know a little about the game, and I don’t understand why everyone is cheering for Mr. Charlton.”

His eyes bugged out in amazement. “Are you kidding?! We love Jackie Charlton! He’s the reason we’re in the Cup! He’s the greatest coach Ireland’s ever had!!”

“You realize of course that he’s English.”

He blinked a few times. Then he nodded one long slow nod and smiled. Benevolently. Really, quite benevolently. Then he put one hand on my shoulder.

“But he has to be English. Because only God can be perfect.”

And that is when I didn’t just get the World Cup–I felt it. For some people, the World Cup ranked second only to The Big Bang as the most important event in the history of this particular universe, and The City & County of San Francisco had gotten really lucky that the second most important event in the history of this particular universe had come to town.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–In case you wondered, the Mad Dog has evolved. Some years ago, the Aston Villa supporter sold his pub for a handsome and very well-deserved profit and moved to the North Bay. These days, the pub broadcasts all sports and the menu has become more like a typical California brewpub.