Category Archives: Sports

Now This Was a Kiss-Cam Moment!


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.


Good Evening:

This is San Francisco Giants centerfielder Angel Pagan:


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.


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.

DSCN0787 DSCN0771

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:


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)


Good Evening:

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

It can get very obvious.

DSCN8091 DSCN8143

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


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

DSCN8152 DSCN8167 DSCN8153

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


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.

DSCN8082 DSCN8164 DSCN8122 DSCN8095

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


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.

DSCN3931 DSCN3907

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.


DSCN3919 DSCN3933 DSCN3925

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:


Or perhaps two wheels instead:


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


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


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.


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.

Wordless Wednesday: A Pug-Nacious Supporter at the World Cup


Good Evening:

Spotted at the San Francisco Civic Center during the Belgium-USA game.


Vonn Scott Bair

World Cup Memories: 2010


Good Evening:

My buddy Tom runs two great San Francisco bars, relaxed homey friendly places named Finnegan’s Wake and Bloom’s. As long as he’s running the show they are not, never have been, and never will be trendy–Finnegan’s Wake and Bloom’s are where neighbors hang out with neighbors. As long as they never turn trendy, they will probably run forever.

Though skeptical, Tom opened both bars early during the 2010 World Cup so fans could watch the games. Good move–he did well enough to justify the extra hours and work. I chose Finnegan’s Wake, the nearer bar, to watch the first American game of the Cup, a formidable challenge named England, one of the pre-tournament favorites to reach at least the semifinals. The English media felt highly confident in their players. One of their tabloids printed this headline when the World Cup draw put England in a seemingly soft group:





And that is your infamous “EASY!” headline.

Running into a few friends (because that’s what you run into at bars like these) who didn’t know much about soccer, they asked me for my opinion on the outcome and where they should focus their attention. I said that the United States faced serious trouble and had to be underdogs–mentioning something about the American back four being very weak and vulnerable to sudden diagonal movements by an opposing midfielder splitting defenders because the defenders won’t know who should cover him. In particular I cited a pair of midfielders named Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard as very serious threats.

I felt a very light tap on my shoulder.

“Pardon me, sir, but I must correct you.”

I turned to face a five foot eight inch tall gentleman with a neat well-trimmed beard and impeccable undyed linen jacket, complete with a classic upper class English accent. He looked amused.

“Please don’t misunderstand me, I fully endorse your high regard for England, but I cannot agree with your assessment of Messrs. Lampard and Gerrard. They have both exhibited poor form in the run-up to the Cup and I doubt they can contribute more than defensive work and perhaps some good passes forward.”

“I don’t know. If I coached the English team I would install special tactics to use against the Americans.”

“We shall see about that.” He smiled and returned to his friends, shaking his head slightly.

The game began. Only four minutes later, Gerrard made a diagonal run through the American back four. The nearest defenders couldn’t figure out which one should cover him. He received an excellent pass and scored an “EASY!” goal versus a helpless Tim Howard. After groaning with my friends, I glanced at the English gentleman, expecting him to look delighted if perhaps a tad surprised.

He did not look delighted.

He did not look happy at all.

For lack of a better term, I would say he looked–terrified.

An American–an American!–had foreseen the course of the game. And he had not. That terrified him more than England’s temporary lead pleased him. Now I am most emphatically NOT a soccer expert. How can I be? I use the word “soccer,” and I never played on any organized level. My opinions were more lucky than good. Just this once I had been right about a match. (N.B.: of my predictions for the 2014 Cup, so far the only correct one is the prediction that all of my predictions would be wrong)

But I think it was the first time an American seemed to display greater knowledge of the game than his. Really, I felt bad for scaring the poor guy. I just got lucky.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–Of course, “EASY!” turned out to be very hard, and England didn’t even win the group, finishing second to the USA on goals scored. They’ve had a rough go of it lately, which doesn’t seem right to me. Given their history, it seems only right and fair that they should always contend for at least the quarters.

World Cup Extras at the San Francisco Civic Center, 17 June 2014 (Weekly Photo Challenge: Extra, Extra)


Good Evening:

San Franciscans get the World Cup. At least, we get the World Cup in our own distinct fashion. We understand that the World Cup is the world’s biggest sporting event month-long party. Sports? Dost thou kiddeth me? The San Franciscan World Cup consists of 30 days of parties and sampling food and beverages from around the planet. And now that the big screen has gone up at the Civic Center (a nice extra), you know where to find the party for the next few weeks.

Good thing, too. San Franciscans have embraced El Mundiale, especially those San Franciscans who have discovered to their great surprise that they have ancestors from all 32 countries and need to support every one of them:

“Boss! I can’t come to work today! It’s Ivory Coast-Japan! Gotta be there for my people!”

“Which ones are ‘your people?'”

“Both of them!”

“You said the same thing about Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina.”

“They were my people too!”

“And Croatia-Brazil.”

“My people too! I came from all of them!”

“I did not know this, Mr. O’Reilly.”

Viewing the World Cup at the Civic Center (Nigeria 0, Iran 0; Snoozer)

Viewing the World Cup at the Civic Center (Nigeria 0, Iran 0; Snoozer)

The big screen is one nice little extra first introduced in the previous El Mundiale (however, the resolution is not great; you can’t read the score in the upper left). This year the City has upped its game, so to speak, and brought in even more extras. For example, you don’t have to just watch the game; you can play your own. Park and Rec dumped some old soccer balls onto the grassy areas (i.e., they don’t care if you take them home) and people have played among themselves. But if your preference runs to more organized events, you can join in some of the 4-on-4 street soccer games taking place opposite the big screen.


And behind the street soccer court? Five food trucks, offering goodies from around the world.

As you can see from the top photo, Nigeria-Iran did not attract more than a few hundred people. USA-Ghana followed, and that game drew rather more.

View USA-Ghana at the Civic Center (USA 2, Ghana 1)

View USA-Ghana at the Civic Center (USA 2, Ghana 1)

The crowd did not consist solely of American supporters.

Ghanian Couple Attending the Match, 16 June 2014

Ghanian Couple Attending the Match, 16 June 2014

Strangely enough, the City did not shut itself down for the games. Nor did our city’s citizens, who amazingly enough conducted their own business, even if that business consisted of a picnic stretching perhaps just a little bit longer than their regularly scheduled lunch hour.


And this couple! They got married during the games on 16 June!


Come on–where are their priorities?!

The USA-Ghana thriller ended just as I departed work, so I missed the exciting finish, but I caught some of the crowd.


And this picture comes from today’s Brazil-Mexico game. Notice anything different?

Brazilian and Mexican Fans During Their 0-0 Draw (an Exciting Game!)

Brazilian and Mexican Fans During Their 0-0 Draw (an Exciting Game!)

The fans are not segregated into sections and kept apart from each other. San Francisco has always had a huge mix of nationalities. There exists no good reason for disputing controversial referee calls with strangers because they might be your next door neighbors. The fact that the USA has arrived late on the international soccer scene probably has something to do with the peaceful scene.

And besides–it’s a party. Forget the squabbling and have some fun!

Vonn Scott Bair

Extras at the Laundromat (Weekly Photo Challenge: Extra, Extra)


Good Evening:

My laundromat is managed by a family that immigrated from Mexico. The man of the family stood on duty this afternoon, enjoying his spare time watching the World Cup on the flat screen that many laundries include as an extra for their customers. When Italy-England started, he received a visit from a pair of friends, both emigres from Brazil, who wanted to watch the game with him. As a kindness to their friend, they brought their own extra: takeout chicken stir-fried rice.


So let’s recap: Two former Brazilians and one former Mexican ate Chinese as they watched Italy defeat England.

Now that is putting the Mundiale in El Mundiale.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–The Italians should feel both happy and dissatisfied with their victory. Beating an archrival like England always induces happiness, but the Three Lions penetrated Italy’s famed defense (“il catenaccio”) at will. The English #9 Sturridge in particular made the back four look like a bad four, and England should have at least tied the game. On the plus side, Sirigu might be the next Legendary Italian Keeper, and I really like the Blue Force to win the Cup–in 2018.

Dogs Beat Humans at Soccer! (Weekly Photo Challenge: Extra, Extra)


However, Good Evening:

I have given myself an extra challenge for this week’s Extra Challenge: anything I post in response must portray soccer.

My first photograph seems to depict yet another boring shot of San Francisco’s Civic Center (cloudless skies are so dull!), but look closer:


The City has added an extra in honor of the World Cup; miniature soccer fields for very young children.


However, the first competitors I saw using one of the miniature fields were not children, they were a very small dog and his obedient pet human, engaged in a vigorous one-on-one contest. I can’t say that the skill level displayed by the antagonists reached World Cup standards, as witnessed by this human whiff that still sent the canine in the wrong direction.


But when the ball went straight, the dog went straighter and faster. Which should surprise no one, as dogs have extra advantages at soccer that make them better than humans.


Humans have to use both of their legs not only to run, but to control the ball. Dogs are faster than humans and can use all four of their legs solely for running, as they maintain control of the ball using their faces. My family had one English Bulldog named Robert who according to our car’s speedometer had a top running speed of 42 mph (!) and a wide flat face that gave him glue-like control over a ball. He also possessed the natural instinct of a good soccer player to keep his body between the ball and his human opponents. We never get the ball away from that dog.

If dogs could learn the virtues of putting the ball into the net and stopping penalty kicks, humans would have to give up the sport.

Vonn Scott Bair

Fabulously Fantastically Frantically Frightfully Fearlessly Freelance Forsaken Fulsome Flawed Futbol ’14 Forecasts!


Good Evening:

And it’s probably a good thing I ran out of suitable f-words or I’d still be writing that friggin’ title.

I do not gamble, and even if I did, I would shun this year’s World Cup after reading of the match-fixing scandals in the New York Times. Furthermore, this year I see far too many strong squads with legitimate hopes to reach the semi-finals. This Cup is too unpredictable. However, as a true-blue red-blooded American, I cherish my right to wrong, and hereby present my predictions for the 2014 El Mundiale. You may think of these as your guide to what will not happen.

Surprise teams to reach the Round of 16: As in, I would feel surprised to see them reach the second round. Algeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, or Croatia. Algeria was not an easy team to beat in 2010, and they play in a weaker group this time around. Why Bosnia and Herzegovina? I don’t know; I just like writing Bosnia and Herzegovina. They do have goal-scoring potential. Croatia, despite its opening 3-1 loss to Brazil, still might sneak in. They play like maddened hornets that have drunk two too many double espressos, swarming wildly on both offense and defense, a confusing style that can inflict grief on careless opponents.

Absolutely shocking team to reach the Round of 16: Either the United States or Ghana. Whatever lies beyond brutal, that’s where Group G lives. I expect to see Germany and Portugal to record two wins and tie each other, while the USA and Ghana record two losses and tie each other. The USA has more going against it than the quality of opposition. First, Ghana (their long-time traditional rival [!?]) has kicked them out of the previous two Cups. Second, the team has alternated between Round of 16 and three-and-out since 1990, and this is another three-and-out year.

Surprise team to reach the quarterfinals: As in, I don’t expect to see this. Ivory Coast. They have had great teams in terrible draws for the past two Cups, and this year represents their last chance for glory.

Surprise team to reach the semi-finals: None. This Cup looks very, very deep to me; roughly a dozen teams seem to have good reason to believe they can reach the last four. Chile would represent perhaps a little bit of a surprise, simply because they first must survive a brutal Group B with 2010’s finalists Spain and the Netherlands. England might benefit from low expectations and leftover scorn from their last performance. I doubt that any of the London tabloids will repeat the mistake of the infamous 2010 EASY headline (England, Algeria, Slovenia, Yanks!). Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Germany, Portugal, Switzerland (#6 in the world), maybe Russia, maybe Uruguay, Italy, Belgium, France–I predict a lot of high-quality games that yield low scores simply because the teams are too good.

The Final: No score terrifies Brazilians more than 2-1. Brazilians born last week have nightmares about the 1950 Final and Alcides Ghiggia (I wonder how instant deification in Uruguay feels). But I will go against the consensus and pick just that score again–with Argentina defeating A Selecao. A lot has to go right for the Albiceleste. Have you ever seen the legendary Futbol Club Barcelona live and in person? I have, and I have seen the reason Lionel Messi is Lionel Messi, and it isn’t Lionel Messi. It’s the stunning passing skills of his teammates, the fastest, straightest and most accurate I’ve ever seen. One touch passing? More like zero touch. No matter what defenses opponents use, Barca can get the ball to him. Argentina has to pass the ball as well as Barcelona for Messi to shine, and I don’t know if the team has played together long enough.

But Brazil! What a horrible burden of expectations! This is the first time they’ve hosted the Cup since 1950, and you know how that went. Adding to the pressure–the protests against the World Cup by Brazilians. The country has a lot of problems (and I don’t refer to their shaky preparations for 2014), and protests, strikes and other disruptions have erupted throughout, some of which has been directed at the players. I don’t think this is fair. Many chose soccer as an escape from poverty. A very attractive young lady and Brazilian ex-pat taught me a lot about the team in 1994; she claimed that Bebeto was the only player among the champs who grew up in a middle class family (I don’t know if this is true). They have enjoyed hero worship for years. Now their fellow citizens have grown angry with them!? This dislike won’t last, and probably disappeared with the opening whistle of today’s game, but all told, Brazil might not be able to function well in the Final will all of these psychological issues.

Now all I have to do is sit back, relax, and watch Brazil crush Spain 4-1 in the Final.

The one prediction I make that might turn out correctly? All of my previous predictions will be wrong.

Vonn Scott Bair

Reflections of a Ballpark, Reflections Upon Baseball (Weekly Photo Challenge: Reflection)


Good Evening:

San Francisco has a series of storms coming its way, starting this afternoon, but in between systems I took a series of shots of the Giants’ ballpark from the other side of McCovey Cove. Fans of the G-Men have had many reasons to get excited over the upcoming season, including a 16-10 record in the preseason and a free viewing day on March 31, when San Francisco opens at Arizona. But 2014 has already become a bizarre season.


It already began. In Australia.

Don’t get me wrong; your correspondent strongly supports MLB’s push to establish the sport throughout the world; in fact, I feel this push is well over a half-century overdue, and should have begun as a component of the Marshall Plan. The 2013 World Baseball Classic would have occurred on the 50th anniversary of the first, and 64 nations would have competed in eight regionals, with the best two in each group qualifying for the WBC. Every year, MLB should schedule as many games in countries that participated in the WBC as feasible.

But baseball has not only a tradition but also a belief in the power of that tradition.


You can see it even in, especially in, a modern ballpark like San Francisco’s. You will find statues, engraved bricks, plaques, sculptures and monuments dedicated to the history of the New York Gothams (1883)-New York Giants-San Francisco Giants. Just today, I learned that the first Japanese player in the majors played for SF in 1964, and in 1968 the Giants no-hit the Cardinals in one game and were no-hit by the Cardinals in the next (!).

Opening the season in Australia does not honor that tradition, and I write this as a hard-core Aussie-phile who supports the almighty Footscray Bulldogs (I refuse to call them Western!).


The Cincinnati Reds, the oldest major league baseball club in existence and still the only one with a perfect season (65-0 in 1869), should open every year. I think this used to be a tradition, but don’t take my word on this. If it was, it’s a tradition worth bringing back, and thanks to interleague play, we can improve tradition.


Every year, the first game of the season: the defending World Series Champions at Cincinnati. If the Reds are the defending champs, they host the St. Louis Cardinals, a division rival and one of the greatest franchises in history.

Either way, the game automatically becomes compelling baseball. I mean, how many baseball fans even noticed the Dodgers vs. the D-Backs in Oz (the local nickname for Australia)?

MLB can do much better than this.

Vonn Scott Bair

How I Became the Curse of the Boston Red Sox–And How I Broke My Own Curse and Led the Team to Two World Series Championships


Good Evening:

Gather around the virtual campfire, Faithful Readers, and listen as I regale you with a tale too bizarre to be true and yet too true to be false, too impossible to be possible and yet too impossible to be impossible, too impossible to be anything but the truth–the tale of how I became The Curse of the Boston Red Sox, and how I broke that curse and let them to two World Series victories.

The tale begins in 1978 during my college years. Perhaps perchance, or perhaps per the impish humor of the people who assigned students to dorm rooms, I lived on a peculiar floor with an odd number of students. I was literally the odd man out; exactly half of the other students hailed from the Boston Area. They were all Red Sox fans.

The other half hailed from New York City. They were all Yankees fans.

Oh, yeah. That fall semester got really hairy during baseball games during one of the all-time great pennant races. The Red Sox and the Yankees (possibly North America’s most ferocious professional sports rivalry) finished with identical 99-63 records, forcing a one-game playoff.  At the time, Boston fans believed that they suffered from “The Curse of the Bambino,” also called “The Curse of Babe Ruth.” They believed that because Harry Frazee had sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1918, the team had become cursed and would never win another World Series.

Now the Red Sox fans and the Yankee fans did not agree on much, but they did agree on one thing–I was absolutely, mind-boggling, totally, hopelessly and incurably insane to pass up on the game and instead visit the library to do my homework. All of my floormates united as one (for once) and they ripped me for not wanting to watch the game. To which I made this fateful reply:

“Why bother? I know how the game will end. The Red Sox will have either a 2-0 or 3-1 lead after six innings, choke, and lose 5-4.”

When I returned from my evening of study, my floormates said two very different things to me.

  • Yankees’ Fans: “Vonn! I’m taking YOU to the racetrack!!”
  • Red Sox Fans: “Vonn! I’m taking YOU to the racetrack!!”

Well, it sounded different.

And that’s how I replaced the Bambino as The Curse of the Red Sox. For roughly the next quarter-century, everything bad that happened to the Sox happened because of The Curse of the Bair. So you Bostonians can lay off Bill Buckner, please. Not his fault.

But then 2004 and the seventh game of the American League Championship Series came around. Boston had accomplished the impossible. They had forced a Game 7 after falling behind 3-0 in games. But would they choke again? Of course they would choke again. They were the Boston Red Sox. They suffered from The Curse of the Bair. They suffered from me.

But I suffered from guilt. By that time I had come to know a large number of Bostonians (all Red Sox fans, of course)–I had met them via the Internet. I had become their friend. I had come to know of their suffering, their pain, their tears, and through all this, despite all this, I had come to know of their courageous, inspiring, undying hope that some day maybe, just maybe, they would see their Red Sox win the World Series. And of course I had met the ultimate Red Sox fan, an elderly woman I’ll call DF who had never seen her team win the Series.

Do you really think that I could continue to live with this burden, knowing that DF, a grandmother, had never seen her Red Sox win it all?? That a few dozen Bostonians who called me their friend did not know that the Red Sox had not won the World Series because of me? Their friend?? The Curse had become more than a curse on the Sox–it had become an un-Bair-able (sorry) burden for me. Their Curse had become my Curse. I couldn’t take it anymore. So as the game began I logged into a BBS where I knew my Boston friends liked to hang out and confessed everything, all of my sins, and how I had become The Curse of the Red Sox. I begged forgiveness of my Boston friends and told them that I decided to confess to everything I had done to them since 1978 in the hope that I would jinx my own curse, destroy my own curse, and help propel the Red Sox to victory in Game 7 and then in the World Series. I logged off from the Internet, turned off the computer, and turned on the TV during the second inning.

Boston scored 4 runs that inning and won 10-3. My friends forgave me for everything.

And that’s how I became the true MVP of the 2004  ALCS. BTW, I’m still waiting for my ring.

Incidentally, before Game 7 I had predicted that if the Red Sox won, the St. Louis Cardinals also had to win their pennant, because if Boston was going to win the World Series, they should win it versus their historic nemeses from the National League. The Red Sox swept the Cardinals.

Believe it or not, there exists a sequel.

On the night of Game 1 of the 2007 World Series, I was eating a hamburger in a pub on 24th Street near Folsom, as I was going to a short film festival at the Roxie where I had acted in one of the movies. I espied a young gentleman in a Red Sox cap eating about six feet away. After giving him the traditional greeting all San Franciscans give people wearing Red Sox caps (“Hey! You must be a Yankees fan!”), we got to talking about the Series, and I told him the story of how I had once been The Curse of the Red Sox. He looked at me with this “Should I beat him up now or wait until he finishes the story?” expression on his face until I told him about how I had jinxed my own curse and helped Boston win that legendary Game 7. He said, “I hope you still have that curse jinxed.”

After the festival I felt quite surprised to see him in the auditorium. As it happens, he directed one of the other short films. He asked me if I knew the score of Game 1. I checked my “smart” phone (a Palm Treo 300).

“Boston won 13-1.”

“Come on, man, don’t mess with me.”

“See for yourself.”

“You just became my new good luck charm!!”

Boston won in four games.

I’m still waiting for that ring.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–But what does this mean for 2013? Have I become a Force For Bostonian Good that will win every World Series in which Boston plays? Or have I just jinxed the jinx that broke The Curse, leaving the Red Sox doomed to be 86’d for another 86 years??

PPS–I’m a San Francisco Giants fan; why did I become so important to an American League team, why did I become a Force for Bostonian Good, and so critical to the Red Sox’ success?!