27 September 2007

(One Of) The Greatest Teams You've Never Heard Of, Or, Why I Cried For Shannon Boxx at Quarter To Eight This Morning

I don’t think I’d really classify myself as a soccer fan. Even the addition of David Beckham couldn’t get me to tune into the MLS. I am quite aware that to the inexperienced eye, the world’s football looks like a very large-scale, very boring game of keep away.

But I’ve been playing recreationally for about two years now, and while I am just about ready to admit that foot skills are impossible to acquire as an adult, many of the people I play with now are more accomplished players and I’m starting to get a very good sense of how the game is played, even if I can’t replicate it. So that helps.

Even without that though, there is something about the US Women’s Soccer team that has always held my attention. I watched quite a bit of their captivating run to the World Cup title in the Rose Bowl in 1999 even though I was playing softball six days per week at the time and I’m not even sure I knew beforehand that there were 11 players on a soccer field (how many of you just learned something?). I still feel a sense of awe when I catch a glimpse of Mia Hamm, even when she’s just sitting in the stands at Dodger Stadium.

Anyway, this morning was the World Cup semifinal. The bleeding started early with a crushing own goal by Leslie Osborne in the 20th minute followed by a defensive lapse that led to another Brazil goal seven minutes later. Shortly before halftime Shannon Boxx, who had received a deserved yellow card earlier in the half, was clipped from behind by a Brazilian player. Both players went down, and the ref inexplicably called the foul on Boxx. As soon as she reached into her front pocket, Boxx collapsed to the turf with her hands on her head. Watching her lie prone, knowing that her tournament had ended, brought to mind the image of Osborne face first in the shadow of the goalpost after the own goal not half an hour before.

I can identify with that. I’ve been on teams that had all the talent they needed but couldn’t win. I’ve made almost unthinkable errors, both physical and of judgment that cost my team(s) points, momentum, games. I’ve felt the overwhelming urge to blame a loss on a bad call when the problems ran much deeper. More importantly, I can identify with them. I’ve always known women’s sports had a ton of potential. We just need to find the compelling stories (for counterexample, see NBA, W). The US Women’s soccer team competes exactly the way I love to see sports played: strategically, with a lot of finesse and fundamentals (but the occasional use of a sharp elbow!), with the kind of intensity and emotion that can shift momentum in an instant (hopefully for the better, but yes, sometimes for the worse).

This team didn't quite achieve what they wanted to. Maybe they were short on talent or heart, maybe it was just a bad day. Still though, they're one more small step in the rise of women's sports.

(P.S. I can't take credit for the 'Greatest Team You've Never Heard Of' thing - that's Nike's World Cup slogan)

23 September 2007

The Little Things

The other night, a concerning shortage of cat food led me to the Target on Roosevelt and Clark (parking lot features one of the top five skyline views in the city). As is the norm at Target, I ended up with a large cart of "essential" supplies featuring everything from a box of granola bars to a bottle of Tums to a 3-pack of socks.

As I watched the cashier bag the haul, it occurred to me that she was doing a pretty good job. Food together, clothes together, toiletries together. But I didn't realize how good until I got home. It was like she had been to my apartment before! I took whole bags into the pantry, the bedroom, and the bathroom and came back empty-handed.

Next time, I'm looking for her line.

16 September 2007

Alex the Parrot

You may have been following the coverage lately of the death of Alex the parrot. Alex was the subject of a thirty-year experiment conducted by an animal psychologist. At the time of his death, the psychologist claimed that he had the intelligence of a kindergartener and the emotional maturity of an approximately two-year-old human. His vocabulary was about 150 words and more remarkably, he seemed to understand what he was saying, to use language as a real and effective means of communication. (See Wikipedia for examples, it's pretty interesting)

The other day, this editorial appeared in the New York Times and I think it's interesting in light of the current American fascination with pets. If you're not in the mood for reading (or if I've waited too long and it's no longer accessible), I'll let you know that the editorial explores whether Alex's "cognitive presence" was real or simply imitative. Could he really comprehend and utilize language like a human child or did researchers simply see their own reflections in him? Did he say "I love you" because he had a grasp of love as a concept and felt it or simply because he understood it was a typical phrase to end the day?

A couple of months ago, I was with a friend who revealed that one problem she had with her boyfriend was his devotion to his dog. Of course, she was happy that he was a responsible dog owner, but he treated it like a child, often at the expense of their time together. She told me that she'd never had a pet and wasn't much of an animal lover and wondered what my thoughts were on the subject.

I surprised myself a little by replying that I would choose the cat over an acquaintance simply out of loyalty. She's been a rather important part of my life for two and a half years, and it would take some time (though certainly not two and a half years) for a person to jump in front of that. But that said, once there's a close relationship with a person, they're going to win every time. The cat is an excellent companion (except when she's in bite mode) and a good little cuddle buddy to boot, but I harbor no illusions that she's capable of love. I know she tries her best in terms of trust, but for god's sakes, she still runs away every time I shake out a new garbage bag. As if, after all this time, I might just decide to kill her with it. She will never challenge me to open my mind or help me make an important decision. Sorry kitty, I absolutely love you, but people are going to edge you for my attention in the end. Luckily, you're fine with that as long as you get your wet food and a daily belly rub :)

Like what I suspect happened with Alex, the cat and I have come to understand each other, take comfort in each other, and even take behavioral cues from each other, but we will never relate as equals.

12 September 2007


Generally, I don't understand public grieving for relatively distant tragedies. I am willing to bet that every sporting event held in the week following the shootings at Virginia Tech contained a moment of silence to...what? Respect the victims? Pray for the survivors? Consider our own mortality? Certainly, I understand the impulse to show solidarity in some way, but involving a high school basketball game halfway across the country (or the state) seems somehow disrespectful to me. It's hard to say until you're there, but I think that if I were to die in some notable way, having school children that never knew me keep quiet for 60 seconds would be of little consequence. I'll be dead, and I would think that my family and friends would derive little comfort from strangers marking the occasion. In short, a deeply personal tragedy, to me, seems to necessitate a little more privacy and even tact from the outside world.

I have to admit, though, that I feel significantly different about September 11th. I was at the White Sox game last night and being "Patriot Day" as it was, they obviously felt the need to mark it. A lame voiceover reminded us of the "brave men and women who heroically lost their lives", but I have to admit that the moment of silence was rather poignant. In contrast to the national anthem, during which people are forever fidgeting, yelling, forgetting to remove hats, and eating polish sausages, it seemed as if not a soul moved at US Cellular field from 7:08 to 7:09 last night.

The detail with which everyone remembers how and where they found out is fascinating. I will forever remember walking across the Green at Dartmouth on a beautiful fall morning with the morning fog not quite burned off. I was headed to Collis to get some breakfast when Cliff Campbell (I heard he's an actor now...cool!) came running out of the double doors, grabbed me by the shoulders (we did know each other, but certainly not well) and said, "A plane ran into the World Trade Center, I don't think it was an accident, go watch TV." He was gone before I could reply, so I walked inside just in time to see the second plane.

This tragedy, it seems, is deeply personal to us all.

10 September 2007

It's That Time!

The football blogs begin again in earnest.

Sorry to say it, but Baltimore just got hosed. I was for the Bengals, but the Ravens had the tying touchdown taken away from them shortly after Cincy was given a bogus interception that allowed them to take the lead. A mistake on a call (i.e. the phantom offensive pass interference on the touchdown) is one thing, but how is it possible to get a reviewable play wrong?!? You'd think HD replay would do the trick...

And don't even get me started on NCAA. The reffing has seemed better, if only because pretty much every single game is a blowout. There are only about five good teams! And sadly, none of them are in my beloved Big Ten (yes, Wisconsin included, sorry, I love the Badgers too, but they don't deserve that ranking). It's beginning to be like our baseball league - maybe we should just scrap the teams and start over!

04 September 2007

Roger Federer Won Yesterday Too

People always say that kids grow up while you're not looking, but I didn't realize that could apply to one's self. Indeed, I've shown signs of newfound maturity in the last few years that surprised even me. There was the time I was actually proud of my brother for graduating from college (I had felt a lot of things for my little brother, but pride had not to that point been one of them...), the fact that I'm slowly figuring out who I am, and now, a tennis match for the ages.

Though I never did much in the way of formal lessons, I've been playing tennis since I was a kid. My entire family used to play when we were on vacation and occasionally when we weren't. Admittedly, this has the kid-screen on it, but I remember both of my parents being pretty decent. And they didn't let us win. Which probably was irrelevant, since individual sports are pretty darn tough for a kid with high standards and an almost complete inability to relax. In terms of pure athletic ability, I was more than talented enough, but I could rarely get out of my own head long enough to put together a few decent points.

Around high school, I guess I started focusing on other sports and we probably had less down time as a family, so I'd guess that in the ten years leading up to yesterday, I'd probably played less than ten times. But I remembered liking it and thus was quite agreeable when a friend asked me to play on a beautiful 85 degree Labor Day.

I'll admit that I expected to get my ass kicked. She's a better athlete than I am (and that's a source of pride for me - I don't hand out that one easily!) and I had a feeling she'd know how to play in a way that I didn't. Both true. But, she has the problem I used to have and miraculously seem to have shed. I'm a solid player (if not great...) and as soon as I realized that she (like the majority of amateur players) was likely to miss shots long, I just worked to keep the volley going, didn't try to do too much (I probably only hit seven or eight winners in three sets) and waited for her to miss. And thusly, I pretty handily beat a better player. (In a small way, this made me angry. She has the size, strength and...I don't know, recklessness, doggedness...that I'm missing as an athlete and part of me wanted her to get it together and kick my ass)

I admit that expecting to lose did give me sort of a leg up in terms of being able to relax, but I found myself able to a) play each point more or less independently of the others (or my last poor shot), b) have a good sense of my skill level and not get frustrated at being unable to make shots that really were outside of my capabilities and c) just have a good time playing. As my mom says (quite insightfully for someone who's not too into organized sports!), sports have to be about playing instead of winning. If you can stay in the moment, and play your best at every opportunity (obviously, this is the ideal not always the reality), you will either win or know that you were beaten by someone better. Winning will turn into an outcome while playing at the top of your game is the goal.

Or maybe it was just a good day :)