The World Cup ends this weekend, which is nice in one respect: We have another four years of peace before hearing that we're morons for not loving soccer.
Don't get me wrong. This isn't another anti-soccer screed. I watch the World Cup. I've stayed up all night to watch past World Cup matches in an African restaurant and an English pub. I boned up for this year's tournament by reading "The Thinking Man's Guide to the World Cup.'' I just finished reading "Among the Thugs,'' Bill Buford's disturbing, riveting and must-read account of his time among English soccer hooligans. "The Miracle of Castel di Sangro'' and "How Soccer Explains the World'' are two of the best sports books I've ever read.
I just don't like soccer anywhere near as much as I love baseball.
Is that so wrong? Why do people want me to feel guilty about not loving soccer? We're just talking about a bunch of guys running around with a ball, not competing systems of government. I don't condemn the Germans for not liking baseball. I don't look down on the French for not liking football. I don't criticize fellow Americans who don't enjoy the Tour de France.
And I don't feel any more guilty about liking baseball more than soccer than I do about not using the metric system or speaking Italian or owning an ABBA album.
I've seen soccer, and like Adam Sandler movies, I don't see the tremendous appeal. But I wonder whether other countries have seen baseball to know what they're missing. Perhaps it's the rest of the world that is missing out. Maybe if the fans of other nations grew up with baseball in their lives, they would be just as passionate about it as they are for soccer.
These thoughts are why I was glad to get a recent e-mail from Greg Steinsdoerfer.
I learned about Greg from someone who read of my account in Zambia with the Right to Play charity group. Greg first went to Zambia as part of a high school program that raised funds to build a school in a small northern village. He's back there this summer as a college student for a development program.
The village has no electricity or running water. Its school is so overcrowded that most students can attend classes for only half a day. The children spend the other half playing soccer. They make their balls out of tightly wound plastic bags and string.
"If players are lucky,'' Greg wrote to me, "they have shoes, although most end up sharing. One will wear a left and one will wear a right. After each goal the home team scores, hundreds of children run onto the field screaming with joy."
Greg is a big baseball fan and he recently decided to broaden the villagers' horizons and introduce baseball to them.
"They had never heard of baseball,'' he wrote. "Most have never even heard of basketball. Can you imagine? In fact a lot of people have baseball coats but have no idea that they are wearing a sports [team] jacket. Many people even thought that baseball and basketball were the same sport."
So he rounded up 18 players, laid out a field with rocks for bases, used a metal pipe for a bat (sorry, you wood bat purists) and an old baseball he had brought from home. He took only about 15 minutes to explain the basic rules, so I'm assuming he didn't get bogged down with dropped third strikes, the double-switch and the obscure fourth out (rule 7.10 d, for the uninitiated).
His explanation was further handicapped by the language barrier. It must have resembled the 1962 Mets listening to Casey Stengel during spring training.
"I was actually surprised how fast they picked the game up,'' Greg wrote. "We began to play, and the people loved it! They laughed the whole time and the excitement was written all over their faces. They have very good hand-eye coordination -- in fact, it's rare that they miss when hitting. Their throwing skills, on the other hand, are very poor, in fact if they are not within 15 feet, chances are it will be an overthrow."
So that's where Chuck Knoblauch is these days.
The game went well, though. They even turned a triple play, aided by the fact that many of the players didn't realize they had to tag up on a fly ball. But that's OK. Manny Ramirez has the same problem.
The final score that day was 31-16, which was understandable given the current era of baseball and the small fact that they played without gloves.
"We played until it was so dark that we could no longer see,'' Greg wrote. "They begged to play again on Sunday. Which we did the following afternoon and this time we had a large crowd who decided to watch baseball over soccer. From now on, every weekend we will spend playing baseball.
"After the first game I thought how amazing it is that this was the first ever game of baseball to be played in this village. I imagined 10 years from now Little Leagues being formed and the sound of laughter erupting from each player."
Little Leagues? Hell, with that kind of response to one weekend of games, I suspect the Marlins will threaten to move there soon.
There's just one small problem. They need another ball.
"I have spent a lot of time trying to find a tennis ball or even a soft ball of any type. It has not been easy. I am still looking."
In other words, I need to get some baseballs to a remote Zambian village. They may be smaller than soccer balls, but they're still plenty big enough for the entire world to grip.
BOX SCORE LINE OF THE WEEK
Here's a line you don't see everyday.
Colorado starter Josh Fogg faced the minimum against the Mariners Friday, allowing two singles and a walk but erasing all three on double plays for a 2-0 victory in just 1 hour, 52 minutes (the shortest game ever played at Safeco Field).
Fogg has a great changeup and he was facing Jamie Moyer, so the two might have also set an unofficial record for most speed pitch readings of less than 75 miles an hour. To paraphrase one of our old colleagues, they didn't need radar guns, they just had to count, "One Mississippi, two Mississippi "
By the way, Colorado's pitching is one big reason the Rockies are doing so well this season. Only two National League teams have a lower ERA than Colorado's 4.20 mark, which is mighty impressive given half their games are at Coors Field.
TELL YOUR STATISTICS TO SHUT UP
The American League finished 154-98 in interleague play. Why was the league so dominant? One prevailing theory is that the spending of the Yankees and Red Sox has forced the rest of the league to make itself that much better to keep up. That accounts for some of it, but can't be the major reason. For one thing, while Boston had a great interleague record (16-2), the Yankees and Blue Jays had a lower winning percentage against the National League than they do against the AL. More importantly, the Tigers, Twins, White Sox and Mariners went a combined 59-13, and none of those teams really fits the model of teams chasing Boston and New York. The Twins certainly haven't done very different financially in recent years. The Mariners did sign Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson two winters ago, but both players have been underwhelming this year to say the least. And the White Sox are the defending world champs -- Boston and New York should be chasing them. And what about Kansas City? The Royals were significantly better in interleague play (10-8) but they clearly aren't trying to compete with the Yankees. Keeping up with the Jones probably explains part of the AL dominance, but more likely it's also due to the decline of the NL's premiere team (Atlanta), the shrewd management of AL Central teams and simply part of one of baseball's many cycles. Soccer may be the world's game, but baseball isn't far behind, as the Mariners' lineup showed Monday: Seattle started two Japanese players (Ichiro and Kenji Johjima), two Venezuelans (Felix Hernandez and Jose Lopez), a Cuban (Yuniesky Betancourt), a Dominican (Adrian Beltre), a Korean (Shin-Soo Choo), an American of Cuban descent (Raul Ibanez) and two plain old Americans (Sexson and Carl Everett). A belated congratulations to Oregon State, which became the first northern school to win the College World Series in four decades.
FROM LEFT FIELD
One thing we hate about the All-Star Game? That you have to have at least one player per team, no matter how bad said team's players are. This year's poster boy for this rule is Kansas City starter Mark Redman, who is 5-4 with a 5.59 ERA and went from July 24 of last year to June 3 this year without a win. It's bad enough Kansas City fans have to watch Redman. Why make the rest of us?
One thing (among many) that we like about the All-Star Game? That people actually know and care who makes the teams (unlike, say, the Pro Bowl). Here's our all-snubbed team (before results from the Internet fan voting are released):
|C||A.J. Pierzynski||Batting .326|
|1B||Travis Hafner||.312, 22 HR, 66 RBI|
|2B||Brian Roberts||Batting .316 with .380 OBP|
|3B||Joe Crede||.300, 16 HR, 57 RBI|
|SS||Omar Vizquel||.307, .386 OBP, 49 runs|
|OF||Bobby Abreu||.444 OBP, 52 runs|
|OF||Nick Swisher||19 HRs, .377 OBP|
|OF||Adam Dunn||26 HRs, 54 RBI|
|P||Francisco Liriano||9-1 with a 1.99 ERA|
"What Joe Mauer's doing is sick. He's 23 years old. What's he going to do when he gets man muscles?"
-- Torii Hunter on his teammate, whose current batting average of .391 is 29 points higher than the record for a catcher (.362, held by Mike Piazza and Bill Dickey)