We were walking to lunch in our town.
We passed a utility box of some kind. Most people would see the totality -- green, rectangular box, three or four feet high, doors hanging open, between the sidewalk and the street.
Our grand-daughter saw the insides.
She whipped out her smart phone and took one click.
This is what she saw.
There is nothing quite like baseball coincidences. (I won’t call them trivia, because there is nothing trivial about them.)
Dixie Walker was a teammate of both Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson.
Jimmie Reese was a teammate of the Babe and a coach for Reggie Jackson.
Jefferson and Adams both died on July 4, 1826. (That’s baseball, isn’t it?)
They’ve been at this game so long, every day for seven months, that eras merge, people turn out to have overlapped, even if momentarily.
The other day, Shaun Clancy, the proprietor of Foley’s, the oxymoronic Irish Baseball pub on W. 33 St. in Manhattan, told my friend Curt Block that one major-league player had competed against, or was managed by, all six people inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame last Sunday -- Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre, the managers, and Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas, the players.
Shaun promised to tell us later this week when a bunch of old Hofstra athletes (and me) get together at Foley’s.
I was stumped and went to the Web, trying to match careers, but that is a job for a computer, not an addled baseball-fan mind. Then another friend sent me a link to a nice article by Tim Kurkjian on ESPN.com, revealing that the player was pitcher Steve Karsay, a major-leaguer from 1993 to 2006. That ended the suspense, but my memory was already in gear because of the three managers, whom I remember as players.
I knew Cox best because he showed up with the Yankees in 1968 as a minor-league third baseman with bad knees. He had spent a night or two in his car on the Fort Lauderdale beach, waiting for camp to open. He was hungry enough to squeeze 220 major-league games out of the gristle in his knees. Later Ralph Houk recommended him for coaching and minor-league managing jobs.
Cox never forgot that Vic Ziegel of the good old New York Post and Steve Jacobson of Newsday and I were friendly with him. When he became a major-league manager, pennants and ejections and all, he greeted us with a smile whenever we showed up. We knew him when.
I remember LaRussa as a marginal player with Charlie Finley’s A’s – an intense guy who didn’t play much, 132 games total in the majors, but often seemed to be looking around, paying attention.
Joe Torre came to our attention in New York as the chubby kid brother of Frank Torre, the smooth first baseman for the Milwaukee Braves. As Joe became a star catcher, the verbal Brooklyn side of him made him a pleasure to interview. I remember him enjoying the New York Italian pun about “Chicken Catcher Torre.” Guys like Sandy Koufax, Tommy Davis, Willie Randolph and the Torres never lost their inner Brooklyn. Joe batted .297 in 2209 games.
The three managers earned their chances, as baseball lifers. You never know – the player you spot in batting practice or skulking around the dugout just might wind up managing his way to the Hall of Fame in the next wave of baseball coincidences.
As a bicycle rider myself – wear helmet, obey traffic rules – I find it stunningly hilarious that in a city of human projectiles, ranging from clueless to murderous, the one amateur who gets busted is Alec Baldwin.
Of all the people to snag, the police happened upon the surliest New Yorker of us all, so charming in his old Capital One commercials, so crude when tossing homophobic slurs at journalists or screaming insults at his teen-age daughter.
Of all the millions, why him, working his way through up Fifth Avenue, going against the flow? Needless to say, he smarted off to officers, got cuffed, back in May, and on Thursday he appeared in court in his old Capital One cuteness, to be called “Alexander” by the judge, and warned to be a “good boy.” How humiliating that must have been.
But the real question is, what were the odds that police would get him, when just about every cyclist I ever see – and dodge – in Obstacle City is breaking one law or another?
Living in a nearby suburb, I used to pop into the city on Sunday mornings, stick my bike on the back of my car, and ride around Brooklyn, Manhattan, even Staten Island one memorable time. It was great fun, at least til 10 AM or so, when motorists started gunning their engines.
Now I drive and walk and take the subway all over the city but I don’t ride my bike in New York, nor would I rent one of those new clunky-looking things from this new fad called Citi Bike.
In theory, making bikes available is a good idea – in Amsterdam, or maybe Seattle. But in New York, it only adds to the peril. It’s bad enough in New York dodging taxi and limo drivers – they are the worst, totally solipsistic – but cyclists in Manhattan are a close second.
New Yorkers have multiple sixth senses for avoiding danger, and one of them is to instinctively know you are about to be splattered by a delivery guy, going the wrong way, or on the sidewalk, or busting the light. Death by sweet-and-sour soup. Messengers at least are professional assassins, speeding through lights, merciless, and some of them carry whistles to give you a fighting chance to save your life, and at least they are agile to avoid wrecking themselves.
Now Citi Bike has put weapons in the hands of innocents. I did an unofficial survey the other day while parked in one of those weird new parking zones out in the middle of traffic. (What genius invented that?) I started counting merry cyclists playing in traffic and calculated that nine out of 10 – 90 per cent, doctor! – were not wearing helmets.
As a driver and pedestrian, I fear the sight of adults, in their first minutes on a rented Citi Bike, teetering off the sidewalk, handlebars wobbling, no helmet, of course, with a goofy smile on their faces, no doubt recalling the last time they rode a bike, when they were 13, back home in Grover’s Corners, or at summer camp. Whoopee, let’s go play in traffic.
It’s dangerous enough cycling in traffic if you obey the rules. On the peninsula where I live, I pause at signs, wait for red lights, and do not go down one-way streets. Some joker cut me off one time and the crossing guard near the post office screamed at him, made him stop, scolded him. Most drivers in my area are respectful. But ride a bike in Manhattan?
Right in the middle of all this anarchy, perhaps holding a coffee cup in one hand – how New York is that? – comes Alec Baldwin, no helmet, riding up Fifth, as entitled as an actor with a stunt man ready to do the hard parts. To paraphrase his old commercials, what’s in your brain pan?
Let me first say that I get the creeps whenever I encounter the new journalism buzz-phrase “long-form journalism.”
Long-form -- rhymes with chloroform.
Why not just say “long,” since that seems to be what is being advertised.
To be effective, the writer needs to blend facts, details, descriptions, observations, quotes, opinions, in an interesting manner. That is, the writer needs to be able to write, and the editors need to be able to edit.
That’s long enough, right there. However, some long pieces are glorious, worth reading slowly, carefully, from beginning to end. I just read three over the weekend.
The Passion of Roger Angell. By Tom Verducci. Sports Illustrated, July 21, 2014.
Roger Angell has graced the New Yorker and his own books for the past half century with his writing about baseball (along with other elegant pieces.) On July 26, Angell will be honored at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., with the annual J.G. Taylor Spink Award, the highest honor given by the Baseball Writers of America. (Angell has never held a BBWA card since the New Yorker does not cover baseball on a daily basis.)
Tom Verducci, a Sports Illustrated writer and television commentator, has proven worthy of his subject, accompanying Angell to the cottages and docks and sailboats of his beloved Maine, and even to the cemetery, containing the headstones for Angell’s mother, Katharine Angell White, his step-father, E.B. White, his brother, Joe, his daughter, Callie, and Angell’s wife, Carol, whom he misses badly, and for Angell himself, the stone (1920-) lacking only a final date.
To his immense credit, Verducci captures the bittersweet outlook of a man who is 93 and has much left to say about baseball, about life, about writing:
“I used to have a terribly hard time starting, because when I wrote I didn’t do first drafts. I wrote the whole piece on typewriters and would x out and use Scotch tape. I think I began to realize that leads weren’t a big problem. You can start anywhere.”
For many decades, the best baseball writing of the year would arrive in the mail at the end of spring training -- Roger Angell’s report on spring training, often from the baseball hangout, the Pink Pony in Scottsdale, Ariz., now defunct. The first Angell of spring was a sure sign we would outlive winter, real life was resuming. His pieces could have gone on forever, as far as this reader was concerned. Amazingly, long-form journalism had not yet been invented.
Wrong Answer: In an era of high-stakes testing, a struggling school made a shocking choice. By Rachel Aviv. The New Yorker. July 21, 2014.
Speaking of trends, the current infatuation with testing scores led the Atlanta school system to encourage cheating. Rachel Aviv followed one idealistic educator, feeling forced to abandon actual teaching and caring for the young, down the path to Watergate-style chicanery. Great reporting provides a guide to this tragedy.
The Trials of Graham Spanier, Penn State’s Ousted President. By Michael Sokolove. The New York Times Magazine. July 20, 2014.
The former president of Penn State allowed a seasoned magazine writer to visit him in the wreckage of the child-abuse case involving Jerry Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator with the football team. The article says Spanier was brutalized by his own father; I never knew that. Now Spanier faces legal charges that he failed to investigate the possibility that Sandusky was sexually abusing young boys within the football “program.”
There is no doubt Spanier and Joe Paterno were clueless in coping with developing hints and charges about Sandusky. (I listened in on a Paterno press conference in 2008; in retrospect, this was not the same man I had followed for decades, but Spanier could not get him to retire.)
Sokolove makes the case that the institution of Penn State was willing to chuck Spanier and Paterno into history and pay $60-million to the loan-shark-minded N.C.A.A. for the privilege of being able to make more money as a football “program.”
Note: I just discovered a piece by James Bennet in the Atlantic last December, decrying the spawn of longform-journalism. It’s really good. And not that long.
These are poems about a priest abusing a boy, a number of boys.
Norbert Krapf, recently the poet laureate of Indiana, held it inside for half a century, before a spiritual advisor suggested he deal with it. He then did what an artist does. He created something else, something different.
Think of it as a stage. (This is my conceit, not the author’s.) On the stage is a boy, still reeling from what happened so long ago, and an older man, who has been living a productive life, despite what happened. With his back to the audience, mute and distant for a long and heavy time, is the priest himself.
And then there is Mr. Blues.
"Okay, you got some mean and nasty stuff in your past.
"I admit you got some mean and nasty stuff in your past.
"My mama used to say, 'Son, let go of that bitter sass.!'"
-- Mr. Blues Sings Yes
Mr. Blues is the friend we all want to ride shotgun on the journey of our lives. He is the third part of the Freudian trinity, who sees clearly, speaks the truth, does not let things rest. (Krapf told me he did not create Mr. Blues but rather Mr. Blues just began speaking one day.)
Mr. Blues prods the boy and the man to reconcile, to look again at what went down in rural southern Indiana, when the home-town priest asked altar boys to stay over at the rectory on the night before Sunday Mass, and also took them hunting, was a pillar of the community, and over the years he violated some but not others. Many people knew, but not everybody. The boy and the man are still working that out, five decades later. Why couldn’t they tell anybody? (One boy told his father, who beat him up, but not the priest.)
Krapf used to teach at C.W. Post College on Long Island. I first heard about him in 2003, from three Navajo women from the Southwest who had been recruited to play volleyball, and who raved about Krapf for initiating them into poetry as part of the fine education they were receiving at Post.
Krapf moved home to Indianapolis after that. We still have never met, although I wrote a column about him and the frontier between Bears fans and Colts fans in northern Indiana, before Super Bowl XLI in 2007. Krapf sings blues and jazz around Indiana, and loves to reminisce about the hills and farms of southern Indiana, just north of the Ohio River, a region I learned to love in my days in Louisville.
Now Krapf has written poems about a different corner of his childhood. The man wonders what he could have done to heal some of the pain of the boy, and Mr. Blues hectors them to meet in the middle, to get it out. The reality is as current as Pope Francis meeting with six victims of priest abuse in early July. By now, we all know what happened, in so many places.
Late in the book, there is a rustling on the hypothetical stage. It takes a long time for the priest to speak, but ultimately he does, beginning with a terse warning to the boy. Let us say he is not contrite.
(Krapf notes in the preface that his therapist urged him to include the priest in these poems. Good instinct. It works in the context, and I suspect it worked for Krapf, also.)
I am not qualified to critique poetry, Krapf’s use of three-line stanzas, blues cadence, repetition with slight variation, slang, familiarity, child-like observations of the living past. I only know that I read Catholic Boy Blues in two huge chunks, wondering how it would turn out.
I was reminded of the aside that Nina Simone hurls at the audience in her epic song, “Mississippi Goddam:” “This is a show tune/ But the show hasn’t been written for it, yet.” Never was, to my knowledge. But the aside lives.
Most of us think we have read and heard everything we need to know about priest abuse, but up to now we had not heard Norbert Krapf take it on.
* * *
Catholic Boy Blues. By Norbert Krapf. Introduction by Matthew Fox. 2014. Greystone Publishing LLC. Nashville, Tennessee. www.greystonepublishing.com.
On July 15, it was announced that Krapf has been selected as the regional winner of the 2014 Eugene & Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award. He and a colleague plan to hold workshops about writing about difficult relationships.
For more information: http://www.krapfpoetry.com/
When I got my wages
I hung my head and cried.
I could not stop these visions
that swept in like the tide.
--Amazon (River of Dreams)
The journey is over, just like the voyage up river in the classic song by The Band.
It was a wonderful World Cup in many ways -- the first World Cup I ever watched at home, in its entirety, once even four matches in a day, in the early giddy days of group play, when so many things were possible.
Now it is over. Lineker’s Law has actually come true for the first time since the English striker articulated it in 1990.
The marvel is that Argentina did so well in the final, holding off what has been building since the fun summer of 2006. Argentina was tough and smart and perhaps deserved better than the 1-0 defeat, but at least somebody scored, and Germany was the best squad, by far, in this World Cup.
One more thing about Argentina. Please, don’t anybody ever again waste time fretting about whether Lionel Messi is the new Diego Maradona. That is so unfair, and mostly to him. Maradona was a genius; Messi is a lovely player, at his best taking crisp passes from Iniesta and Xavi at Barça.
Messi is a small man, anyway – his modesty comes off in all the commercials; he is Everyman with a superb change of pace. He seemed almost slumped over from the weight of seven matches, plus the weight of expectations. Be like Maradona? No más.
I’ve said enough good things about Germany. Let’s talk about the World Cup itself, one more time. Friends have been asking what it’s like to be home after eight World Cups. (Did I mention I have a book out, called Eight World Cups? I'll be promoting it at the Dolphin Book Store in Port Washington, L.I., Thursday at 7 PM.)
I love Brazil from afar – love the music, love the people, even love the way the fans despaired at the two losses. My feeling was, having chosen a buyout at the end of 2011, this was a good World Cup to watch on television. My pals worked in distant cities, under logistics harder than anything I ever faced. The NYT did great, ESPN did great, Soccer America did great, Telemundo did great.
One thing that struck me was how much better I saw the matches (particularly when I watched at home.) In a stadium, you take in the big picture but you don’t necessarily see and hear the fine points of the replays the way I do at home.
I was happy having Twellman and Moreno and Keller and McManaman explaining stuff. ESPN has been working at presenting the matches and the background for years, and I'm sad it won’t be doing the World Cup in 2018.
I want to put in a plug for my friends at Soccer America, which has been on the story all year, giving us the daily vibrations of the U.S. team (no Soccer America reader was surprised at Klinsmann’s snub of Donovan) and giving us great detail and color, hour by hour from Brazil.
Finally, please check out Paul Kennedy’s top-ten wrapup from Sunday. He praises the Times for its large and talented staff – particularly Jeré Longman’s journeys up river. I told Jeré that when he gets home he needs to listen to the Band’s version of Artie Traum’s Amazon (River of Dreams.)
So many people took us all over that fantastic country. Now it is time for the visions to come sweeping in, like the tide.
(More thoughts on the final, as told to Jacob Klinger of pennlive.com. GV)
When I was asked to predict the World Cup last winter, my first consideration was the state of the host country. We kept reading about the turmoil over the huge amounts of Brazilian money and the disruption of Brazilian people to accommodate this party for FIFA and its friends.
What nation would have the best chance of surviving seven matches in a charged environment like Brazil during the World Cup?
Germany. It just popped in.
For many of the reasons I outline in my column in the Times on Thursday, I thought Germany was ready to go further than the semifinals of the past two World Cups. They made superior football look, well, not easy, but possible. My admiration for the German model had grown over the years, seeing them almost always alert and competitive and professional.
Like the old Yankees, going from first to third, hitting the cutoff man. Hank Bauer to rookie: “Kid, don’t mess with my World Series check.” Or the old Boston Celtics of Russell and the Joneses. Or the old Green Bay Packers.
I also reasoned out that the Brazilian team would be affected by any unrest during the World Cup – if citizens were protesting, if tear gas was wafting. And the expectations were so high. Brazil did not win in 1950, the only other time it was host. Uruguay did.
I came into this World Cup business believing Brazil should always win. In my current book, I tell that tale of disillusionment and surprise from 1982 when Sócrates and Falcão and Zico were counter-attacked by Italy.
I was still under that spell before the 2010 World Cup when I wrote in the NYT that I would love to see Spain and the Netherlands, the two best teams never to win the World Cup, play in the finals. But in the end, I theorized, there is always Brazil. Well, there wasn’t.
This year I indulged in more magical thinking. (The article was for Cigar Aficionado, a handsome magazine; I do not smoke, but I do write, when asked.) I wrote that Spain was due to wear down, citing all the matches – approaching 250 in four full years – played by Andrés Iniesta, its brilliant playmaker. And then like a dope I went against my own logic and picked Spain to lose in the finals to Germany.
But first I checked with my doctor, Kenneth Ewing, former captain of Guatemala, who follows world soccer. During my checkup in February, I asked who was going to win. Germany, he said. Okay.
I picked Argentina to beat Brazil in the third-place match, somehow sensing Brazil might be soft, or distracted. So I picked three of the four semifinalists, not all that hard because Usual Suspects tend to reach the semifinals.
For the record: I picked the United States not to get out of its group, but I did cite the advancement possibility of beating Ghana, drawing with Portugal and then hoping for a draw against Germany. I also picked Manuel Neuer, the German keeper, and Philip Lahm, the German defender, as two of the 10 stars of the tournament.
Of course, I quoted Gary Lineker of England in 1990: “Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball and at the end, the Germans always win.”
Argentina is tough and has Lionel Messi, but it also has one day less rest than Germany.
Gary Lineker is having a good World Cup. I’m quoting him again for Sunday.
Your comments? Predictions?
Is it my imagination, or are penalty kicks getting funkier?
My general impression is that some of the PKs during the knockout round have had some style elements of John Cleese from the Ministry of Silly Walks.
Or maybe Monty Python is on my mind because of their farewell performances this month.
On Saturday, I watched James Rodriguez of Colombia take the penalty kick against Brazil. He advanced a few steps, stopped, dipped his knee like a page in court, and flicked the ball into the net. (His reward was a visit from a giant grasshopper that alighted on his right arm, looking like it could carry him off.)
The Rodriguez dip was not as brazen as the full Panenka performed by Andrea Pirlo in the 2012 Euros against Joe Hart of England. The Panenka is named after the Czechoslovak player, Antonin Panenka, who in 1976 slowed down and nudged the ball airbound for a slow-motion goal that must have taken a second a yard to reach the net.
Panenka thereby gained the rare sporting fame of having a technique named after him, something usually reserved for the innovators of figure skating, for goodness’ sakes.
But others have been dipping and dodging their way toward the disk where the ball rests. Kostas Mitroglou of Greece did a nice little Grambling Marching Band stutter step before deftly kicking a PK in the first round of the shootout, which Greece lost to Costa Rica, eventually.
And Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo have added a little funky-chicken elbow and knee action to their goal routine.
Technically, says my goalkeeping guru Alan Rubin, a player is supposed to progress toward the disk without diversion. Then again, keepers are supposed to stay behind the line, rather than advance on the kicker (remember Brianna Scurry in the 1999 Women’s World Cup?)
And Tim Krul of the Netherlands seemed to be imitating Muhammad Ali’s nostril-flaring showboat visit to Joe Frazier’s gym back in the day when he came into the match for the shootout against Costa Rica the other.
“I think goalie antics are nothing new,” Duncan Irving, the long-time soccer writer, said in an email message to me. “I saw Holland’s Hans Van Breukelen get up in the grilles, as the kids say, of Danish players at Euro 1992 (the Dutch lost the shootout in the semifinal.) England’s Joe Hart was shouting during Euro 2012 — Pirlo took a Panenka on him “to teach [Hart] a lesson” — and Bruce Grobbelaar (Liverpool) famously performed a jelly-leg goal-line dance against Roma in the 1984 European Cup final.”
I am watching the two semifinals to see if anybody tries a backheel PK after doing the Michael Jackson moon walk. Lifetime fame – or infamy -- awaits.
(I am in a rage over the closing of the grand New York tradition, Jamaica High School. The building still stands, built to last forever, on the glacial hill in Queens. My mom was in the first class to enter the new building in February of 1927. I was in the class of 1956, way down, but in it. A decade ago, I visited some honors classes and found education and hope alive and well. But New York let the school get away in recent years, and the most imaginative thing the city could think to do was close it down, and put four experimental schools in corners of the building. We’ll see how that works out. The concept of holding up a beacon to the new and the hopeful and the future of Queens seems to have escaped the city. What rank failure.
(Unable to be around on June 26, to pay homage to the last graduates and dedicated teachers of Jamaica High, I asked Kathy Forrestal, whose family has remained close to Jamaica, to write her impressions.)
By Kathy Forrestal
Not long after this year’s graduating seniors were admitted, the Department of Education moved for a second time to close Jamaica High School and, after four years of slowly phasing out, the school graduated its final 24 students on Thursday, June 26, 2014. “You are the 175th graduating class,” Principal Erich Kendall told the graduates, “and there will not be a 176th.”
I was a member of the class of 1994 and have been involved in efforts to save the school. I’ve had many opportunities to return to Jamaica. Watching the school phase out has been like watching a loved one waste away, particularly for the students and teachers who lived the loss daily. Principal Erich Kendall wondered if immediate closure would have been merciful; others noted that then the students and teachers wouldn’t have been able to spend those years together. The loss of Jamaica is traumatic for those who love the school.
Shortly after I graduated, NY Times reporter and Jamaica alum George Vecsey wrote of a visit to Jamaica, “I see the same energy, the same dreams, the same potential. You remind me of my friends.” I can say the same thing about the graduating class of 2014: they remind me of my friends, and I am happy to welcome them to the Jamaica High School alumni family. I could not be sorrier that there will not be any more members added to this family in the future.
“We were told Jamaica was a failing school, but we came, and we saw,” said graduate Philip Samuel. “We stayed. We chose to come to Jamaica and to work hard with our teachers to overcome any disadvantages associated with attending a closing school.” Twenty-plus years ago I was told I should reconsider my decision to go to Jamaica; how wrong people were. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard “I heard it was a bad school, but I was so wrong;” I wish we had been able to make more people believe us. Jamaica was family, a second home and, in spite of phase out, this sentiment was echoed by this year’s seniors.
The Jamaica these students knew was different in many ways than the one I attended. As Jamaica’s student body shrank, the school lost classroom space to the growing schools co-located within the building. Honors and AP courses disappeared, as did the specialized programs like my old Computer Science program. Favorite teachers were excessed, including a teacher who represented the heart and soul of Jamaica. Every semester brought loss. If you can succeed in a phasing out school, Principal Kendall said, you can succeed anywhere. I have no doubt the 2014 graduates will succeed; they are truly impressive young adults.
Student speakers expressed gratitude for the undying support of their teachers. Teachers past and present attended graduation. More than a few were emotional watching tribute videos, including one set to Passenger’s “Let Her Go.” The song’s lyrics say, “'Cause you only need the light when it's burning low, Only miss the sun when it starts to snow, Only know you love her when you let her go.” Jamaica alums know we love the school but just how much we loved her became truly apparent when we had to let her go, but the wonderful thing about Jamaica is the people. That can’t be destroyed and I’m clinging to the knowledge that Jamaica lives on in its alums.
Jamaica has great alums. Assemblyman David Weprin, class of 1974, was saddened by the closure of his alma mater and spoke at graduation of the fact that his brothers (including Mark, a member of the NYC Council) both were alumni as well. The legacy of the school, he said, will live on in its graduates. Given the number of alumni and friends in attendance at graduation – including Borough President Melinda Katz, whose father taught at Jamaica High School, and Special Assistant to the Borough President and former NYC Councilman Leroy Comrie, who graduated in 1976 -- that legacy is strong and will remain.
“These students understood the loyalty and pride of being part of Jamaica High School,” Jamaica High School coach Susan Sutera said. “They carried the legacy of tens of thousands of students who came before them and they did it with incredible honor and dignity. They sent the school out with a bang.”
I never wanted to say good bye to Jamaica. Walking its halls, seeing the mural in the lobby depicting colonial Jamaica, photos of students who attended long before I was even born, trophies representing decades of athletic dominance, and most importantly meeting alums from the 1950s through today, I know without a doubt you can’t replace Jamaica High School.
(I can only echo Kathy’s lovely words. Sue Sutera and James Eterno and Josh Cohen and the other teachers had the same dedication and effect that Irma Rhodes and Jean Gollobin and Rose Kirchman had in my time. The terminators who closed Jamaica High will never understand. It’s their failure but the city’s loss.)
More on Jamaica’s closing:
(A few weeks ago in Boston I met Nate Waters, who plays soccer for Principia College in Illinois, near St. Louis. He told me he was catching a few matches in Brazil, and I said I was extremely jealous. I was curious what a college player would find interesting about being at the World Cup and made him promise to write. He wrote two lovely pieces that were well received by readers. Here is his final report.)
By Nate Waters
Great athletes say that when their feet cross the line, they jog onto the freshly cut grass and glance down at the name on their chest. Nothing else in the world matters. They’re required to forget about what happened the previous day. Everything pauses, because nothing is bigger than the next 90 minutes. After traveling down the coast of Brazil and attending three World Cup matches, it seems as if the country has paused to enjoy watching the Seleção attempt to sew a sixth star into Brazilian soccer history.
Attending the World Cup is like no other trip I could imagine. Each corner is equipped with street stands selling jerseys, every park is packed with people cheering for their home country, and the taxi drivers couldn’t be more busy. It’s an atmosphere of excitement, passion and patriotism. I was caught up in the magic of it all.
Every activity was determined by the games being played that afternoon. We weren’t sure if we should visit the Christ the Redeemer statue because the United States was playing Portugal that night. Waiters brought out food and drinks only during commercial breaks and halftime. And I quickly realized that sporting the canary yellow Brazil jersey was the safest choice one could make while cruising through Rio de Janeiro.
While being swept up in the awesomeness of crossing the street into Copacabana Beach, you would not think to look down and notice “Go Home FIFA” stenciled into the crosswalk, as if it was included when the streets were first painted.
However, thousands pass by each day glancing down at the bitter reality that this World Cup has brought to Brazil. The tourists probably never noticed the fare increase for the Metro or that the Brazilian workers outside the stadiums have “Volunteer” printed on their official shirts because FIFA does not pay most of its employees. The only concern was to arrive before kickoff and be squished with 10,000 other fans on the burning sand to watch the game in the FIFA Fan Fest.
Brazil is caught up in hosting the World Cup, and the riots seem to have been overshadowed by a 22-year-old striker with a crazy Mohawk and four goals for his country. Maybe it’s Neymar or simply the amount of tourists that outshine all of the problems we read about before, but the Brazilian dream of playing futebol on the beach and enjoying the breathtaking beauty all seemed to be true.
I watched the Brazil-Cameroon game with a Brazilian family in São Paulo, and following Neymar’s second goal, they all cheered, calling him the best player in the world. I laughed for a second and questioned if they truly thought he was better than Messi or Ronaldo or Van Persie, even referencing other great Brazilian players like Ronaldinho. I honestly had never seen such confusion before as I was almost asked to leave the room and find a different place to watch the game.
It’s true—nothing is bigger than soccer in Brazil. It’s their culture. It’s what unites the country. It’s the beautiful game.
# # #
(In case you missed, here are Nate Waters’ two earlier pieces. I just want to add how happy I am for him that he produced these three articles. Good luck, Nate.)
A few weeks ago, I was in a Belgian pub, where everybody was six feet tall – including the women, some of whom brandished long toy spears. (The team is nicknamed the Red Devils, I was told.)
Big people. Big team.
In the World Cup Round of 16, it is not quite enough to be desperate and valiant and pretty darn good.
The Americans went up against the big people on Tuesday, unable to rely on set pieces and power as they do in the regional qualifying matches.
It was wearing to hold off the Belgians, who had skilled players from the good leagues in Europe. The U.S. could not win enough scrimmages to come up with a lot of corner kicks and free kicks. What the U.S. had was its best athlete, Tim Howard, making superb saves and keeping them in the match with probably the best match ever by an American keeper, until Belgium held on for a 2-1 victory in extra time.
Belgium had the horses -- Kevin De Bruyne who plays for VfL Wolfsburg in Germany and Romelu Lukaku, who plays with Howard at Everton of England – and they finally broke through and scored in the extra 30 minutes.
Here was the difference: Belgium could come in with Lukaku in extra time, after he did not start. The U.S. went with one man up front, Clint Dempsey, for a long time, and relied on others moving up, which is not the same as having a fast and powerful forward like Lukaku driving against weary defenders.
Ever since Jurgen Klinsmann picked his squad, I suggested the U.S. would miss Landon Donovan in a match where they needed a goal, late. This was the day. With Jozy Altidore not ready, Chris Wondolowski flubbed a chance to win in regulation time, which can happen. And Julian Green, the 19-year-old German, who essentially had Donovan’s spot on the roster, scored on his first World Cup touch, on a volley. So it’s hard to fault Klinsmann for using the kid.
The big picture is that the U.S. is still a work in progress in this sport which huge crowds keep discovering all over this nation.
The U.S. conducted itself well. Klinsmann is a good coach, and has four years more on his contract. The country can be proud. Nobody bit, nobody quit, nobody sulked. Admirable.
In my den -- no more Belgian pubs with giantesses wielding spears – the U.S. run was fun, and instructive, and exhausting. I loved Jermaine Jones and Dempsey and DaMarcus Beasley, and marveled at Michael Bradley’s work rate against Belgium. But it’s over now.
Julian Green is 19, and DeAndre Yedlin, the fresh legs at right back, is 20. And Tim Howard is 35, and keepers can go on a long time, and he should. It’s a new World Cup cycle in the States, starting now.
Where is the American De Bruyne? Where is the American Lukaku? Maybe watching the World Cup with friends and saying, “I can play that sport instead of basketball (or baseball, or football.)” That is still somewhere in the future.
has filed an interview with, of all people, me.
It's on his blog. (Just past photo of rat!) My thanks for his interest. GV
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see: