Category Archives: sports

Rickey Henderson

Rickey Henderson was recently admitted the baseball Hall of Fame. I was a huge baseball fan when I was a kid, and Rickey Henderson was one of my favorite players. I have a vivid image in my head of Rickey standing above above second base, with his dark sunglasses on after stealing the base. I’m sure pictures like this were featured on many of his baseball cards.

It wasn’t until years later when I was a little older and Rickey came to San Diego that I realized how eccentric he was. I found this blog post the other day outlining 25 great Rickey Henderson moments. They’re not all true, but I bet the majority of them are.

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Lucha Libre in Tijuana

Last Friday night we went to a Lucha Libre wrestling match in Tijuana. I know very little about Mexican wrestling, but really wanted to check out a match.

We got to the Auditorium pretty early and bought tickets. General admission tickets were 150 Pesos, about $11.50US at the current exchange rate, but as we approached the window a man offered to sell us his tickets. He said his wife was sick so they couldn’t go. He had two front row tickets that he was willing to sell for about half price, just a little more than two general admission tickets. We asked the ticket sellers to verify they were good and bought them.

With some time to kill we went to Carnitas Uruapan, a restaurant across the street. We got some chips and salsa. When I ordered a beer they brought me two, Kinsee pointed out the “Cerveza 2×1” sign hanging on the wall, at the right time it seems like everything in TJ is two for one. We ate some delicious nopales and then went back to the auditorium.On our way back we saw these fans who were more than happy to pose for a picture.

We didn’t realize how close the front row was, until we sat down. We were right there about 5 feet from the ring. We got some beers, 20 Pesos, about $1.50US, sadly not two for one, and waited for the match to start. I don’t think either of us really knew what to expect. This guy was my favorite. He walked around the ring making sure the cables were taut before the match, and then stayed on the sides making sure nothing went wrong the entire time. He seemed like the only person involved that wasn’t an actor.

The first match was two on two and one of the guys wasn’t wearing a mask. I never figured out how they decide to wear masks or not, but at one point in one of the later matches one guy tried to take another’s mask off. Aside from the masks Mexican wrestling doesn’t seem that much different than American professional wrestling. It was silly but fun.

The second match brought out an older guy in white chinos. He seemed to be the Vince McMahon of TJ wrestling — everything he did was over dramatic.

I think the second match was four on four. As the night went on the wrestlers got bigger and better. At one point a guy was thrown into the flimsy railing right in front of us. As they came over you could smell the sweat and mildew of their clothes. It was really disgusting.

A lot of the matches involved silly slapstick humor that the crowd would eat up (myself included). My favorite part of the night was when someone was being pinned and another wrestler held the referee’s hand so he couldn’t count him out. The entire crowd made this laughing noise that (whether he does it or not) I can picture Bumblebee Man on The Simpsons making. It’s not quite a full laugh, but obvious that the person making it is amused.

During the last match one wrestler got thrown over the fence near us and they started fighting and hitting each other with chairs right there. Then someone in the crowd got up and started fighting, it was obvious it was setup, but pretty funny and the crowed loved it.

Speaking of the crowd, there was a man about 10 seats away from us, also in the front row, that was really into it. He would yell at the wrestlers and the ref when he disagreed with what was going on. He would show his approval for things they did. I couldn’t tell if he was somehow involved with it, or if he was just a really excited fan.

It was fun and entertaining. I don’t know how often I’ll go back to Lucha matches, but definetely something to see once.

Minor league soccer and Tequila in Tijuana

Sunday afternoon we drove over to the Hipodromo to see the Xoloitzcuintles game. They’re the Tijuana team in Mexico’s Primera A league, a minor league of sorts — although teams can be promoted from Primera A to the Primera Division, the major leagues, if they do well enough. They currently play in a small fairly primitive stadium, but they’re building a new stadium which will hold about 30,000 people, and if Mexico wins their bid for the World Cup in 2018 there’s a chance some games could be played in TJ.

We got there a bit late, missing both of the Xoloitzcuintles goals. They played well in the first half, but Leon A.C. played well in the second half, scoring two goals and leaving the game in a tie. Even though Tijuana didn’t win we had a great time drinking beer with chimoy and chili pepper around the rim of the cup, chatting with vendors who tried to tell us the meat he was selling was greyhound from the dog track next door, and watching the amazing half time show with a mechanical bull rolled onto the middle of the field.

After the game we went over to the casino and watched a dog race before heading downtown to the Tequila festival. I’ve been wanting to try some different tequilas for a while now, to find out which I like and what prices they should be in Mexico. We got to taste about twenty tequilas and one mezcal. I found that I liked them a lot more than I expected I would. And a lot more than when I’ve taken Cuervo shots in the past.

My friends made me pose with the cheerleaders.

My friends made me pose with the cheerleaders.

One of my favorite things about futbol games is the cheering, song-singing fans.

One of my favorite things about futbol games is the cheering, song-singing fans.

At halftime the mascot rode the mechanical bull

At halftime the mascot rode the mechanical bull

This is a real life xoloitzquintle

This is a real life xoloitzquintle

I want this t-shirt

I want this t-shirt

The stadium theyre building.

The stadium they're building.

Chasing the Dream

As I sat down in front of the TV last night — still buzzed from the mate I had earlier in the afternoon — to watch the Olympic semifinal football game of Argentina vs Brazil. I found it interesting that the national teams of the two countries that influenced and affected me so much recently would meet in the Olympics, in a sport that inadvertently became a central factor of my life during that time. Argentina was favored to win the game, the entire tournament by some, but this would be one of the most exciting matches against two long time soccer rivals and neighboring countries.

So, a little personal history is in order. I spent the past “winter”, from December 2007 to March 2008 in South America. For the three months prior I was ready to go, counting down the days. I knew very little about any of the countries I’d be traveling through (the original “plan” was to travel the majority of the continent), but I ended up splitting my time almost equally between Brazil and Argentina.

I arrived in Brazil anxious and unsure, nervous about the next three months of traveling without much of a plan, in unfamiliar countries in which I didn’t speak the language. On top of the anxiety of arriving in a strange new land, I would be seeing my then-partner Megan for the first time in three months, and traveling with her for the following three months.

I arrived in Salvador de Bahia, a large, mostly poor, beach city in the northeast of the country, where nearly everyone except the tourists are of Afro-Brazilian decent, my skin and eye color made me stick out even before I opened my non-Portuguese speaking mouth.

Let me take a step back again. Football (soccer) inadvertently became a part of my life before I even left the US. I got a phone call from Megan one afternoon, she was in Salvador and had gone to a game, the last of the season, when a hole opened up in the bleachers and half a dozen spectators fell to their deaths during the post-game celebration of the local team advancing to the next division. Luckily she was fine, and didn’t even know about the tragedy until she left the stadium. But it was that event that made me realize that foreign soccer and the soccer fans and events are as big and crazy, if not more so, than they are portrayed to be to us folks in the US.

When I arrived in December soccer was on hiatus, not just in Salvador, but all over the continent. On the long bus ride to Rio de Janeiro I read the majority of my Lonely Planet travel guide, including the small article on the soccer teams or Rio state. Arriving in Rio and meeting Andre and Monique from couchsurfing, our hosts for the next week and a half, I found out that soccer was done for a few weeks, but would soon be back, it wasn’t like the off season we’re used to in the US, just a short break for the holidays.

The next few weeks were soccer free. There were still plenty of signs of the sports influence, jerseys and flags for sale everywhere you looked, kids playing soccer in the streets, but no games on television or at the stadiums.

We left Rio and arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina a couple of days before Christmas, still no soccer. After New Year’s we headed south into Patagonia, camping for nearly a month. Without television or cities with more than 20,000 inhabitants, I wasn’t sure when professional soccer started again, but it was definitely back in a big way by the time we reached Mendoza a month later. Mendoza, a city of about 100,000 people, the biggest we had been in all month, was hosting a match between Boca Jrs and River Plate, the two big rival teams in Buenos Aires. Sadly, I didn’t know about it until it was too late, but some kids from the hostel I was at went and according them the scene was pure chaotic fun. Soccer was back in a big way.

Arriving in Cordoba and meeting up with Pablo, another couchsurfing host we up and left town with Jorge a Chilean friend of his to see some small towns in the country and do some camping and hiking. After spending a long day and evening exploring some small towns we arrived at a campground (after getting lost) around midnight. The owners almost wouldn’t let us in, telling us the campground was closed for the night, Pablo later explained that they were worried and scared, paranoid city folk from Buenos Aires. As we found a site and started to settle in for the night we quickly heard the loud and rambunctious neighbors.

As Megan and Jorge decided to go to sleep, Pablo and I embraced the neighbors. They came over with Quilmes in hand (the national beer of Argentina), about six men and two women, all of them in their mid-twenties. They’re drunk and having fun, on vacation from Buenos Aires. No one speaks English except for one of the girls and Pablo, and surprisingly, for the first time in all my travels, my Spanish is just as good as their English. I’m wearing a jacket I bought a few weeks before, a 2006 World Cup Argentina jacket with Maradona’s number on the back. A couple of the guys see this and for the next 30 minutes all they can talk about is futbol. They’re trying to teach me phrases in Spanish: “Maradona es dio” while pointing toward the stars and “Boca basura”.

They invite Pablo and I to go for a walk. I was unsure of what this entailed, but grabbed a liter beer and headed off with them. It’s dark out, there’s no moon –which made stargazing great, we could see the milky way, but wasn’t good for navigation. We had one small, dim flashlight, which died very soon after we set out. We walked along, struggling to communicate with each other, using Pablo and the girl that spoke English as translators at times, drunkenly wandering down dirt roads and trails.

Going around a corner one of the girls screams. The guys go running towards her and I learn a new word in Spanish: “vaca!” they say as I see a big ugly cow staring at us from the side of the road. We continue walking, I ask if we have a destination, they tell me we’re looking for UFO’s. Finally we reach a river we decide not to cross so we turn back. They see that I’m wearing sandals not closed toed shoes and proclaim “estás loco!” and warn me of all the critters and creatures that will attack my feet at any moment. Pablo assures me that this is just the paranoid effects of the city once again.

We end the night with more talk of soccer and Argentina. They want to make sure I know that David Beckham is gay. Make sure I know River Plate is the best futbol team in the world. They share with me the best Argentine rock band: Los Piojos and the best porn star: Coca Sarli and then we call it a night.

Two weeks later we arrive back in Rio. This is where the soccer fever really begins. Amber, a friend from the states came to visit Rio. On the bus from the airport to Monique and Andre’s house in the Zona Norte — the completely untouristy half of the city where the Maracanã (the soccer stadium) is located — when as we get closer and closer to the stadium we see more and more rowdy fans waving flags, all dressed in red and black. The closer we get the more traffic, more people, more noise. We see a bus with face-painted hooligans coming out the windows screaming and yelling, supporting their teams. The street in front of the stadium is literally a sea of people, nearly all of them dressed in red and black the team colors of Flamengo. Our bus makes it past and we get back to the house and ask Andre why the occasion was. He tells us that Flamengo is playing Botafogo, cross town rivals in a qualifying match for the Copa Libertadores, the biggest tournament in South America. Flamengo we learn is like the Raiders of Brazilian soccer, the fans are violent and take things seriously.

Amber is a big jetlagged, just having arrived in Rio from San Francisco, but we decide to go down the street to a barzino (a small bar, with mostly outdoor seating and cheap beer) to have some beer and watch the game. The tv is on and they place is full, with full tables spilling out onto the sidewalk. We grab a table and order beers, looking around to see that nearly everyone is wearing Flamengo jerseys. There are a few Botafogo fans, but everything is mostly friendly among them. Profanity is yelled when someones team isn’t doing well, “porra” is a favorite insult, yelled when something goes wrong, it literally translates to “semen”. We drink and watch the game, Flamengo ends up winning, the people go wild. We walk back to the house and I talk with Andre about soccer. His team is Fluminense, I want to buy a soccer jersey as a souvenir so I decide to get a Fluminense jersey. And it just so happens that they’re playing at the Maracanã in a few days. We decide to go, take a cab to the stadium and look for the ticket window. We’re being harassed by scalpers. I use my best Portuguese to ask a cop near the entrance where to buy tickets, he yells at the scalpers and then says something which I don’t understand at all. He wanders off, I’m thinking that he told me where to go and I didn’t understand him. We start to walk off when all of a sudden he yells at us. We look back and he has someone with him, someone holding three tickets with a smile on his face and telling us to go quickly as the game is about to start. We somehow just lucked into three free tickets, not the best seats in the house, but saving $10 is a big deal when you’re traveling for three months.

Nearly everyone was dressed in Fluminense clothing, there were rowdy, fun loving, fans waving giant flags and beating drums. People yelling at the referee’s when they didn’t like a call, ecstatic when Fluminense scored a goal. It was by far one of the most fun times I’ve had at a sporting event in my life.

A few days later I left South America and landed back in San Diego. Soon after I heard that the Argentina national team would be playing the Mexico national team at Qualcomm Stadium. You can read about that here.

One thing I noticed about soccer, one of the reasons I think I enjoy watching it (every once in a while) so much is that it’s fast paced with very little room for commercials. In a 90 minute game the only time for commercial breaks is during the short half time, with the rest of the game nonstop play.

Argentina won the game last night, they’re advancing to the finals to play Nigeria Friday night.