Sports


Despite all the odds, I’m still interested in soccer. Weird, huh? I went to my first professional soccer game last weekend, and it was great. I have a stadium literally down the road from my house that in the year and a half I’ve lived here, I never even considered visiting. I’m glad I did; it was awesome. I’m going back this Saturday and sitting in the hooligan section. Seeing as soccer seasons last 9 months, I can foresee myself dropping some serious cash and spending a lot of time at local soccer games. To help me decide if this is mostly good or mostly  bad, I’ve written up some pros and cons:

PROs:

  1. Stadiums have hooligan sections.
  2. Soccer players are, on the whole, beautiful men.
  3. Like at most sporting events, binge drinking is encouraged, rather than frowned upon.
  4. American soccer fans are still a relatively small group, so my chances of meeting / befriending / mooching off of a player are increased.
  5. The stadium is janky, which means it’s not crowded, and you can get beer and food easily and on the cheap.

CONs

  1. I don’t really understand soccer.

Sounds like a no brainer to me! Finn was fortunate enough to attend the NY Redbulls game tonight at which Thierry Henry made his local debut. For those of you who don’t know much about Thierry, here are three pieces of trivia for you: he’s gorgeous, has a French accent, and plays soccer. France hardly played him at all during this recent World Cup, a crime I find more reprehensible than anything they did (or perhaps more importantly, didn’t do) during World War II. But really, don’t feel bad if you don’t know anything about Monsieur Thierry; neither did these idiots, but it didn’t stop them from interviewing him on live TV, now did it?

Vodpod videos no longer available.

While we’re on the topic of soccer, allow me to spew a quick grippe. At a party last Friday, I saw a guy wearing baby blue T-shirt with the outline of Argentina, a star where the capital city is, labeled “Buenos Aires,” and a print of a curly haired 1970s-era Diego Maradona. My love of Coach Diego is well documented, so I approached this guy confidently and commented that it was great to meet another Maradona fan. He looked at me wide-eyed and countered with a completely sincere “what is that?” OH MY GOD. You cannot wear such an unbelievably specific shirt and ask that. You just can’t!

In a general housekeeping item, sorry my blog posts have been so irregular. Finn finally convinced me to join Twitter in the hopes that some of the one liners or song recommendations I have will at least be shared, rather than be damned to the blog version of the Island of Misfit Toys. So, even though our children’s children will one day read in history books that the single moment which signified the downfall of our generatio was forcing comedic greats like Conan O’Brien to begin limiting their comments to 160 characters* a pop, I cast all judgment aside and dive headfirst into Twitter Land. Any friendly suggestions of how to navigate these new waters (for instance, I imagine it’s not called Twitter Land) would be greatly appreciated. And oh yea, follow me! I’m @ http://twitter.com/PintjeBlog. Or am I just @PintjeBlog ? See! I have so many questions!

*Note: characters is one of the words I misspell so egregiously that SpellCheck can’t even help me. Based on how I spelled it this time, for instance, the computer generated suggestion was “correctors.” At least it kept it ironic!

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I love the World Cup! I am by no means a professional soccer fan, but I don’t think that in any way excludes me from being a World Cup fan. I love the ceremony, the celebrating, the national and cultural pride, the characters, and of course, the drinking. It’s fantastic. A good friend pointed out to me last night that her favorite element of watching televised soccer is seeing grown men literally cry after getting elbowed in order to convince the referee that they have been fouled. Unlike in baseball, where the strike zone is determined by a simple formula, or football, where major disputes are settled by video playback, soccer relies heavily on theatrics. Lest you think I am exaggerating, please watch this fantastic video I found, and consider it Exhibit A:

Like I said, one thing I love about soccer is the type of character that the sport produces. My little brother is currently studying in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and I have to give him quite a shout-out for introducing me to my current favorite aspect of the 2010 World Cup; Coach Diego Maradona. I will assume you know nothing about Diego (like me, up until a few weeks ago) and give you the best short-hand biography of the man that I can muster.

Diego Maradona shot to fame back in 1986 when he used his hand to score the game-winning goal in the World Cup vs. England. To those of you new to the sport of soccer, or “football” as it is known elsewhere in the world, the use of hands is strictly forboden.  But the refs didn’t catch it, so the goal stood, and Argentina was hailed as the World Champion. This moment has come to be known as “The Hand of God” in Argentina, and “cheating” elsewhere in the world.

Following this victory, he began what those in Hollywood would call a “downward spiral.” He gained weight. He did drugs. Then he got caught using drugs by FIFA, who promptly suspended him from the sport. He assured his supporters that he and FIFA had an agreement wherein he could use drugs to lose weight and stop embarrassing the league. (“No, we didn’t,” countered FIFA).

More time went by. More drugs, more weight gain, less soccer. He had an illegitimate son. He became a popular TV host. But then, one day about two years ago, he discovered that there was a job opening that appealed to him: coach of the Argentinian National Soccer Team. He applied, and got the gig (Argentinians still fondly and vividly remembered the Hand Of God, after all.) The team went on to qualify for the World Cup that same year, at which point Coach Maradona encouraged members of the press to do something I don’t feel comfortable printing here.

Now, I’m sure there are plenty of people who pick the teams they align themselves with based on national pride or the chances said team has of winning. Not me. I don’t know enough about soccer to do that. So other than my home team (U-S-A! U-S-A!), I’m Argentina all the way. In fact, I’m Team Maradona all the way.  In case I haven’t convinced you to join me just yet, please note that the man has pledged to run around the Obelisk naked if his team wins. Bam. This is what I mean about getting into soccer mania.

I am way overdue for a blog post, and I know it. Sorry! I was out of town for about a week for work, and had a post scheduled to appear while I was away, but alas, technology let me down. I swear, Pintje has returned, and I now return to writing as I used to.

I recently joined a competitive skee ball team. Yes, you read that correctly. Intramural softball is sort of the dominant competitive sport in my city, but there are two main reasons I have shunned it and instead gravitated toward skee ball. 1.) My experience on the Jersey Shore has made me a natural, and 2.) Games are held in a bar. What more could you possibly want from a competitive activity? This new found interest of mine has inspired this burning question: which other childhood favorites would work well for drunk adults? Luckily for all, I have compiled a list of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good:

1.) As I said, skeeball is a no-brainer. The game combines virtually equal parts skill and luck, and it can be played in a bar. Accordingly, no matter how bad of a game you might have, you are not more than 10 steps away from someone who will sell you alcohol. Beyond that, it literally has bells and whistles, so the immediate gratification level is high. This is important, since my drunk attention span is notoriously low. If the number of times I said “I’ll be right back!” while in the middle of a beer-pong game was documented, my face would be on the back of a milk carton.

2.) You might not think so, but Jenga is an excellent choice. A favorite local bar of mine features board games on all of the tables, and this is always a big hit. There are few things more amusing than sitting across from the table from your wasted friend, watching him try in vain to pull that tiny piece of wood out of that giant tower without incident. Try as he may, that mess will come tumbling down. It’s science. My good friend Finn suggests a slight twist on the game, which is to write instructions on the pieces that you must read and obey once you pull them (for instance: “finish your beer”). While I applaud her for her ingenuity, asking me to balance something while also reading is really asking far too much.

3.) Connect Four, as long as you accept that after enough drinks, you will be lucky if you manage to connect three.

The Bad:

1.) Hide & Seek. While I cannot speak for every single drinker out there, I can say beyond the shadow of a doubt that I do not have a single friend who could stay hidden for the duration of this game without giggling, knocking something over (and then giggling), or loudly announcing that he or she needs to pee. Although I suppose if the seeker himself was also drunk, this alone might not be enough to make the discover necessary to warrant the end of the game.

2.) Under no possible circumstances should you attempt to play wall ball when inebriated. I cannot make this clear enough. The idea of throwing a ball against a wall in the hopes that it will come back at you is puzzling enough when sober, but it is downright idiotic when drunk. In case I sound bitter, it’s because I was a member of the first P.E. class in my high school for which goggles were no longer mandatory for racquetball (a close cousin of wall ball), just strongly, strongly suggested. Worrying more about how I look in goggles (not good) than my need for protection for my own ineptitude (unusually high), I opted for the no-goggles look. All it took was one hit for the ball to hit me straight in my right eye. My teammates laughed themselves into tears, and I am sure that gym teachers in the years that followed have used my story as a “what not to do” for future gym classes. Or, as I like to think, at a small suburban high school in New Jersey, I am a legend.

Finally, The Ugly

Manhunt was, without a doubt, the “cool kid’s game” in my middle school and even high school. You had to be allowed out after dark by your parents in order to  play, which made it extremely badass. Regardless, it would not make for as fun of a night as you might think. Why? Because the odds of leaving someone behind are far too great. And unlike in Hide&Seek, that person is probably in the dark somewhere, lost, not hidden clumsily behind a rocking chair. A final reason Manhunt won’t work is that everyone’s drunken sense of time is illogical. How many times have you been at a party and stopped to think “is that clock wrong? It says it’s 2:00AM.” No. The clock is not wrong. You are drunk. Similarly, the expectation that whoever is “it” will be able to patiently continue looking for her hidden friends is really far too great. I give it 10 minutes until that chick remembers she is out of beer and asks to be directed toward the cooler (again).

That’s it for today! I am sure I missed loads of games/activities, so please let me know in the Comments section!

With the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics coming to a close, I thought this would be a good opportunity for us to take a look over the past two weeks. I know, the Olympics aren’t done yet, but I’m due for a blog post. Cut me some slack!

Let’s start with the good:

1.) Bode Miller Wins Gold
My love of all things Bode is well documented. I was so happy to see him win bronze and silver this Olympics, but seeing him take the gold really was something else. He was much calmer and less abrasive with the press this time around, but still held onto his trademark devil-may-care attitude. For all the criticism he takes for that, I think the attitude is what helps him be so fearless when he’s flying down a hill, especially with the memory of Olympic disappointment so fresh in his mind. Good for him. Characters like him are what make the Olympics so much fun, and everybody loves a comeback story! (I’m pulling for you, Lindsay.)

B- Joannie Rochette Wins Bronze after the Unexpected Death of Her Mother

There are some moments that happen during athletic competition that surpass the sport entirely. Joannie winning the Bronze in Women’s Figure Skating was one of these moments. Women’s skating is always one of my favorite winter sports to watch. The combination of graceful dancing mixed with powerhouse strength is moving enough. Then, I remind myself that for the most part, it’s not women who are competing, but rather 16 or 17 year old girls who find themselves at the height of their career before they have graduated high school.  The pressure they feel must be overwhelming. Joannie, of course, was under an entirely different level of pressure and pain that I don’t think anyone among us can understand. Watching her finish her short program on Tuesday night, I knew there was not a dry eye in the arena. The commentators were silent until finally Scott Hamilton felt the need to remark on what an incredible feat this 19 year old girl had just accomplished, his voice obviously cracking to reveal tears of his own.

Joannie’s mother had died only two days earlier, and she had found a way to go on to perform anyway. Watching her flawlessly jump, flip, and twirl to her music felt like a gift that I can’t understand how she found the strength to share. As if that wasn’t enough, the love and support that the Canadian fans gave their hometown hero really transcended the sense of competition usually so prevalent in Olympics sports. Ultimately, Kim Yu-Na took home gold for South Korea with a record-breaking long-skate routine, but I think in these games, Joannie’s ability to persevere really put her in category that’s hers alone.

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And now, everyone’s favorite part, the bad:

1- Evgeni Plushenko is Edged out of First by Evan Lysachek; Becomes Russian Guy from Rocky

We all saw Evan Lysacek take gold in Men’s Figure Skating wearing that fabulous snake inspired Vera Wang get-up, right? What a moment! But if so, it means we all caught a glimpse of the Russian silver-medalist Evgeni Plushenko looking considerably displeased with his position on the podium. I would like to go on the record as saying that I could tell this guy was bad news. I saw him repeatedly referring to his opponents as “my enemies,”and I have the distinct impression that this was not a mere translation problem. Since placing second, he has said on the record to any reporter who will listen that Evan should have not have beat him, because the American does mere “ice dancing,” not “ice skating.” Rather than taking his silver and retiring to his adoring fans in Russia, he has new information on his official website that lists his place at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics as “Platinum Medal.” As my brother said, paraphrasing the expression oft-repeated by Grandmothers everywhere, “when life hands you lemons, you pretend they are not lemons.” Now Plushenko can slink away into obscurity while Lysacek joins “Dancing With The Stars” or whatever he chooses (please, Evan, don’t). In any event, I’m glad to live in a country where, if our Olympians thought they could try to trick us about which place they achieved in a universally recognized competition, they would be mocked.

B – U.S. Snowboarder Asked to Leave Olympic Celebration after Racy Photos of him Appear

After earning his bronze medal in Vancouver, snowboarder Scotty Lago went out celebrating at a bar. What ensued was tabloid website TMZ.com posting photographs of Scotty in uncompromising positions. As a result, he was allegedly asked by the Olympics Committee to pack his bags and head home. Whether that’s the case, or he went home on his own, the fact remains that Scotty watched the rest of the games on his home TV. The Committee, I assume, was worried about tarnishing their image. What they failed to remember, I guess, is that that Scotty doesn’t play tennis, he’s a freaking snowboader. These guys do jumps with names like the Double McTwist 1260. The U.S. team wore a uniform created to look like jeans and a flannel shirt . For God’s sake, the most famous Olympic snowboarder goes by “The Flying Tomato“. I’m glad they made snowboarding an Olympic sport, and in doing so, the Olympic Committee brought in a new group of fans; I know I have a new sport I love watching! They also ushered in some pretty epic partying. I just don’t see the harm. Frankly, some of those Biathlon guys probably would have appreciated Scotty taking them out for a night on the town.

3.) Skeleton Is Still an Olympic Sport

Hear me out. I know that the competitors that compete in Olympic-level Skeleton deserve credit, and credit they get. But for the life of me, I cannot get interested in the sport. If it was designated to its own Olympic show, or even channel on NBC or one of its affiliates, I doubt I would have a problem. But alas, it is not. If I want to watch skiing, I need to watch skeleton. If Shaun White is preparing to snowboard, Bob Costas throws us to skeleton. It’s everywhere! After two full weeks of frustration, I have finally realized why this sport evokes such strong feelings from me. Basically, unlike every other sport, I don’t know beyond reasonable doubt that I wouldn’t be great at skeleton. I know I’m not good at skiing, I have the bruises to show it. You could have Tara Lipinski herself coach me at skating and I would still spend my whole long program on my rear end. But skeleton? I just don’t know. As a kid, I was really, really good at sledding. With the right coaches and full body suit, I really think I could go for the gold.

Skeleton photo courtesy of Flikr.

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So there you have it: Pintje’s Picks for best and worst Olympic Moments. As always, I look forward to some serious discussion in the comments section!

A friend at work today described patriotism as “pretending to care about snowboarding once every four years … for your country.” I must confess, I love, love, love the Olympics. Sure, most people agree that the Summer Olympics are more compelling than the Winter Olympics (I blame you, curling), but I really get a kick out of totally immersing myself in a series of sports that I know little about played by competitors who I don’t know from Adam. However, this Olympic season is bittersweet for me. I really miss the 24/7 Olympics Coverage being focused almost constantly on a man who, to me, represents all that is good in the world of skiing: Bode Miller.

The 2006 Torino Olympics were held while I was in college, back when four hours of classes and waking up before noon constituted a “busy day.” Accordingly, my roommate and I remained glued, in our pajamas, to our television set for the duration of the games. Luckily for us, Bob Costas introduced us to the man, the myth, the legend, Bode Miller. Now, before you get too attached, please understand that Bode did not fare well at the Olympics that year. In fact, it would be fair to call him, as many have, one of the biggest busts in Olympic history. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! If you know Bode, as I pretend I do, you understand that it only adds to his charm.

My roommate and I learned many things about Bode that year. Looking back on it all, I think fact has combined with lore, but what it basically amounts to it is this: he seems like a ton of fun. He told Bob Simon during a 60 minutes interview that at least some of the major accolades he has received as a skier were accomplished while wasted. I remember hearing that he refused to submit to performance-enhancing drug tests until he was promised they would not test for weed. When Nike agreed to sponsor him, his only request was that he have his own trailer, wherever he go, and that no one enter it without his permission. Does that wish sound familiar? That’s because it is a slightly more grown-up version of the “no girls allowed” treehouse you wanted as a 5 year old.

Finally, I vividly remember one of those “Learn About These Athletes” videos sponsored by NBC where the reporter visited Bode in his home in upstate New York. To me, this story solidifies that all rumors, urban legends, and fact combine to solidify Bode’s standing as the next Chuck Norris. I have to assume the reporter arrived at Bode’s house knowing that things might be strange. I imagine he had done his research and knew, for instance, that his subject grew up with hippie parents who had named Bode’s sister  Genesis Wren Bungo Windrushing Turtleheart, and they lived in a house with no running water. Still, the purpose of the interview was to get an understanding of what exactly made Bode Miller the record-shattering athlete he was. Appropriately, the men stepped into what used to be a farmhouse but was now an anexed part of Bode’s home. When asked how he trained for the Olympic sports, Bode raised his hands, to show abandoned and rusty farm equiptment that littered the floor of the former farmhouse. The reporter looked bewildered. “I push it around,” Bode said.

That’s right. Bode Miller, the man preparing to represent the United States of America in the Olympic Games, was preparing by pushing old farm equipment around in what was essentially a shed. U-S-A! U-S-A! The good news to come out of this was that my roommate and I realized he probably had a land line in his house since cellphone reception was unlikely to make it over the mountain. With a simple Google search, we found his number and called. While giggling, we asked the woman who answered if Bode was home. “No, he’s not,” she sighed. ” I bet you already know that he’s in Torino.” I guess we weren’t the first people to think of this idea. Whatever! We totally drunk dialed Bode! It sealed the connection I already creepily felt with him, and have felt ever since.

After reading all of this, it should come as no surprise that Bode Miller did not do so well at the 2006 Olympics; he failed to medal in any of his events. I remember watching him fail miserably on TV while the sports announcer was recalling that he had been at a local bar until 4 or 5 that very morning. That’s my Bode!

Now, remember I said this moment was bittersweet. Bitter because these Winter Olympic Games feel incomplete without the “real athletes” rolling their eyes every time they get asked how Bode Miller is. But also sweet, because it turns out all that farm work has paid off! Bode earned his first Olympic medal on Monday.

Consider me full-time Team Bode! Now, if you’ll excuse me, my other Olympic love, Johnny Weir, needs my support.