by FJ Rocca 8/18/15
Personally, I don’t like soccer and never have. I find it colossally boring. Any sport that is decided by one goalie kicking against another goalie is silly. Why not just eliminate most of the other play and get directly to that part?
I like baseball. I played baseball as a kid from about the age of seven through high school almost every day of summer. I was raised in the 40s and 50s when boys idolized baseball giants, like DiMaggio, Williams and others. Then, it was the practice to build such men into heroic role models, even if their private lives were not quite so heroic. The image was what mattered. It was what boys emulated.
Baseball is an individual’s game. The team is an accretion of cooperative specialists whose consummate teamwork makes possible the poetic perfection of a well-executed double play. The home run is an individual achievement, celebrated by doffed caps and a slow trot amongst collegial, congratulatory slaps on the shoulder. Crowds cheer in celebration of the achievement of individual skill over the laws of gravity.
Little League baseball started when I was still young, but I never played in a formal team. I played pick-up ball, what used to be called “sandlot” ball, so named after the practice of turning vacant city lots into impromptu diamonds. But we played it with joy, love and dedication. From this voluntary practice we learned such deep concepts as good sportsmanship, team spirit and friendship. It did not encourage killer competition. If anything it encouraged cooperation and camaraderie.
Until the society began to move leftward, in imitation of the Europe we’d had to save in the Second World War, nobody ever thought of soccer. It was foreign, uninteresting, nothing as clever or subtle, in rules or practice, as baseball. I never even heard of a “soccer mom” until the 70s when the term came into currency. It took me a long time to understand the term, and when I did understand it, I didn’t like what it meant, i.e., some liberal, suburbanite whose kid was so socially integrated he had no personality. How could soccer he1p develop a personality running around a field kicking at something that resembled a small basketball?
Now, I don’t actually belittle the sport itself. There is skill involved in manipulating a ball with your feet, elbows and head, but not with your hands. Kids learn to do it with a tennis ball, because it’s much better to train on something small, so that when you get to that bigger ball, you find it easier. No, it’s not the sport that bothers me. It’s the social thinking.
First, soccer is not an American game, like baseball. It’s European and, as such, requires European thinking. Dare I say “collective thinking?” Every move seems geared toward achieving a collective goal. Sure, in Baseball, the ball is thrown among teammates to stop runners and there is a strategy in each and every play that is aimed toward scoring. But when I see a mass of people running and kicking a ball all over the place, I see a crowd, not a well-coordinated group of individuals.
I know there are skills in soccer, but they seem to be homogenized among all players, the same skills distributed like egalitarian commodities among the equal cogs in the team. In baseball, every player has a set of skills applied to an individual purpose within the whole. It’s called his “position”. Many players have similar skills, but each performs differently within the 9 man patter of a baseball team.
But even those things are not what bother me most. What bothers me most is the soccer moms themselves. They all seem so much alike in dress and manner. All seem to share the same liberal values, egalitarian and inoffensive on the outside, even if killer competitiveness lurks on the inside. I can’t say I like Little League mothers (or fathers) much more, with their often threatening overt competitiveness. I don’t like Little League either, because I think kid sports ought to encourage the aspects of character I mentioned in regard to sandlot ball.
It used to be a consummately American experience to drive through the city or surrounds and see baseball diamonds dotting the landscape. Even out in the countryside, among plowed fields and little stone houses, a baseball diamond would pop up here and there. Now, not so much. Recently, a field in my neighborhood, formerly dedicated to casual sports, boasted no fewer than three baseball diamonds. You could walk or drive by and see softball teams and impromptu baseball games played there almost every day during the warm months, the baseball months. Now, two of the diamonds have been removed and the field has been overtaken by soccer players. It breaks my heart, because, when I was a kid, baseball was America. Soccer never was and, at least for me, it will never be.
I don’t believe that soccer is anti-American. It’s just Un-American. In our area it is played mostly by people from somewhere else. A lot of them come from Hispanic countries south of the US border. There was a time, you may recall, when those same countries supplied some of the best baseball talent extant in the consummately American sport of Baseball. Now, a lot of Asians shine in that game. Is it an illusion or are the demographics changing in baseball? Is it an illusion that the demographics are changing in the US? Is soccer’s prominence (or at least ubiquity) a signal in the change of American culture? Maybe these shifts are sociologically natural, therefore, to be expected, inevitable. But the fundamental, the standard, of American culture, freedom of the individual, seems to me to be the characteristic of our national pastime. It doesn’t seem to be the same with soccer.
FJ Rocca was born the day after Pearl Harbor in the same hometown as Johnny Appleseed. He is a trained classical musician, a published illustrator and a prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction. His website is candiddiscourse.com.