Tuesday, August 11, 2009

We Can't Find the Net


FROM AUGUST 2006

This evening the girls and I attended an Atlanta Silverbacks game. They are our local minor league professional soccer team. The last few years they’ve been developing a new facility at the site of a defunct drive in theater less than ten minutes from our house. Now that the girls have taken a liking to soccer, it seemed time to go.

The tickets ($15 a piece) seemed rather pricey for the minors, especially for a team that is laboring to get the community behind it. I kept wondering if they should follow the lead of Arthur Blank, who slashed ticket prices when he bought the Atlanta Falcons in order to bump up attendance. There did not seem to be more than 750 people in the 3000 seat Silverbacks’ stadium.

But the stadium is beautiful, and from our second row seats we had an up-close view of some high level soccer between the Silverbacks and their opponents, the Toronto Lynx. Both teams were ethnic hodgepodges of Latinos, Caribbean islanders, and white guys from the U.S., with the odd European thrown in. We especially enjoyed one of the many pleasures of attending a minor league sporting event: being close. When you’re watching the Chattanooga Lookouts you may not be seeing John Smoltz, but you’re close enough to hear and see everything, and it isn’t costing you what it takes to keep John Smoltz living in St. Ives. When the action came near us tonight, we could hear whatever the players were shouting at each other.

In watching minor leaguers you soon start to notice the little flaws that keep them from the majors. My friend Rich and I used to make annual pilgrimages to Macon (barbecue en route) to see the Macon Whoopee hockey team, and Rich would point out the little shortcomings (too small, too slow, too unskilled) that kept guys like local legends the Suk brothers in Macon instead of Montreal. Though I am no expert on soccer talent, I noticed the same phenomenon tonight. The Silverbacks have a striker who seems extremely tall, extremely skilled, and extremely slow (at least for a striker).

Another fun thing about minor league sports is the goofy contests and attractions – random fans are invited to spin around with their eyes focused on a bat and then try to run the bases without falling down; that kind of good-clean-fun-at-the-expense-of-others thing. Tonight the girls and I were among the chosen ones. As we waited for the game to start a nice young man from the Silverbacks asked if we’d like to participate in the halftime kicking contest.

So there we were at halftime, the Silverbacks leading 1-0 thanks to a beautiful header off a free kick. We were led to the center of the field where flunkies had set up five tiny goals (maybe 3’ x 2’) on one side the circle. Behind each goal was a box with a prize inside. Three families, including ours, were on the other side of the circle. The game: name the goal you’re shooting for, score the goal, get the mystery prize. Most of the prizes were gift certificates, but one was round trip tickets on Delta to anywhere in the U.S. Another was a bunch of lottery tickets. “Not that one, please,” I thought. How would I explain it to the girls?

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried about unwelcome prizes. As I said, there were three families out there. An FM d.j. type (merry, booming, with pony tail) was running the show. He introduced the kicker each family appointed (Josie started for us). One round – no goals for anyone. Another round (Mona kicking for us this time) – no goals. Round three (Josie again) – three more misses. The M.C. announces that this has never happened before – someone always scores! Round four (Mona tries again) – zilch. Round five (I take my shot, feeling 1500 eyes on me – it felt so good when it left my foot!) – everything wide left or wide right. By now the players were returning to the field to resume the game. They had to stop this travesty of a contest before it went any further. Each family got two restaurant gift certificates as a consolation prize and was sent back to their seats. A congregation of Charlie Browns exiting the field in shame.

The girls were very good-natured about it. For them it was fun just being out there. As for me, I smiled through it all, but inside I was beginning to understand why Zidane headbutted that guy.

We got back to our seats right as the second half was beginning. Nobody sitting nearby said anything either encouraging or mocking to us. Would you? It was better for all concerned if we just pretended it never happened.

I would hesitate to suggest any connection between our halftime ineptitude and what happened next, but the possibility cannot be discounted: the wheels absolutely fell off for the Silverbacks. I mean fell off and rolled over a cliff. Toronto tied the score on a rebound four minutes into the half. Then, thanks to some abominable clearing passes by the Atlanta defense, the Lynx scored three more goals in six minutes. Coincidence? Was the residue of our failure still hanging like a noxious gas over the field, causing the Silverbacks to play like the Braves of the 80s? Final score: 4-2. The Silverbacks website already calls it their worst performance of the season.

I blame myself.

NOTE: Since this was published, the team has folded.

2 comments:

Josephine said...

Why did you put this embarrassing story on your site? huh?


Josie :(

Jefferson Blog said...

Jim,

I love it! The sport is cruel even if you have played it your whole life. Zidane never missed a PK and he still went crazy. It is what that sport does to you. I figured a literature guy like yourself would have described what it was like watching a sporting event while being surrounded by highways and the sound of traffic. You could have blamed a miss on the screech of car tires.