Without previous military or intelligence experience, I’m going undercover: a Yankees diehard at Fenway Park.
Since the family’s vacationing in Rhode Island, and our eight-year-old son is a baseball fan, I’ll head to Boston on Wednesday and watch a native New Yorker’s arch baseball enemy, the Red Sox. Shame on me, I know, especially since the $135 ticket price will help the Red Sox buy some overpriced free agent player in the off-season in their unavoidable financial arms race against the Yankees.
And shame on me since, for those prices, I might have found some cheap airfare to Donetsk, Ukraine, for the great sporting event of the day: Spain against Portugal in the semi-final of the European soccer championship.
As I sit in Fenway, watching the Red Sox against the Toronto Blue Jays, I’ll be condemned to the comparatively pedestrian as I miss what might verge on the majestic, namely watching the Spanish national team attempting to frustrate through inactivity the hunkiest sports superstar of all, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo is a Hollywood handsome, goal-scoring phenom with abs that put any Men’s Health cover boy to shame. He is one of the two best players in a world in which soccer is the great sports; the other being an Argentinean tyke named Lionel Messi. He’s a maniacally intense, self-centered ladies man who delivers on the field with Toyota-like efficiency even as opposing teams’ defenses are largely focused on derailing him.
But on Wednesday he faces one of the great sports teams ever assembled, the current Spanish squad. If it wins this tournament, its record in international play in recent years will bolster the case that, given the level of competition, its legacy will top that of any Boston Celtics, Green Bay Packers, Montreal Canadians or other hallowed North American franchise. Check the case made by the Wall Street Journal.
The team’s brilliance involves what may be unprecedented teamwork in which the quality of its passing is the vehicle of its dominance. In the four games played so far in the European championship, it has controlled the ball more than 65 percent of the time.
At times it’s as if they were playing keep-away from a group of American high schoolers. And they do so against teams of all-stars, many of whom are known throughout the soccer universe (meaning everywhere but the United States and Venus). Their collective combination of speed, agility, finesse, imagination, stamina and creativity really does put the often formidable talents of the average Major League player to shame.
In the case of Spain, it’s as if they’ve cloned soccer counterparts to hockey’s yesteryear greats Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr and thrown in the retired basketball star John Stockton and maybe the late and inescapably elegant baseball legend Roberto Clemente; all players whose physical skills were matched by an uncanny, 360-degree sense of the field around them and the pace of play; never appearing rushed, rarely off-stride or victims of typically mortal miscues as their vision seemed all-encompassing and acute in an HDTV way.
In full display, it’s sport as art. It can be upended, by an opponent’s intentionally defense and even destructive tactics or by horrendous calls by a referee or linesman. It’s why the best team doesn’t always win. It could happen in Ukraine Wednesday.
So I’ll be at Fenway, in what may be an important act of parental-child bonding. But I may still feel as if I’m watching a second-string Broadway road show, given the likely drama playing out across the ocean.
The bottom line is simple, if not particularly profound culturally: Thank god for TIVO. Viva La Espana.
(Oh, and Viva my cousin-in-law, Isabella Ehrlich, who created this site over a family kitchen table in Barrington, R.I. She’s done a very cool job.)