Housewarming from Marc

My wife’s starting to get suspicious at how fast envelopes have been showing up at the new house. Late last week a mailer from Marc Brubaker arrived. Inside was the usual mix of cards for all my different projects.

We’ll start off with a few Stanford cards. The Castro celebration card and Lowrie parallel are the kind of things that never even make it on to my searchlist radar. Base cards and oddballs are my main goal. Inserts and parallels are things I ignore even though I love adding them to the binder.

I’ve just watched too many other collectors descend into madness trying to stay on top of all those things. Plus it feels like the kind of thing that risks turning the hobby into a chore. Having an insert or a couple parallels here or there adds a bit of variety. Feeling like I need ALL of them though is a place I never want to be.

The 1993 Osuna is a new one to me as well. The photo looks like it was taken at Candlestick and I’m staring at his uniform and realizing that I never noticed that the Astros wore the same uniforms at home and on the road in the late 80s. Also that out of focus baseball makes that card go from basic to interesting.

As is his wont, Marc included something that’s above and beyond the usual trade package stuff. This time it’s a Mark Appel autograph that Marc got through the mail a few years ago. This would have been a big deal six years ago and serves as a warning for all the crazy-overpriced prospecting that’s currently going on in Bowman. What was a big deal then is now probably only of interest to a weirdo like me who collects Stanford guys.

Also I have to point out that Appel notes Romans 12:2* on this card where his other card in my collection indicates Matthew 5:16** and yup, now I’m wondering if he’s ever been tempted to cite the something from Mark.

*And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

**Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

The next stack of cards confused me for a moment because the Chris Carter card was on top. Chris Carter is a Stanford guy only he’s white and never played for the Astros. This Chris Carter is completely different and I needed his card for my 2014 set build.* I’ve not gone big on this yet but every little bit helps and it’s nice to strike another 6 off the searchlist.

*Current status of which is on the set needs page.

Moving on to the Giants portion of the mailing. A fair amount of Bowman including some gold parallels I’ve not seen and a black border Kyle Crick which I didn’t realize was (possibly) special until I put it in the binder. Bowman is such a trainwreck that I still don’t know whether the black border is a parallel or just a different set.

And a few 2019 cards including a foil Jeff Samardzija from Series 2 and a couple shiny Prizm cards. Since I couldn’t get into any Series 2 breaks it’s nice to get some of the extra cards in mailing like this. Prizm meanwhile is, like the rest of Panini’s products, one of those sets that I never see. These look pretty cool and deal nicely with Panini’s unlicensed status.

The last bit of the package consisted of a half-dozen 1994 Upper Deck World Cup cards. I only had one of these before now but have been considering getting many more. The 1994 World Cup is still the last international soccer games I’ve attended and Marc tried to get me cards of guys I watched play (plus Jorge Campos who’s just cool).

Four out of the five are indeed guys I watched play. And the fifth is John Doyle who, while he didn’t play in the 1994 World Cup, is a Bay Area legend who played with both the NASL Earthquakes and MLS Earthquakes as well as continuing on to be the Quakes manager so I have no complaints there.

Of the players I watched, the clear highlight is Bebeto who I saw score a couple goals—one against Cameroon and the winner against the US—in addition to having an all-time classic goal celebration. While I became a Barcelona fan through watching Romario in this World Cup, I very much enjoyed watching Bebeto play as well.

Thanks Marc! Maildays like this help me feel really moved in.

Sporting Integrity

Watching, and catching up with,* Twitter during the last round of World Cup qualifying games was both exciting and annoying. Lots of late drama makes for exciting sports. But the number of US fans who wanted to lose so Mexico would fail to qualify disgusted me.

*One thing I’m still getting used to on the East Coast is how late sporting events go. What used to end at 9PM for me now starts at that time.

I fully appreciate the US-Mexico rivalry and I understand the motivation for rooting against Mexico. Especially given how US fans get treated in Mexico. But I’ve always disagreed with rooting against your rival in all circumstances. It’s no fun if your rival is a lousy team. However, I especially disagree with rooting against your own team.

It’s a function of sporting integrity. When we watch a game, we expect to see two teams who are playing to win—or at the very least, playing to not lose.* And as a fan, I would hate the implication that my team ever threw a game. So to see fans openly suggest that their team should throw a game (or to openly root against their team) offends me.

*The maletines phenomenon in Spain astounds me since it suggests that teams wouldn’t play to win without the motivation.

SantaAnna

Root for your team. Enjoy rubbing your rival’s nose in the fact that you bailed them out. Heck, taking the high road gives you better rivalry fodder. Especially since Mexico is so self-critical, full of pride, yet enjoys exceedingly black humor.

All of the resulting trolling has been way more fun than “neener neener you didn’t qualify.”

Also, there’s no way this brilliant rant would have happened.

If you need it translated

Seriously.

This result—assuming Mexico beats New Zealand—makes the next US visit to the Azteca extremely interesting. And it keeps open the possibility that the US and Mexico will meet in the World Cup again. That’s a much more juicy situation to root for.

Addendum

It’s worth adding that I’m perfectly okay with resting players for playoffs, rotation, etc. even if it means fielding a “weakened” team. What I have a problem with is with fans rooting for the team to lose or with the team actually throwing the game and not playing to win. This holds even if the coach is unpopular or if draft position is up in the air.

Soccer and America

I really enjoy reading Laurent Dubois’s posts about soccer and national identity. Especially when he writes about Europe and how different countries have dealt—or not dealt—with immigration, colonialism, and integrating non-european players into european national teams. Two standout posts which are worth reading are his post last year on Mario Balotelli and the New Europe and his more recent post on the French National Team and La Marseillaise.*

*This last post also reminded me of the Spanish National team and the pre-2008 desire in Spain to add words to the Marcha Real in order to instill a sense of national pride which would help the soccer team. Spain is also a super-interesting case of the national-identity issue due to the fact that it has traditionally hampered by infighting between castillians, catalans, and basques. Not a non-european issue, but definitely a national-identity one. 

What I like best about his posts though is how they make me think about how soccer in the US is so distinctly different and almost in the opposite situation.

In the US, soccer is still thought of as being a non-american sport. It’s not played by Americans, it’s played by immigrants. Or if it’s played by Americans, it’s as a sport of second choice when baseball/basketball/football is not in season.

More importantly, it’s not a sport which is watched by Americans—to the point where being a soccer fan in this country often still involves picking your ethnic national team over the US National team.*

*A phenomenon which is especially notable in the Mexican-American community.

That the US national team has a history of “non-native” players from military families only adds to this. We don’t have any expectations of them conforming to some sort of US identity as long as they play for us. As with our choices to be fans, we’re happy with players who either choose soccer over a “major” sport, or choose the US over another country.*

*Our anger when a player like Giuseppe Rossi chooses to play for another country shows how much we expect players to believe in the cause.

The result of all this is that fans of the national team are in no position to use it as a proxy for pushing a concept of americanness. The very existence of the team still seems unamerican.

Being an american soccer fan marks you as being part of a global community in a way that no other american sports do. In the Olympics, we expect to be the best—and certainly only focus on those sports. With soccer? We’re still also-rans. Rooting for a losing cause is not what we’re used to with our national teams either. The whole experience is foreign.

NoteS:

Not enough here for an additional post but the strangeness of being a soccer fan in America also extends to the club game. It’s necessary to accept that MLS is a minor league in a worldwide game. Since the US is a country which is used to having the best of the best, accepting this minor league status results in an interesting phenomenon of increased disconnect and name calling between fans of MLS and the eurosnobs. Both sides have legitimate points. There is definitely something to supporting your local team. At the same time, people should be encouraged to seek out and enjoy the sport at its highest levels.

Full disclosure, I’m a eurosnob and proud of it. MLS killed my interest in the league by moving my local team right when I had really gotten into it. While MLS was not good in its first decade, by 2005 it had turned into a decent product. I was watching Earthquakes games and was a bit of a Landon Donovan fan around then. The way he ended up moving to LA and the way the Earthquakes moved to Houston pushed me into the MLS wilderness. The ensuing Beckham debacle where all MLS news became exclusively “Beckham only” sealed the deal.

Nostalgia Again

I’m done with the Olympics. Not tired. Done. It’s not just that I’ve stopped really caring, it’s that I’m now questioning the entire reality of sports as a result of the Olympics. I’m hoping that this is just a function of how my views on sports have changed as I’ve aged.*

*And that watching sports with my sons will rekindle some of my former feelings. I’ve covered this before but I’ve been pushed even further down this path now.

I fear however that it’s sports which have changed to the point where I barely recognize them anymore.* And that the world has changed to the point where the old approach is no longer sustainable.

*In some ways, best summarized by the baseball card market and how it imploded on itself by forgetting the point of the product.

We know too much now and something as innocent* as sports is anachronistic when it doesn’t evolve.** Yet it’s no longer recognizable when it does.

*Ideally.

**E.G. The Masters. The fact that it hasn’t evolved is what makes it both great and horrible. It’s a remnant of the past and a reminder of how sports used to be covered.

This isn’t just the evolution of sports into becoming more and more like business. It’s the erosion of our sense of idealism.

In the past, it was possible to watch the Olympics each night with family, talk about it the next morning with friends, and experience the events as an introduction to semi-obscure sports and to the rest of the world. The competitors were amateurs and the competition was intended to be a celebration.

Tape delay didn’t matter. Nor did the relentless focus on American athletes. And the event was unquestionably the most important event of the sport.

Now? It’s a stunt more than anything else. These athletes see and compete against each other all the time.* Any surprises are because of people peaking at the  right time rather than a lack of knowledge about a country. The events are never show live so there is no sense of community with the rest of the world.** Results are known in advance.*** And, in many cases, the competition truly isn’t the most important event for the sport anymore.

*One of the nice things about the World Cup is that it represents a reorganization of the existing professional teams in a way which is still taken seriously. This reorganization of teams isn’t possible with individual sports.

**Watching Twitter, or even Facebook, while a live event occurs is a fantastic way of being plugged into the pulse of the event.

***It’s been this way for a dozen years now. Impossible to stay away from “spoilers” and, really, why would you?

If it’s not broadcast live, it’s no longer a sport.

The Olympics is now a sports-like product which encourages all the things which are ruining sports.

It’s not just fanaticism, it’s nationalism. This tales the irrationality to an extreme. Not only does a rational point of view become potentially “not a real fan,” it’s now unpatriotic to criticize your team. Oh, and you can’t choose your team at all now.

The packaging of individual stars as products. While this is annoying in sports which I care about, it’s even worse with sports which no one cares about. Especially when a medal favorite “fails” despite the hype. Winning is hard and should never be taken for granted yet the Olympics coverage is all about expecting wins.

Advertising and commercial sponsorship. Good lord. At least the Super Bowl ads are funny. These ones are all trading off of stars or patriotism. And they all reflect corporate buy-in in a way which tends to exclude any local businesses from being involved in the games. Every Olympics is the same old sponsors. Why are there never any local companies involved?

The extortion of public money for private benefit. This one galls me the most. Private owners of sports clubs expect the general public to fund stadiums and other infrastructure. For baseball (80 games a year) this makes some sense. For football (8 weekends a year) it does not. For the Olympics (2 weeks. Period.) it really does not. Especially since all the commercial sponsorship money does not make it back to the funders of the infrastructure.*

*The Bay Area 2012 Olympics proposal involved already-existing stadiums and just upgrading the infrastructure. It never made the cut because it was “too cheap.”

The amateur-professional issue. The Olympics, correctly, does not treat athletes as amateurs anymore. This, however, screws anyone still in college since the NCAA still clings to an unworkable definition of amateur. And it points out both the problems and issues we have with rationalizing the professional world with our ideals of what sporting competition should be.

As someone who roots for comeuppance, the only lingering hope I have for the Olympics is that they’ll blown themselves up in their own hype. While I’ll only get to see it on tape delay, the good news is that I’ll know to tune in ahead of time.

Minority

It’s been one week since the Gold Cup Final and the stories have, thankfully, reverted to questioning what’s wrong with the USA National Team and projecting how good the Mexico team could become. For a few days, it seemed possible for the event to be used by nativist or conservative commentators to make a political point.* While it wouldn’t be to the extreme that occurred in France after a “friendly” with Algeria, a great post on the Soccer Politics blog makes the connection and sounds the warning about extrapolating too much from a single event and small subset of the fans in attendance.

*That such a point would involve admitting to watching soccer is probably why it did not get made.

At the same time, another post on the same blog, casts the entire rivalry into the politics of decolonization and immigration. I don’t quite buy this either. If anything, the USA-Mexico rivalry is about minority identity rather than politics.

Identity question #1: To whom does soccer “belong”?

The USA is a great at absorbing and sanitizing other cultures—think Mexican food (Chevys, Taco Bell, Chipotle), Cinco de Mayo, and the most interesting man in the world. We haven’t taken soccer. Yet. But we’re trying.

That soccer is identifiably non-American makes it something which minorities in this country can use as shorthand for their culture. A large part of the USA-Mexico soccer rivalry stands in for the struggle over American appropriation of Mexican culture to the point where it almost seems like there’s been a line drawn in the sand: “Hands off our fútbol you pinche gringos.”

Identity question #2: Which team does a Mexican-American support?

To-date, most of them support Mexico. Even my 3rd-generation wife supports Mexico.* The typical American thing to do is to support Team USA first, ethnic background second, then the big-name team of your choosing third. Sometimes the second two are switched** but, except in the case of Mexico, it’s almost always USA first.

*Somewhat to her surprise. We were watching the Gold Cup Final and she just found herself rooting for Mexico.

**I support Spain over any of my ethnicities. Though, in my defence, I am part German.

I suspect that a large reason why Mexican-Americans tend to support Mexico is because of the answer to question one. Soccer is currently part of Mexican culture and so, enjoying soccer is an exercise in enjoying being Mexican.

However, another reason is that the US team does a horrible job at getting Mexican-American players (or, really, latinos of any sort) into the system. I think Jose Torres is the only one right now. It’s not like those players are playing for Mexico either, there’s just a huge untapped player pool and a huger untapped market for new fans. When the US national team has a Mexican-American star who my wife’s generation can identify with, I suspect a huge number of them will start supporting the US team instead.

Identity question #3: What does it mean to be a USA soccer fan?

It’s not enough for most US soccer fans to root for victories. It’s all about playing the game correctly, behaving correctly, and not letting down the rest of the group by dong something stupid. Games always have a bigger picture issue about dictating the place of the game in US society. Since rivalry games bring out the worst in everyone, the US-Mexico game is probably the most stressful.

On the field, it’s important to show that the US is not a joke of a team. If the team is competitive, it’s easy to explain to non-fans why we watch and helps to grow the sport.* If the team sucks, our sanity is questioned by everyone and there’s an existential crisis regarding the future of soccer in America.

*It’s not clear how much many of us want to actually see the sport become popular here. There’s a certain hipster vibe where we enjoy the exclusivity by obscurity and complain when things become mainstream during the World Cup.

Off the field, it’s even stranger. We feel like we have the responsibility to show that we’re not stupid Americans and that we actually understand world soccer. We have to simultaneously embrace the passion of the game without fully succumbing to it lest we become the bullies that we are in other fields. And we have to accept and enjoy (and even prefer) Spanish-language broadcasts and majority-Mexican crowds because, without them, there would be no market at all for soccer in America.