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Monday, August 17, 2009

My Taste In Sports - Adulthood

When I got to Iowa State in the fall of 1997, I loved no sport as much as hockey. Sure football still lingered as a secondary sport. Mostly I followed football for social reasons (still pretty much that way); not many people I knew followed hockey. Basketball and baseball pretty much fell off my radar and soccer was nowhere to be seen.

After graduation, I purchased the newly released Nike Air Zoom inline skates and gloves. The skates were black and based on the white ice skates worn by Sergei Fedorov. The gloves were exactly like his except for the fact that black had been substituted for Detroit's red. I also purchased new ice hockey shin guards and elbow pads. For Christmas during my junior year I received some low end Bauer ice skates, but I had never even had them sharpened. Between my 19th birthday and that Christmas I received a brand new Nike aluminum shaft, my first set of shoulder pads and my first breezers.

I was assigned to Towers, which turned out to be a lucky thing because there was a group of guys that regularly played roller hockey in the tennis courts. I hooked up with them right away and found out that they also played intramural ice hockey. They thought I was good enough at roller hockey to offer me a spot on their roster. I did not tell them that I never ice skated before.

Literally, the first time in my life that I ice skated was my first intramural hockey game. Making matters worse, I was put at defense - a position I never played. Had checking been allowed, I might have done alright. I quickly learned that although the Nike aluminum rocked for scoring goals, it was way too light for defense; I switched back to my old Titan. Somehow I managed to lead the league in penalty minutes...

I played with the Slackers (our name) both years I attended Iowa State. I was a little disappointed that I was not called to play roller hockey with them at the Iowa Games, but got over it. During the summer after my freshman years I moved to the north side of Ames but I continued driving to Towers to play with them. When intramural hockey rolled around that winter, I was a lot more confident on the ice (although I had not skated since our last game). My penalty minutes greatly decreased and we fared well, as I recall. Unfortunately my progress would soon be lost as I let ISU and returned to Des Moines.

All of my friends had either stopped playing roller hockey or had disappeared in the last two years. My brother and his friends no longer played either. This left me to my own devices. First I tried playing at Skate South, but found their uneven floor and odd rules inadequate. Then I looked into playing ice hockey, but the pick up times rarely fit with my work schedule and the leagues were invite only. Then I discovered Skate 2000.

Built during the height of roller hockey's popularity, Skate 2000 was the nicest roller rink in the Des Moines metro. The Johnston facility hosted a national roller hockey tournament in the late 1990s and also featured a great indoor soccer field. Built specifically for roller hockey, there were boards, benches and a smooth, slick floor.

Pickup games were scheduled weekly (Wednesdays I believe) for $5. Many of the same people would show up and soon everyone began to pretty much stay on a particular "team." I assume there was full league, but the pick up games were just fine. It gave me my hockey fix without requiring a commitment. I also managed a coupled of pickup ice hockey games at Buccaneer Arena after a call from my former Slackers captain.

As I was getting comfortable playing hockey again, I decided to return to school - Grand View College, specifically. Working a full time job during the day and taking a full course load at night meant that hockey would become more sporadic. I still played as much as a I could, but soon I was not playing at all. Then one day (early 2001, I think) I learned that Skate 2000 had closed.

While I finished up at Grand View, I joined a friend's co-ed recreational softball team. My hand-eye coordination and agility had improved over the years, resulting in solid skills at second base. While not a power hitter, I was consistent and good for deep singles and a few doubles. Strike outs were a thing of the past. We were the second best team in the league. As it turns out, a third of the team spent the previous two seasons with best team in the league.

We dominated most of the teams in our league, but the organizers did not think that was good enough. So they brought in ringers. We had high school baseball and softball players join our recreational team and we began to destroy the significantly weaker teams. I was not comfortable with this but did not say anything. That is until I received no playing time. I was one of the top three second basemen in our league. I came to every game and practice. I paid my dues. Then the team decided it would be better give my (and others') hard-earned and well-deserved playing time to underage (illegal under league rules) ringers that had done none of the above. Had it been a competitive league, or had I been as bumbling as I was in seventh grade, I would not have been as upset. Had we not been cheating, I would not have been as upset. This was my first sour softball experience.

The next time I was asked to join a softball team was years later (around 2005). It was in the same league but with a different team and I was asked by a different friend. They actually planned on fielding two teams and had four or five practice sessions beforehand to determine who would play where. Once again I worked my butt off and proved my worth. This time I demonstrated value on second, short, third, center, and right field. My hitting was stronger and still consistent; I managed to hit the hole about 80% of the time. I was among the top of the crowd and placed on the "good" team. "Good" referred more to our manager than our depth. The two managers split the talent; the other manager wanted me, but my friend was on the good team.

For the first part of the season I started every game in center field and batted fifth. I lead the team in RBIs and had the speed to stretch my hits by a base or two. One time I even managed an inside-the-park home run. Although not a dominate force, we were doing well - and without cheating. Things were going well until we suddenly had new people show up. They were definitely not ringers; some could not catch, hit or throw. My playing time started slipping as they came on in late innings.

Being subbed off was fine in this case. Many times we already had a lead and it gave a chance for the new people to get an inning or two. One day I was told that I was not starting. Never mind the fact that I was always the first person at the field, or the fact that I had been solid all season. Instead, a guy that had never played before and was not there until after our first batter stepped to the plate would be playing my position. 'Ok,' I thought, 'he will play an inning or two and then I will be put in.' Wrong. He played the entire game until our last at bat. Being down a couple of runs and with two outs, I was finally subbed in. I manged a single only to watch the next male batter strike out (with two outs girls had the option of an auto walk). As an isolated incident, I would have let it go. Unfortunately it happened again the next week. This time I was put in after two outs down by three with one on (auto walk). I was far from warmed up and feeling the pressure. A pop fly ended the game. This was my second sour softball experience and I now refuse to play.

I watched many World Cup games in 1994 since they were in the US. I remember mostly watching Germany's games and deciding to cheer for them. It made sense to me because my family has strong German heritage. Oddly I do not recall catching any US games. Considering their ugly uniforms, I should have.
Another World Cup would pass by me before I started getting back into soccer. Somehow I decided to start following the game again in 2002. I do not remember why; it may have been the ads for MLS, the "game tonight" signs posted around town for the Menace, or the extensive coverage of that year's World Cup. I tuned in to as many games as I could, but many were on while I was at work. Still, I managed to see our young talent advance out of the group stage and past Mexico in the Round of 16. I desperately wanted to see the US face my other favorite, Germany, in the quarter finals but could not. At least I could solace in Germany being the team that finally knocked us out. It is too bad the Germans lost to Brazil in the final.

After the World Cup, I was hooked on soccer. I bought FIFA World Cup 02 for X-Box and started watching MLS. I quickly decided to follow the Fire because of their proximity and name (Wizards just did not do it for me). Plus, the talented young DeMarcus Beasley was on the roster. He was spectacular in Japan/Korea. I was also determined to check out the Menace, whom I had heard about but never paid any attention to. Unfortunately I did not make it to any games that year.
I do not known when the Menace changed from the "Maniac" logo to their current one, but it was done before I finally made a game in 2003. Dragging my young brother-in-law with me, I finally saw my first live soccer match not involving little kids. This was the final linchpin in my love for soccer. I came back as many times as I could that season and the next. When the Menace moved to Waukee in 2005, I bought my first season tickets; this was the first time I would buy season tickets for any team. I went to every regular season, playoff, and US Open Cup home game that year; I even travelled to KC during the fourth round of the USOC. Partial season tickets followed the next two years but I barely made any games this year due to my schedule.
Continue to Part 8

Tribe 7