The World Cup 2

Since I wrote about American baseball, I feel like I must give the rest of the world equal time.  So let;s talk about soccer, or football for those outside the United States.  The World Cup semifinals are set, and it's an all Europe event, with Argentina and Brazil both losing int he quarterfinals.  I am still guessing that Germany will win, but can anyone count out France, who has suddenly come alive, having beaten Brazil? 

I feel bad for my British friends, whose team lost in a shoot out yesterday.  I know how much soccer means in England, but their team just didn't come through when they needed a superior effort.  I was impressed with the goalie for Portugal; he got a hand on every one of the penalty shots from the English players.  Will England soon forgive Mr. Rooney for being sent when his country needed him most?  I don't think so.

There just isn't enough scoring in soccer for it to ever catch on in a big way in the United States. I went to a baseball game last night and the score was 9-2.  The largest win in the quarterfinals was Italy's 3-0 win over my people, the Ukrainians.  But the matches were on television here, and people are following with moderate interest. 

I am sticking with my prediction that Germany will win, but anything can happen this coming week.  I will be watching, as long as there isn't a baseball game on television at the same time to woo my attention away.

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I have made good on three of my objectives upon returning home.  First of all, I have eaten three hot dogs, two in the Detroit airport and one at a baseball game.  Second, I have cast loving glances at my wife and we have been together since I returned home.  And third, I did go to a baseball game last night and saw the Pittsburgh Pirates clobber the Detroit Tigers by a score of 9-2.  It was a fun night.  There was a big crowd on hand and there were so many families there with young children!  It was great to see.

I went to my first baseball game in 1957 and saw the Pirates win a doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  I have gone to countless games since then, not only here in Pittsburgh (all three stadiums) but also in New York (both stadiums), Atlanta (the old and the new stadiums), Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles (both stadiums), Chicago (both stadiums), Toronto, Boston, Cleveland, Dallas, and Baltimore.  Next month I will add Seattle to the list when I attend a game there against Tampa Bay.

My favorite stadium is in Baltimore at Camden Yards; they also have the best food by far of any of the places I have gone.  I will always remember the night I went to Yankee Stadium in New York, however; it was almost a spiritual experience to be where so many great players and teams have played over the decades.  My least favorite venue was the old Candlestick Park in San Francisco, but the Giants don't play there anymore--thank God.

I have been a lifelong fan of our local team, which now has the longest consecutive non-winning season streak of any team in professional sports.  It has been 14 years since the team has had a winning record!  That's quite an accomplishment in a morbid kind of way.  Their losing has been a combination of bad management locally and bad leadership from the powers that rule baseball in general.  You see, Pittsburgh is what's called a small-market team.  Their payroll this year is $50 million, while the payroll for the New York Yankess is more than $200 million.  There is no way the Pirates can compete with that kind of disparity in money available to buy talented players.

Baseball's commissioner, Bud Selig, (whom I am fond of calling the "village idiot" where baseball is concerned) and the owners refuse to face the reality that baseball is broken and needs fixed.  A salary cap such as the other professional leagues use is needed, but will never be implemented.  The richer teams won't ever let it happen.  Thus the "have" teams will continue to thrive and the "have-not" teams will struggle, and baseball' seems happy with this arrangementn since the "haves" are in the large television market cities.

Even with the problems, though, baseball is still a great game.  I hope to take in two more games before I leave the country again on August 22.  And one day, a small market team like Milwaukee, Oakland or Pittsburgh will rise up and strike down one of the big market teams in the World Series!  I just hope I'm still alive to see it happen.

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English Soccer

I am feeling about 87% better than I did last Sunday.  Don't ask me how I came up with 87%, just suffice it to say that I'm not 100% but a whole lot better than I was.  Now, for some reason, I can't sleep.  This seldom happens to me.  Well, it did once when I had a virus of some kind, so I am thinking my sleeplessness is related to what I had.  This should be fun tonight since I have a 7 am radio interview tomorrow that requires I wake up about the time I've fallen asleep the last two nights. 

While I couldn't sleep last night, I watched more English soccer.  This match was so bad that the halftime commentators urged both coaches to put everyone in who wasn't already playing.  They said it couldn't get any worse.  I didn't watch the second half.  I figured if I didn't fall asleep in the first half, my sleeplessness was hopeless. I know most of my American readers don't watch or like soccer, but the other readers who do, here are some observations of how English soccer could be improved.

1.  Since the British live so close to Paris, they need to import a fashion designer or two to rework the uniforms.  Some of the color combinations are downright nasty!  My vote for all time worst is the baby blue and maroon (with white shorts) of the West Ham team.  Ugh!  Bring back black and white tv.

2.  Every player should be required to shave the day of the game.  I don't want them to shave their beards, just the four-day growth that makes them look like potential child kidnappers.  I always expect some of those guys to score a goal and, while everyone is celebrating, run into the stands to take hostages. 

3.  The goalie uniforms are cool.  Tops and shorts are usually coordinated . Their stuff sits on them with a nice loose fit, to cover some of their padding, I'm sure.  But can someone tell me why the goalie can wear any color he wants, and why that color is not required to blend in with his team's official colors?  I'm sorry, chartreuse does not go with the black tops and powder blue shorts worn by the rest of the team. 

4.  A soccer field is bigger than a football field and the fans are always shouting and singing, usually bombed out of their minds with drink.  So why do all the coaches run out to the field border, waving their hands and shouting instructions when no one can or cares to hear them?  The person standing next to them isn't even able to understand what they are saying.  Plus most of the players are not from England any more, so they can't even understand what the poor man is trying to say!  And if the coach is from Scotland, then I wouldn't even be able to understand what he is saying!

5.  Speaking of the fans, many of them sing during the entire match.  What's more, unless I'm mistaken, they sing what sounds like the same song.  I have been watching soccer for 15 years and I have yet to understand what any crowd is singing!  Can they, like, put the words on the screen or something?  And how about we work with each stadium to come up with a variety of songs?  We can then appoint a song leader and the number of the song to be sung can be posted on the scoreboard, just like in church, where many of those singers haven't been in years.

6.  English soccer managers must have found a sale on polyester suits, because they all wear them.  These guys are making a fortune and should dress better.  I suggest someone from the National Basketball Association come over and hold a seminar on the basics--how to tie a tie, how to pick a shirt that matches the tie and suit, and how to use an iron. 

7.  While we are sending a clothing consultant to redesign the wardrobe for both players and management, we should also send over a hair stylist.  This person will help the managers focus on what to do with straight hair--"Here, hold the can about 8 inches from your hair, use the brush to hold the hair in place and spray.  Nothing to it!"  This will keep you from moving your hair out of your eyes 1,000 times every game, Sir Alex.

Now don't get me wrong.  I enjoy English soccer; I just want to dress the game up a bit.  And when we've taken care of those basics, we'll send over one of our tattoo specialists from the NBA and English soccer will never, ever be the same.  Pray I'm able to sleep tonight!

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Stupor Bowl?

Super Bowl XL is history and my team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, emerged victorious.  What a great day for the city of Pittsburgh and the Steelers!  I only wish I were home to see all the celebrations.  The game itself, however, was not one of the better games ever played.  At one point, I wasn't hoping for a Steeler victory, just a first down.  Both teams played below their potential, which was probably a credit to each team taking the other out of what they do best.  Now, of course, the Seahawk fans are screaming foul due to some bad officiating.  The league issued a statement yesterday saying that the game was "properly officiated." 

Speaking of stupor, I was able to watch the game here in Zimbabwe.  It came on at 1:30 am.  When I emerged at 5:30 after the game finished, the sun had come up!  I watched it with four other men, three of whom fell asleep at various times during the game.  If the other two of us weren't Steeler fans, we probably would have as well. 

We received the "international camera" feed for the game and it was hilarious.  The camera would fall off its stand, we would get camera shots of the players butts while in the huddle and there were some interesting crowd shots.  But best of all was what happened during the commercial breaks. Since the international market saw none of the advertisements, we were subjected to the same six EPSN promos during every break in the action.  That's right, we saw all six promos over and over again during each break while you were viewing Bud Light and Diet Pepsi ads.  No wonder everyone with me fell asleep.

So now the Steeler fans will celebrate, the Seahawk fans will cry, and I will remember what my father told me years ago.  When I would get so excited and upset about a game, he would say, "Son, I have to go to work tomorrow no matter who wins."  With that in mind, it's time for me to get back to work. So until next season, just remember:  "Here we go, Steelers, here we go!"

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Cricket Anyone?

In June, 1994, I faced a big problem.  I was in Australia for the first time, on tour with the Integrity Music team.  I began to channel flip, hoping to find some sports to watch.  I did find some sports, but it wasn't anything with which I was familiar.  They had cricket, football (what we call soccer) and Australian football, which is a brutal combination of elements from rugby and American football.  So I thought to myself, "John, you've got two choices here.  You can either switch off the tv and not watch sports other than those offered in the U.S., or you an expand your repertoire of sporting choices."  I chose the latter and watched cricket.

Now ten years later, I can watch a cricket match and understand most of what's going on.  What's more, I've gone on to watch badminton in Indonesia (they are often the world champs), rugby in South  Africa (I watched the world cup in Singapore year before last), road racing in England and lots of soccer wherever I am.  My family and I were in the UK in 2002 when England played Brazil in the World Cup of soccer and it was quite an experience.  Then we went on to Austria and watched Germany lose to Brazil in the finals.  To say that the fans were rabid would be a massive understatement.

The most unusual "sports" I've watched were a tiddly winks tournament and sheep dog competition, both in the UK.  The sheep dog owners would put their dogs through their paces on a preset course, be timed and then evaluated on how well their dog obeyed and responded. Pretty strange.

Most would not consider professional wrestling a sport, but I do, and I see it all over the world.  I think pro wrestling is bizarre, but brilliantly planned and executed.  Everyone knows it's fixed, yet millions watch.  Why?  My wife says because it's like a male soap opera.  Maybe she's right.

Before we end this session, I have to confess that I have a favorite team in the British football league. At the risk of alienating my UK and African friends, I am a Manchester United fan.  I have to admit, though, that I love watching Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool any time they are on the air.  The quality of play is just exceptional.

I'm glad I made the decision to expand my sporting interests, because it has helped me connect with audiences wherever I go.  And my interest in wrestling has opened many doors to the younger male audience members, who think I'm cool because I know who Triple H and Randy "Macho Man" Savage are.  So what about you?  Are you expanding your boundaries, being exposed to and learning new things?  I hope so, for if you want to live an interesting life, write or speak about interesting things, then you must do interesting things.  So, cricket anyone?

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Here We Go Steelers!

Sorry that I haven't written for a few days.  I arrived in Florida last Thursday and went off to a beach resort to lead a retreat.  Then I got back in West Palm Beach on Sunday in time to pick my wife up who has joined me for the remainder of my time here..  After I picked her up, we drove around, listening to the Steeler game on the radio.  Then we went to a local restaurant and they had the game on television.  I ordered some ribs, but watched the game from afar in the restaurant.  I shouldn't have done it.  I ate the ribs bones and all, barely chewing any of my food.  In fact, I really don't even remember eating at all.  Our waittress was from, you guessed it, Pittsburgh and the women who checked us into our hotel was also from Pittsburgh.

So now it's on to the Super Bowl for the Steelers, but on to Africa for me.  I depart for South Africa this Friday and then go on to Zimbabwe, where I will be for Super Bowl Sunday.  My friends there assure me that we will be able to watch the game, which will come on at about 1:30 am Zimbabwe time.  So as a loyal member of the Steeler nation, I will take my Ben Roethlisberger jersey and Terrible Towel to Zimbabwe, where the residents will have to learn how to cheer, "Here we go, Steelers, here we go!"

I Can't Watch

Yesterday the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round of the NFL playoffs, 31-17. I have never met anyone from Pittsburgh who has not maintained a fierce loyalty to the team, including me. Even when we move away from PIttsburgh, we still follow the Black and Gold, and Steeler fan clubs are prominent not only in America, but in other parts of the world. When the Steelers are on television, a greater percentage of tv sets watch them than in any other football city in America.

But I don't watch the Steelers. I may follow the score on the Internet or I may watch the highlights, but I can't watch. Why? I just don't have the emotional energy. Well, perhaps I do have the energy, but I want to invest it in other places. Last year I was in San Diego when the Steelers played in the divisional finals. I had to speak that night and I knew that, if I watched the Steelers, I would not be able to speak with greatest effectiveness. They lost and I was glad I didn't watch.

Perhaps that is what's called "guarding your heart." I don't want to give to a football team what I should be devoting to Jesus and my purpose. I hope I don't sound super-spiritual when I say that. And I'm not saying that anyone who watches is wasting their time. I just know myself and know that I can't go there if I am to be effective and productive.

I will be in California when the Steelers play next Sunday. I will be thinking about them and hoping that they win, but I will be in church when the game is on television. But win, lose or draw, I am a Steeler fan through and through, and just hope that a chorus of "Here we go, Steelers, here we go!" doesn't come out during our time of worship next Sunday.

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The Orlando Magic

Last night my daughter and I went to see an NBA game here in Orlando. The Magic played the Milwaukee Bucks and it was an entertaining game, which the locals won 108-93. I was surprised at how few people were at the game; the arena was only half full.

My 25-year-old daughter loves sports and she is always fun to take to a game. She attends pro football and basketball games regularly, and will also go along to see baseball and hockey, although those aren't her favorites. She is good friends with many of the Baltimore Raven football players, much to the chagrin of her father who is a lifelong Pittsburgh Steeler fan.

I have always been a huge sports fan, but I've curtailed my interest over the last 10 years. I did this after I heard Jim Collins, the business author speak in New York City in 1997. He introduced me to the concept of a stop-to-do list. Collins said that every leader has a to-do list, but often we are only able to accomplish something we want to do when we make time to do it by eliminating something else. He used the example from his own life that he was able to increase how much he read only after he stopped watching so much television.

I was investing so much time and energy in watching and attending sports that I knew this was a way I could recapture time I needed to write and travel. So while I am still an avid fan, I have traded sports time for writing time and I've been much happier ever since.

Perhaps it would be a good idea if you had a stop-to-do list. As we close out this year, what can you stop doing in order to start doing something more important to you?

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Baseballs, Footballs, Hockey Pucks

Last Sunday I went to see the local professional football team, the Pittsburgh Steelers (they lost). Then a few nights ago I went to see our local professional hockey team, the Pittsburgh Penguins (they lost). A few weeks before that, I went to see our local professional baseball team, the Pittsburgh PIrates (they lost).

If I want to take a mini-vacation, I can just go see a live sporting event and I come out fresh and revived. I try to take in a game in whatever city I may be visiting. Last year I saw Shaquille O'Neal play in Miami (twice) and went to see the Baltimore Ravens play football in Baltimore. I have gone to a hockey and basketball games in Toronto and at last count have seen a baseball game in ten different cities, hockey in seven cities and basketball in eight cities.

I think my favorite sport to see live is hockey. I enjoy baseball in nice weather and still remember my first game that my father took me to when I was seven years old. Football is great except for the fans who are usually drunk and abusive. Basketball is good, but I generally have to sit in the cheaper seats that are higher up in the arena where the view isn't as good.

My favorite baseball stadium is Camden Yards in Baltimore (they have super food including crab cakes and awesome barbecue). The Staples Center in Los Angeles is the coolest arena I've been in and the AA Arena in Dallas is a great place to buy tickets from scalpers, who regularly sell extra tickets, bringing them right to your car as you approach the arena. The hockey fans in Toronto are the most sophisticated when it comes to understanding the game and the weather in San Francisco for baseball is obscenely cold, even in July.

There are no stadium vendors in Turner Field in Atlanta (I hate the Atlanta Braves) and they sell sushi in Dodger Baseball Stadium in LA. When you buy a bottle of water in the Meadowlands Arena in New Jersey, they won't give you the bottle cap--too many people were throwing them onto the floor or ice. Chicago facilities have the best overall food--the pastrami and corned beef sandwiches are the best I've had anywhere.

But when all is said and done, there's no place like home. We don't have the best food (although we do sell pierogies in the baseball stadium) or the best teams. Our hockey arena is the oldest in the league. Our baseball team hasn't had a winning record since 1992! But all that said, I have always been and will always be a fan of Pittsburgh sports teams, win or lose. So go Steelers, Pens and Pirates, and I promise to not come see you for a while. Maybe that will help you win.

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