How I Was Introduced to Soccer

By Lemme Q


 

When I was eight, my best friend asked if I wanted to sign up for soccer and play on his team. My parents were happy to have me out running off extra energy, so there was no pleading involved. I had already started Little League the year before and soccer fit right in where baseball left off.

Both sports were exciting and new at the beginning. It was great just putting on the uniforms and being on the field with people watching and cheering. Game time always inspires drama. But as the seasons came and went, one sport lost its charm as the other got better. I lost interest in baseball because it had all the dynamics of a soap opera. There was too much of waiting for mere moments of excitement.

In soccer, your worth on the field is immediately apparent to anyone watching the game. Baseball, in contrast, offers precious few guarantees. Unless you're the pitcher, catcher or first baseman, you stand on the field and wait for some action. Then three or four times you go to the plate and try to hit the ball. So much of the game is spent standing around that I credit baseball for turning me into more of a daydreamer than anything else.

Soccer only stops once at halftime. It goes and goes until someone scores. Then it goes again. Even the slogan of the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) is an indicator of what to expect. Everybody Plays. When I first started, practice was held at the high school and games were held at the Hollywood Park Polo Grounds. Those grounds were awe-inspiring. There were about six or seven fields laid out across the giant, thick lawn and there was no baby sizing.

I tried a few positions at first, but quickly found myself promoted to the forward line since I was fast and liked to shoot at the goal. Scoring goals was one of my early experiences of a rush. Anyone who's done it knows the twin feeling of joy and relief a goal brings. You do stupid dances and struts if it's really hard won. It's the next best thing to an orgasm. Parents always brought quartered oranges for half time, a welcome refreshment. Sometimes there was Hi-C or some other fruit juice, but everybody knew that a game without oranges was somehow off the mark. Now and then you'd be on a team with some generous parents who would bring sodas and snacks for after the game. I'd always get the returning warrior treatment at home. Mom would fill a basin with hot water and pour in Epsom salt and I'd melt into the couch and watch TV while my feet recovered.

There was one aspect of soccer that had nothing to do with the game itself, or maybe it had everything to do with it. The variety of nationalities involved was surprising. It seemed like an athletic United Nations. Playing teams from other regions usually meant encountering the ethnic and cultural makeup of that part of town. It was one of the only places I can remember meeting other Germans and that made it even more remarkable.

I played on AYSO teams until I reached high school. Surprisingly, there were enough good players there to keep me off the varsity squad until my junior year. Well, I have to qualify "good." I later learned that the core group of the team was in the habit of popping uppers before a game. No wonder they seemed to run with extra fire and commitment. It was almost as if they couldn't burn the energy off fast enough. No one ever asked me to join in the popping ceremony, so I just played it straight.


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