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Futbal Diaries, Part 6: Arrival in Mexico City

June 15th, 2017 · No Comments · Football, Road trip, soccer, Sports Journalism, World Cup

I am perversely proud of driving from Tijuana to Mexico City for the 2006 World Cup qualifying match of March 2005, at the Estadio Azteca.

The report, below, recounts the final leg — from Guadalajara to the distrito federale.

As it turned out, co-pilot Damian Secore and I encountered just about zero problems across a stretch of country that, in the 12 years since, has come to be associated with drug cartels and the violence between (or among) those cartels.

But going south of the border not all that long ago was considered a fairly safe event.

I remember that one of my uncles, who must have been in his 50s, at the time, drove right through Mexico and then into Central America via the Pan-American Highway, which took him through Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras … and he came back with a slide show to narrate for the family. This would have been in the middle 1960s.

Now, whether it is unreasonable alarmism or demonstrated danger, it is easy to find U.S. sources (such as U.S. Department of State advisories) arguing strongly against doing what we did, back in 2005. Especially driving at night, which we did in the mostly empty desert the first night out of TJ.

Landon Donovan’s reaction (below) to seeing us in the team hotel perhaps sums up the U.S. attitude toward the road system of it southern neighbor.

So, here we go: Guadalajara to Mexico City.

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Futbol Diaries, Part 5: Mexico Seeks ‘Total Destruction’

June 14th, 2017 · No Comments · Football, Road trip, soccer, Sports Journalism, World Cup

Another installment in the 2005 Tijuana-to-Mexico City road trip report on a 2006 World Cup qualifying match pitting the United States against Mexico.

I had forgotten about spending time, the previous night, in steamy San Blas watching the festivities for Holy Week. It was Mexico at its most festive and friendly.

The 425 miles to Guadalajara were not difficult, once we got past the one-lane-in-each-direction portion and back on the toll road that made a left-hand turn about halfway and sent us into the mountains.

It was a Friday, and more and more people clearly were thinking about the match, two days away, in massive Estadio Azteca.

I also had forgotten that this was the day that news broke that Landon Donovan, already the star of the U.S. national team, at age 23, was apparently headed home from Leverkusen of Germany’s top division in a deal that landed the Redlands native with the LA Galaxy. As we know that turned out well for all parties: Leverkusen got paid, the Galaxy got the best-known American player; Donovan led them to four MLS championships in 10 seasons.

Let’s return now to the Wayback Machine:

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Futbol Diaries, Part 4: Into the Jungle

June 13th, 2017 · No Comments · Football, Road trip, soccer, Sports Journalism, World Cup

This was one of the more interesting legs of the 2005 road trip across Mexico to see the United States’ World Cup qualifier at Estadio Azteca.

We had seen the map, and we knew we were leaving the desert, but we did not fully anticipate the massive shift in climates, once we entered Nayarit state.

Also, looking back at the installment, below, I made no mention of Culiacan’s status as the home of the Sinaloa Cartel, one of the most powerful and successful drug gangs in the world. Was I trying to be polite? Probably not.

It was possible, even in 2005, that I had not followed the Mexico narco-lord topic closely enough to know we spent our second night in Mexico in the citadel of global gangsters. I remember it as being a fairly lively, modern city; I have no recollection of feeling like I was domiciled in a monster’s den.

And then San Blas. I had never heard of it, before the trip. But it comes up now and then in the news, and it takes me back.

A few years after we stopped there, San Blas was the focus of attention after the presumably miraculous survival and rescue of three local fisherman who had drifted from Mexico across the Pacific for nine months, followed by stories from those, perhaps a majority, who doubt the survivors’ story of being out fishing for sharks.

San Blas was the first touristy town we encountered.

So, to the story:

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Steph Steps Aside as Durant’s Warriors Win NBA Title

June 12th, 2017 · 1 Comment · Basketball, NBA

Let me mention it again.

I have been outside the U.S. for all but a few months since October of 2009.

I remain a fan of all American team sports I once covered as a journalist — baseball, football, basketball …

But I cannot say I have, week in and week out, seen all the best teams and players in all the U.S. sports, over the past eight years. I see them on special occasions or when we happen to be in the states, but that does not generate enough “views” of top players and top teams to have a granular sense of them and what they are about.

However …

I saw portions of every game in these NBA Finals, in part because of “luck” in waking in the middle of the European night.  Game 5 began at 3 a.m. French time, and I came around about 3:15 and tuned in because I was interested. Sleep? That’s for the other side of dawn.

And there were the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

And what impressed me, about the series won by the Warriors in the wee hours tonight, was this:

It is not often that an elite NBA player still in his prime gives up “his” team to a guy who just joined the squad.

But that is exactly what Stephen Curry did.

Or maybe it was more about Kevin Durant seizing top-dog status from Curry in a sort of (at least outwardly) friendly takeover

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All Hail Bruce Arena!

June 11th, 2017 · No Comments · Football, Russia 2018, soccer, World Cup

This is about United States versus Mexico soccer. World Cup qualifying soccer at that …

But this is now, not 2005 — as it is in the parts of the 12-year-old series I have been republishing on this blog in recent days.

The U.S. national soccer team got a very nice result today, in Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca, altitude 7,300 feet, where not many teams escape defeat.

Michael Bradley scored a memorable “chipped/lobbed” goal over the head of Mexico’s goalkeeper in the sixth minute of the match, and the Americans were able to escape with a 1-1 draw — and a precious point — putting them that much closer to the 2018 World Cup.

And making progress toward Russia 2018 is where Bruce Arena comes in.

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Futbol Diaries, Part 3: Hermosillo to Culiacan

June 10th, 2017 · No Comments · Baseball, Dodgers, Football, soccer, World Cup

On our Tijuana-to-Mexico City road trip ahead of a 2006 World Cup qualifier, back in 2005, we noticed that the main north-south road on the western side of Mexico goes right through Navajoa — where Los Angeles Dodgers pitching star Fernando Valenzuela was born.

Back in 2005, I assumed readers would not be interested in six consecutive days about Mexican soccer, so we mixed in a day of Fernando-oriented baseball. Plus, we are fans of the Dodgers and looked at our pause in Navajoa as a sort of pilgrimage to the roots of one of the club’s greats.

Back then, Sonora state did not have a club in the Mexican soccer league’s top division and that probably was because many people in the state represent a national oddity — baseball fans.

The day had been spent driving pretty much directly south and watching the desert of the north turn into more verdant country along the Pacific coast. Traffic was modest and we moved along at a nice clip, and our half hour poking around Navajoa did not put us behind schedule.

We still had not felt any sense of doing something daring or dangerous, the two of us Yankees making a 1,800-mile trip through Mexico.

The story begins:

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Futbol Diaries, Part 2: From Tijuana to Hermosillo

June 9th, 2017 · 1 Comment · Football, soccer, World Cup

This ran as Day 1 in the March 2005 Futbol Diaries road-trip series — ahead of the U.S. national team playing Mexico in a 2006 World Cup qualifying match at Azteca Stadium.

It can stand a bit more context.

We had begun the day in Southern California, and we were driven down to San Diego and then across the border and into Tijuana where we were dropped off at a car-rental site.

We lost several hours in picking up the car and finding our way out of the sprawling, mostly unmarked city and to Highway 2, which skirts the northern border of Mexico.

The idea had been to go Hermosilla and file my report from there, but falling behind schedule meant stopping at the sad, dusty town of Caborca (just as well we had never heard of the Crabb Massacre) well before we had reached the major north-south road in that part of Mexico, Highway 15.

We cruised down the main road of Caborca and eventually found an internet cafe. (Remember those?) It was while in there, hunting and pecking on the typewriter of a desktop computer, that it really struck me that perhaps the whole of this Mexico road trip was a bad idea.

My recollection is we bought tacos from a stand somewhere on the edge of Caborca. After filing, of course.

The piece cannot show us having successfully reached Hermosillo, but we did, in the early morning, and we woke someone who let us check in at the hotel after a very long day in the Sonoran Desert of northern Mexico.

So, here we go, from March 23, 2005.

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Futbol Diaries, Part 1: Stage Set for Mexico Road Trip

June 8th, 2017 · No Comments · Football, Landon Donovan, soccer, World Cup

The United States and Mexico are set to resume the greatest rivalry in North American soccer, four days hence, in a 2018 World Cup qualifying match to be played in Mexico’s Estadio Azteca.

And the thought of it prompted memories of the 1,800-mile road trip two of us took from Tijuana, Mexico, to Mexico City to cover the 2005 qualifying match, ahead of the 2006 World Cup.

Twelve years ago.

I have decided to dig up the dispatches from that semi-crazy road trip and post them on this blog.

I probably will not put up seven consecutive days of the travel and match coverage that came out of the trip, given the big events going on at this time of year.

But each of the items of the series will open with the words “Futbol Diaries”, followed by the number (2, 3, 4 …) of the installment.

This was the second big road trip I chronicled in 2005, following the cross-country Super Bowl that year in Jacksonville, Fla. (I suppose I was just up for road trips, that year.)

My co-pilot and translator for the Mexico trip was Damian Secore, a former colleague and perennial football aficionado.

We perhaps should have been more nervous about the trip than we were, given that neither of us had driven any distance in the country or had any clear sense of the standard of the hotels we hoped to reach each day.

We were equally innocent of the condition of the roads we planned to follow or what sort of dangers two Americans might encounter on the road from our naivete.

More than a few people said: “Are you crazy?”

Herewith, the set-up piece which appeared on March 22, 2005, outlining our plan for driving a rental car to the big game, pitting arch-rivals that each had won their first match in the final round of 2006 qualifying.

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From NYT’s Crossword to L.A.’s and Back Again; Gaining, Losing IQ Points

June 7th, 2017 · No Comments · Uncategorized

The jumbo Sunday crosswords that appear under the imprimatur of the New York Times … had been kicking my butt.

Seventeen straight that I failed to complete without a mistake. Making me wonder if the canary had stopped singing in the coal mine of my brain.

I completed one on February 20 but, through May 8, all I had was failure.

A few, I note beneath the puzzle as having come close … but a few more puzzles never allowed me to establish a beachhead. My notes jotted under three of those puzzles read: “Total BS … ridiculous … beyond ridiculous”.

Which struck me as fair comment … but also would be the sort of comments I would make when I had lost enough gray cells to see my performance decline.

It did not help, of course, that the puzzles originally appeared in NYT from 1988 to 1992. Lots of dated information there. Pop stuff, cabinet secretaries and the usual dollop of French/German/Latin words.

Then, I had a thought.

What about trying some Los Angeles Times puzzles from their Sunday editions? I have some in the house. So I fetched one and got to work …

And suddenly I got much smarter. Senility had been pushed back to its starting point. Seemingly.

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Remembering Midway, the ‘Other’ Great American Victory of World War II

June 6th, 2017 · No Comments · Uncategorized

The first week of June brings to mind two history-changing military actions in World War II involving the United States. Arguably the country’s finest hours, when it comes to warfare.

–D-Day, June 6, 1944, which was 73 years ago today.

–The Battle of Midway, June 4, 1942,

Most Americans with a passing knowledge of U.S. history know about D-Day.

They may not know about Midway, fought two years and two days earlier. But that victory was hugely important in the war against Japan, and it also is a great story — of courage and resolve and also more than a little luck.

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