Sunday, March 22, 2009

Playing for your country. Risk and reward.

It all became clear to me this weekend. A few things happened that put everything into perspective.

The last few weeks something was nagging at me, and this weekend it became crystal clear to me. A few of the sports I love, baseball, football and, to a lesser extent, basketball, are infested, diseased and quite possibly destined to collapse under the weight of their own all-pervasive greed.

It all came to light from the boot of a 30 year old Irish man born in California.

On Saturday Ireland beat Wales in a nail baiting, dramatic and tension filled encounter that will go down as one of the greatest Rugby games ever played. Ronan O'Gara, Ireland's Californian born out-half supremo kicked the winning points with only minutes left. Ireland's win brought its first Six Nations Grand Slam (winning all five games) in 61 years. The game quite literally brought the entire nations of Ireland and Wales to a standstill, along with hundreds of millions of rugby fans in France, England, Italy, Scotland, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa amongst others.

Today, Sunday, Ireland is enveloped in a feel-good factor the nation hasn't felt for ages, in these times of recession and credit crunch. The Welsh, to their immense credit, have tipped their caps and offered nothing but congratulations. The other big rugby nations all reported on the big game heavily, and rugby playing nations around the world were united by a single great event.

Meanwhile. Several times this weekend, while checking out the usual sporting news websites for baseball news, the headlines spluttered out the usual American sports media negativity about the World Baseball Classic. ''There is just no good time to play the WBC!' or 'WBC causes so and so's injury.' Whatever. Whichever way the US sports media wants to dress it up, players not playing for their country in the WBC is straight up pathetic.

If your country comes calling, you should be on that field of play wearing that jersey unless you have a limb actually hanging off your body. Any other excuse? Players hiding behind the US sporting media's indifference to international competition.

Risk. Reward.

One online media outlet ran a report on Kevin Youkilis 'defending' the WBC, Youk saying he recommended the experience to his peers. The Red Sox first baseman should not have to recommend the experience to the American players who turned their country down when it came calling!! Those players should be fighting, crawling over each other for the privilege of wearing the jersey.

So, while ESPN tried to absolutely ram half filled basketball stadiums hosting 100-50 boring blowouts down my throat all weekend long, I took a break from gambling, Greg Gumble and shoddy 30 second 'reports' on sports. By doing so I slowed things down and focused on the big Six Nations decider. The reward? An incredible feeling of pride and passion, that has lasted all weekend long, brought on by the Irish team delivering the Grand Slam on Saturday evening.

Everyone bought in on it. The team, the players, the sports media and the nation itself. The reward? A huge buzz that you just don't get from anything else. It all starts with the players, they sacrifice their bodies and lucrative club careers for the good of the country who's jersey they are wearing.

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean you have players who should be playing for their countries hiding behind the US sporting media and US nations general indifference to international sporting events.

Bob Ryan, the Globe journalist, said it best recently when he wrote that the USA was becoming increasingly and worrying insular. Does anyone care? Maybe not. For me, as a fan of sports on both sides of the Atlantic, it is sad though. It's sad that the USA misses out entirely on the feel good factor that countries like Ireland got to experience this weekend. And why? All because of greed, good old fashioned greed, players afraid to jeopardize their lucrative club contracts playing for their countries, all hidden behind a shield of US media insularity and indifference.

Put the fucking jersey on, and be thankful, be thankful for the privilege of wearing it. End of story.

Playing us out tonight, the brilliant Damien Dempsey with the best song ever written about Dublin, 'Spraypaint backalley'


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Irish National baseball team

Irish National baseball team
Team Ireland at the European Championships, Croatia, 2000.

A nice little mention for this blog on Fox Sports

A nice little mention for this blog on Fox Sports


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