Keeping The Sports World 'Friendly'

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US midfielder Clint Dempsey, right, celebrates with teammates after scoring during a friendly soccer match between Italy and USA. (AP)
US midfielder Clint Dempsey, right, celebrates with teammates after scoring during a friendly soccer match between Italy and USA. (AP)

This week marked one of those breaks in the international soccer season during which national teams summon their players from the clubs normally employing them for matches known as “friendlies.”

In Argentina’s friendly against Switzerland the ever more incomparable Leo Messi scored three times.

In Italy, the U.S. team won, 1-0. The U.S. doesn’t beat Italy, but thanks to a goal by Clint Dempsey, consistent goal tending at the other end, and a bit of luck, they did.

Then there was the match in which Bahrain, needing a nine goal advantage to have any shot at making the field for the 2014 World Cup, beat Indonesia, 10-0. Questions have arisen over whether that one was too friendly.

The Major League teams gathered in Florida and Arizona have begun playing each other in games that count even less than soccer “friendlies,” but the baseball games are not called “friendlies.” Maybe they should be. They feature a veritable parade of pitchers, as if to give everyone an opportunity to play. Guys who’ve been removed from the game sometimes run in the outfield when it’s still going on, chatting amiably with the outfielders as they jog around them. If both managers have failed to involve as many players as they’d intended to involve, they smile and agree to play a few more innings, no matter that one team is ahead after nine of them. The ice cream and crackerjack are not free, but everything else about a spring training exhibition is friendly.

Once at a game in West Palm Beach, a bald gentleman sitting in front of my very young daughter complained not at all for three innings while she put peanut shells on his head and watched them slide under his collar. His behavior went beyond friendly. It was saintly.

But on another sunny March afternoon years ago, I was sitting in the press box at a Cincinnati Reds game in Tampa when two people approached me, one of them blind. The one who wasn’t blind introduced me to the one who was: a serious Reds fan who’d come to Tampa for a couple of days of vacation. Would I be willing to talk him through the game?

“Sure,” I said, and for a couple of innings it went smoothly. The blind guy asked whether the infield was playing in. I told him when the manager was walking to the mound, and he predicted who’d next come in from the bullpen. I was happy to give him the play-by-play, since I wasn’t actually working.

Which, as it turned out, was the problem. Because the blind guy wasn’t working, either, so when an officious nit in a polo shirt with a Reds logo on it approached us in the half-full press box and told us the space was only for working press, we were busted. I’ve filed that afternoon under “the day the jerk working for the Reds kicked a blind guy who’d come all the way from Cincinnati out of a half-empty press box,” but the shorthand for it might be "unfriendly."

This segment aired on March 3, 2012.

Bill Littlefield Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.



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