Category Archives: deportes

Chupacabras: Into the belly of the beast

Bicycling recently had an interesting article by Lou Mazzante about a crazy bike race held in Ciudad Juárez every October called Chupacabras. The 100-km-long mountain bike race draws as many as 3,600 riders and 45,000 spectators for one of the longest single-day bike competitions in the world. The course itself runs through both the city and surrounding desert and features some pretty harsh terrain—both urban and mountainous. But hey, it’s only $30 to participate, and the event is a source of pride for the city.

One of the coolest things about the race is that the riders themselves include everyone from professionals like Tinker Juarez to total amateurs. Here’s Mazzante’s description of a participant named Domingo Brito.

I met the short, wide-eyed man yesterday at registration. Huge bar-ends protruded from his handlebar and pegs the size of beer cans extended from this rear axle. His chrome bike cost maybe $100 new, and new was a long time ago. Even more improbable than his bike was Brito’s right shoe, which had a protrusion of its own: 3-inch-thick orthotic sole, the result of a broke femur 22 years ago that left one leg shorter than the other.

I’m not a mountain biker myself, but it was nice to read something about Cd. Juárez that wasn’t about kids getting killed at a high school party by a drug cartel or the discovery of a mass grave in the desert filled with missing female factory workers.

Oswaldo on Béisbol

When I was a kid growing up in Indiana, our Little League team took an outing every year to see a game at Old Comiskey Park in Chicago. While I wasn’t much of a White Sox fan, I did always enjoy going to see a game, and I particularly enjoyed watching the Sox’ shortstop Ozzie Guillén play. Guillén had a quick hand in the field and a light stroke at bat—something I appreciated since I wasn’t much of a power hitter myself. Guillén was from Venezuela and part of a sustained wave of players that came to Major League Baseball from that country in the 80s.

But Guillén is better known these days for being the manager of the White Sox. Through that role he became the first Latin-born manager to lead a team to a World Series victory when he took the White Sox to their first championship since 1917 in 2005.  Guillén is also known for being outspoken on…well, just about everything. He even tweets—both in English and Spanish. And he’s never had much love for umpires.

Recently, Guillén’s been making headlines for a comment he made in an interview about the treatment of Latino players versus other foreign-born, non-native-English-speaking players, particularly ones from Japan and Korea.

“I say, why do we have Japanese interpreters and we don’t have a Spanish one. I always say that. Why do they have that privilege and we don’t? … Don’t take this wrong, but they take advantage of us. We bring a Japanese player and they are very good and they bring all these privileges to them. We bring a Dominican kid … go to the minor leagues, good luck. Good luck. And it’s always going to be like that. It’s never going to change. But that’s the way it is.”

You can hear that quote in context in the following video.

Usually when Guillén opens up like this he gets eaten alive by sports media. But he’s actually gotten a little support on this one from some in the sports journalism crowd, though he’s also been blasted by most. Guillén often touches a nerve when he rants about society or the state of baseball or just about anything else. But in this case, he irritated that racial sore that still won’t heal in this country. However, I think he’s also talking about one of the major economic truths of sport: players are products.

In the case of MLB, Asian players are seen by many in baseball management as a precious investment to be protected. Japanese and Korean players also come from industrialized nations, so playing the game in North America is often a career choice for them, not a means to escape poverty—a major bargaining chip when in contract negotiations. Latino talent, on the other hand, is plentiful. Latin American players are an inexpensive investment for teams because many are coming from nations in development or poverty, and they can easily be replaced because there’s always a large group of young players coming up behind them. It’s all about the marketplace. To put it in context, when the Oakland A’s signed Dominican star Miguel Tejada, they paid $2,000 for him. When the Boston Red Sox won the bidding war for Daisuke Matsuzaka, it cost them $102 million. That’s a big gap!

There was an interesting film about the subject of how Dominican players are recruited for the league a few years ago called Sugar. I recommend it. It paints a vivid picture of how baseball can eat up the hearts, minds, and talent of young boys from the island and then dump them on the street corner when their skills have been used up. It can be a brutal world.

The tie that sometimes binds

One of the more interesting things about the Spanish team that fought hard for its 1-0 victory over the Netherlands yesterday in a gritty, and at times violent, World Cup final is its apparent unity.

Xavi Alonso of Spain is kicked in the chest by Nigel de Jong. And it should have been a red card!

Now some people might say, “Well, why wouldn’t they be unified? They’re all Spaniards.” But anyone who knows a bit about Spanish history or has traveled around areas like Catalonia knows differently. Spain has several regions that speak their own language and have their own separate identity—most famously Catalonia and Basque Country—, and that’s a fact that has caused more than one political flare-up in España. A lot of animosity was particularly fostered between these areas and the country as a whole during the Franco dictatorship in the 20th century. Franco outlawed languages other than Spanish in most official situations and his government generally suppressed the cultural heritage of their associated regions. While these areas did gain semi-autonomous status in the late 70s after democracy was established, tensions over how much autonomy is enough continues—many Catalans, for instance, would like their region to become its own country.

Map of Spain. Catalonia is in red.

On the soccer field this has played out for decades through the great rivalry between Barça, the club team based in the Catalan capital Barcelona, and Real Madrid, based of course in the capital city of Spain. Barça elicits particularly strong feelings from the Catalans because it was the one cultural element they were able to publicly hold onto during the Franco regime, though the Catalan flag had to be removed from the team’s shield during that period. Even today the club’s motto is (in Catalan) “més que un club” (more than a club). The tension between Madrid and Barcelona was felt by the players as well, and squabbling between Barça and Real Madrid representatives on the National Team has often been cited as the reason Spain has routinely underperformed in the World Cup.

So it is to the great delight of many Catalans that the current National Team fields a smorgasbord of Catalan players, including several of the stars of the tournament: Xavi Hernández, Carles Puyol, Gerard Piqué, and Sergio Busquets. Those four also happen to play for Barça, as do four other players on the roster, including goal-scoring phenom David Villa. And it is to the great delight of the country as a whole that they get along with their teammates from Real Madrid. So while Catalans generally have had mixed feelings about the National Team, La Furia Roja (The Red Fury—the team’s nickname) got strong support from that region during this World Cup run. An estimated crowd of 75,000 even packed the streets of Barcelona yesterday in order to celebrate their victory, and most of them were carrying…gasp…the national flag of Spain. The image of Catalans jubilantly marching through the streets of Barcelona with Spanish flags makes it seem that Spain is perhaps finally politically united.

But can a little soccer match really bring lasting unity, especially during a time when that country is experiencing massive debt problems and high unemployment? I’m certainly too much of a dilettante when it comes to Spanish culture and history to even begin to answer that question. One thing is for certain though, any lasting political unity will have to include harmony between Spain’s various languages—cause they’re not going away. The Catalan parliament, for instance, recently passed a law requiring film distributors to dub or subtitle at least half of the foreign films they release in Catalonia into the Catalan language. As Vonnegut would say…so it goes.

Red Hot Americas

I hope to goodness that you’re watching the World Cup this year because it’s mighty exciting. Especially for us folks in the Americas. With only two days left in the opening round of the tournament, teams from the American hemisphere collectively have 12 wins, 5 draws, and only 3 losses (2 of which came from the highly disappointing Honduran National Team—I expected so much more from los Catrachos!). Uruguay, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and the United States have already advanced to the next round. Paraguay and Chile should join them on Thursday and Friday. Only Honduras is likely to be left out of the Round of 16 party. Wait…you say you didn’t know the US had qualified for the next round of the tournament? Really? Watch this…

While I hope the Yanks go far, I’m not naive enough to think they’ll win the whole thing (actually, maybe I am at the moment, but I’ll come back to Earth in a few days after the euphoria of that Donovan goal wears off). Brazil is always the favorite at these things, but I think folks should keep a close eye on Argentina. They’ve been clicking as a team already, and they’ve got one of the most exciting playmakers in the world on their team…Lionel Messi. And if it’s not the US, we want a Spanish-speaking country to win, ¿no?

Personally, I’ve been watching soccer ever since I took my first trip to Europe fifteen years ago. But if the sport doesn’t float your boat normally, I would still suggest checking out a few games or keeping on top of the latest action in the World Cup. Talking fútbol with folks is almost always a great way to break the ice with locals when you’re traveling anywhere outside of the US or Canada. Unless you support the wrong club team…then it might actually get your legs broken.

El secreto de sus ojos : a film by Juan José Campanella

I guess it took winning an Oscar back in March to finally bring this movie to St. Louis in June! But it was worth the wait for sure.

The film begins with former federal justice agent Benjamín Espósito paying a visit to his former colleague Irene Menéndez-Hastings. Espósito has spent most of his life tortured by the events surrounding a brutal rape-murder case he covered with Menéndez and Espósito’s assistant Pablo Sandoval in the mid-70s. Espósito wants to clear the ghosts of his past by writing a novel about the case, and he needs Menéndez to give him the case file for his research.

At that point, the film dives back into the 1970s and most of the narrative takes place in a flashback, as we’re shown the events that lead up to Espósito taking the case, as well as his frustrated attempts to find justice for the husband of the murdered victim. Layered on top of this is an intense attraction between Espósito and Menéndez that has more than one obstacle in its way, some serious drinking problems on the part of Espósito’s assistant Sandoval (my favorite character in the film!), and the political climate of Argentina during the 1970s version of Peronism.

While he hasn’t made a perfect film, Campanella, who has worked on American TV shows such as Law & Order, has certainly given us a crime drama that kicks the butt of almost every US-made movie that came out last year. And there is some great cinematography—such as the following use of fútbol in the film.

(Btw, if you didn’t already know, Argentina demolished South Korea today in the World Cup. “El Pipita” put on a scoring clinic.)

March Madness : Some Spanish Basketball Terms

Whether you call it baloncesto, básquetbol, or basketball, March is usually a pretty crazy month for the sport treated liked a religion in my home state of Indiana. In particular, the NCAA’s annual men’s championship tournament usually draws the attention of the majority of Americans during this time of year. And on the professional side, the NBA tries to spread passion for the game into the Latino and Hispanic market every March with Noche Latina, a celebration of Latin heritage held throughout the month at various NBA arenas.

Now the NBA’s efforts should come as no surprise. Almost every major sports league in the United States is tripping over themselves to draw in Hispanic and Latino fans. But considering the NBA’s almost fourfold increase in the number of Spanish, Hispanic, and Latino players in the league over the last couple of years—from 5 to almost 20—perhaps they are on to something. The Dallas Mavericks, for instance, have the first NBA player ever drafted from Mexico on their roster, Eduardo Nájera. And there are currently five Argentinians playing on various NBA teams. So one should expect that the total number of players from the Spanish-speaking world will continue to go up. In this month’s NCAA men’s tournament, for instance, the #4 seed in the Midwest Region, the University of Maryland Terrapins, are led by Greivis Vasquez, an important NBA prospect from Caracas, Venezuela. Hmm….I wonder who Hugo Chávez‘ favorite player in the NCAA is right now?


el tablero : backboard :: la canasta : basket

la red : net :: el aro : hoop

la cancha : court :: la línea de banda : sideline

la línea de tiro libre : free-throw line

la línea de tres puntos : three-point line

el balón : ball :: el jugador de baloncesto : basketball player

lanzar : to throw :: tirar : to shoot

saltar : to jump :: marcar : to cover

botar : to dribble :: bloquear : to block

Mark Sanchez : the dream is over…but only for this season

One of the more interesting stories to come out of the NFL this year is Mark Sanchez, the rookie quarterback for los Jets de Nueva York. After a few bumps in the middle of the season, he magically led his team to the AFC Championship game, only to fall to los Potros de Indianápolis Sunday. But if his success continues, he could be the thing the NFL has been looking for…an in with the “untapped” Latino market. (It’s always about money, no?)

The NFL has been champing at the bit for a while now to interest Latinos in their dominant sports and business brand. Early last decade, the league made a commitment to reaching Spanish-speakers in North America by hiring marketing firm Lumina Americas to help them penetrate this demographic that normally follows fútbol, boxing, and baseball. In their quest, they’ve created NFLatino and a plethora of Spanish-language commercials. They’ve also held several matches in Mexico, including a game in México, D.F. (Mexico City) in 2005 that drew over 100,000 attendees. But for all that, the league has generally lacked high-profile players with a Latino identity—the kind of thing that could ignite passion in the community for the game. But that could change because of the full-blooded Mexican-American Mark Sanchez, who—unlike some other Latino players in the past—proudly wears his heritage on his sleeve.

Sanchez first came to prominence as a player when he was the quarterback at the University of Southern California. As you probably know, USC is located in Los Angeles, which is home to more than 4 1/2 million Latinos, roughly 75% of whom are of Mexican decent. Mark’s good-boy charm and Mexican heritage made him an instant hit with LA Latinos, and his fame even spread south to parts of Mexico. Sanchez eagerly embraced his popularity with the Latino community there by acting as a role model to Latino youth in the area and even briefly wearing a mouthpiece colored with the stripes of the Mexican flag (it proved to be a controversial move). He also worked on boosting his Spanish-language skills while at USC so he could more easily participate in interviews with Spanish-language media.

Can Sanchez build a similar reputation in New York, and even the country as a whole, now that he’s playing with the Jets? Obviously New York also has a huge Latino population, but it’s mostly comprised of Puerto Ricans and Dominicans—folks known mostly for their love of béisbol. It will be interesting to see if he tries to court them the way he did the Mexican community in Southern California. And while I should say at this point that I generally can’t stand the Jets, I have no problem rooting for Sanchez. He seems like a stand-up guy, and you have to respect his hardworking roots and interesting family story. His great-grandfather Nicholas Sánchez, for instance, came to the United States to perform backbreaking work as a fruit picker. His grandfather George settled in the Palo Verde section of Chávez Ravine, only to be displaced when the area was cleared to build Dodger Stadium. Mark’s father is a firefighter and trained his children to excel in everything they do. For instance, the elder Sanchez would practice Mark and his brothers well into the evening by pulling his truck up to the field and running them through drills by the illumination of headlights. Anyway, I wish him success. ¡Viva Sánchez!