Since the World Cup is currently a big thing at the moment — all the soccer haters now seem to love the sport, not realizing the original football is played year-round — let’s talk about my relationship with soccer and why my so-called career ended in 1998. It all comes down to being nobody’s fault but my own.
From age five, I played soccer. It was my sport aside basketball and the short-lived Tee Ball in the spring season. Before this post gets into the meat and potatoes about kicking the ball around, let’s eliminate some sports. The reason for quitting Tee Ball was quite simple: it wasn’t baseball. In fact, to emphasize my lack of patience at a young age, yours truly walked off the field in the middle of a Geddes Little League game, which was held in the Cherry Road Elementary field. My father asked me what was wrong, and I wasn’t feeling it. It’s not what was signed up for, originally, and there was no desire to go through the stages of evolving from hitting a baseball off of a rubber tube. This was the next up-and-coming Don Mattingly here. My position was first base. However, it was more desirable for the ball to be thrown to the plate.
The league babied us, and the process was slower than my hopes.
I’m glad my father was understanding. He was probably a little peeved about my up-and-quitting, but the past is the past. Baseball was still a love of mine, and it still is. My kid, however … I’m going to make the bugger stick it out.
However, I still had basketball, which was a Saturday league at a local church, a league where I met many of my future classmates.
Yet, soccer still reigned supreme. My love was playing defense, and that’s where I usually stayed. It was fun scoring goals and all, but that glory was for someone else. Often taking things to heart — still do — knowing that we got scored on was partially my fault even if it wasn’t my fault and on my side of the field. We as defenders screwed up. Feeling this position was more weighted, the responsibility was that much more appealing. Plus, clearing the ball up the field was fun.
Seventh grade modified team was bypassed, because seventh grade was a time of getting enjoyment out of school and puberty. Having crushes on girls I was not going to talk to seemed more appealing than focusing on a sport. However, it proved to be a catalyst in eighth grade, playing sports that is, in the world of young love; however, my shyness still got the best of me. Yet, I loved kicking that ball around.
The ninth grade soccer team was a blast; many of those fellow WOYSA teammates and opponents were joined together in one super team. The comradeship was comforting, and we all had a great time. In the winter season, CYO — good ol’ Catholic league basketball — was the focus, and spring/summers were friend-focused more than anything else. Unfortunately, my confidence got the best of me that summer of 1999, and it cost me.
After my tomfoolery almost cost me my right foot, I found a love with running. For a 10th grade health project, I turned myself into a runner. Why? Not sure, but the decision was one of my best and brightest since the activity has stuck with me since then. In 11th grade, my joining the outdoor track team seemed like a must. My events defined my consideration to be a sprinter: 100-, 200-, and 400-meter sprints.
My person was still in full-fledged klutz mode, a syndrome that I’ve had since birth. My greatest superpower was the ability to fall down stairs and get up, unscathed. I’d stand, brush the dirt off my shoulder, and ask the rhetorical, “What?” This would be accompanied by the signature Malone smirk. This gives De Niro’s facial expressions a run for the money. The most famous incident was my falling down my neighbor’s stairs, clunk-clunk-clunking down the wooden stairs to the concrete floor. (I know the family is reading this, shaking their heads, smiling, and laughing — it is still talked about to this day. And it was brought up about a week ago.)
But the coaches asked me to try hurdles …
However, one of the coaches on the track team thought that it would be in my long-legged best interest to try hurdles. This was successfully avoided until 12th grade, where my practicing proved that I was still a klutz. One of the more interesting incidents, aside falling face first in to something, occurred during practice. Unbeknownst to me, my knee cut through one of the hurdles like the cliche: a hot knife through butter. I never felt it. I never was injured. The coach, who I see from time and time again (Syracuse isn’t big), was laughing nervously and a bit concerned. He asked if I was alright, to which my reply was, “Why?” My knee of steel broke the hurdle, but I kept going. He tried to obtain the piece of equipment for me to take home, but that was a no-go.
Cedarvale Road in Syracuse is infamous for the 13 Curves “folklore.” This ghost-loving guy had the privilege of growing up down the road from these infamous curves that took the life of a bride. Too bad, this story takes place on the half of the road before the curves.
We band of crazy kids, which included my brother and two other members of the Sherwood crew, would ride our bikes on the busy Cedarvale Road, where cars had no regard for their speed. We’d head to what was once a BP gas station, where we would hand over our collected small change for candy or matches (we were self-proclaimed pyros). Not only was Dan not with us three others that day, I decided to keep my sandals on while riding. It was a route that we normally rode without our parents’ permissions, and nothing could go wrong. Until that day, none of us ended up in the emergency room.
We had to be two-thirds of the way to the gas station before the bee hit me in the face. I winced, panicked before ending up in the ditch next to the road. My yelling, asking to wait up got the attention of my brother and our friend, Steve. Dan was not with us that day; if he was he probably would have MacGyver-ed one of our shirts around the soon-to-be-noticed wound.
My foot was in shock, and that’s why I didn’t feel it at first. After getting back on the bike, while riding down the road, my limb began to itch. Unsure why, I looked down to a hellish scene. It probably could have been described as the layer of hell that Dante left out of his epic poem. Aside from seeing the flaps of my skin peeled away to the bone, I felt my whole body go pale. A howl escaped my mouth, probably some expletives, causing my two buddies to look back. The looks on their faces was of sheer horror, similar to being affected by the Ark:
My foot still itches, thinking about this.
We made it to the gas station, and we all made a mad dash to help me into the gas station, as if we were seeking refuge from the creatures in the movie, Tremors. The attendant was in panic. The guy from IBM fixing their computer or printer was in panic. My brother and Steve probably shat themselves. I was in panic, because my foot was probably going to have to come off, and my father still worked for IBM at the time. The name of the guy was never gathered, or remembered — if it was, my state was not recalling anything trivial.
My mom was working, and I didn’t know the number. So a neighbor was contacted, who contacted Split Rock Elementary and my mother before coming to get me. As soon as I arrived at my old elementary school, now in a daze from a loss of blood, my mom drove me to Community General Hospital, where 15 stitches sewed my foot back together. It was the first and only time (thus far) I’d receive stitches.
By the time Junior Varsity tryouts came around, my foot had just finished “healing.” The first half/day of tryouts was success. The last day of tryout was a success … until someone stepped on my foot, causing the wound to reopen. My name wasn’t on the list for the JV team, and there was a little shame in not making it. However, the coach, Mr. E., pulled me aside … he initiated the meeting. He told me that I would have made the list, but my injury made the decision indisputable. He told me that I’d probably have to take it easy and be on the sidelines for about half of the season due to the sensitivity of my foot. Essentially, there would be no point in keeping an injured player on the sidelines and from the get-go. It wouldn’t do me or the team any good.
I appreciated it. However, due to the high degree of competition in the school, my not making JV was a hindrance for future tryouts. Could I have made Varsity? Possibly. However, due to my not being very confident at the time, I stopped playing altogether … unfortunately.
But the love of the sport always stuck with me.