Monthly Archives: August 2015

Reassurance

Let me say this right away:

Thank you all for your constant reassurances. I know it can be tedious, especially when I’m repetitive in these kind of things, but I just need to make sure that everything is okay. I know you guys want me to do well, and I’m trying. As August transitions into September, it’s another chance to take deep breaths. Soon, the leaves will change color. It will be sweater weather. The sunlight will disappear much earlier. But I find that reassuring as well. The seasons must change, and we must live one day at a time. I must admit, I’m a bundle of nerves right now. My life may change significantly soon. It’s already undergone significant changes within the last thirteen months. These things happen. We’re only human.

Thank you for believing in me, and thank you for keeping your fingers crossed for me. It really means a lot.

Best always.

“September’s coming soon,” quoth R.E.M. 2015 is winding down. It’s in the homestretch. Wonder what the last few months will bring. Hopefully good things.

Please keep thinking good thoughts and crossing your fingers.

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Knocking

So, as the weekend carries over, I am doing my best to remain calm. But since my application decision is supposed to come in a few days, the nerves have ratcheted up. I can feel it. I’m knocking.

Knocking what exactly?

Knocking on wood, or whatever I can find to bring good luck.
Knocking on the door of opportunity, and hoping it’ll open.
Knocking my knees in eager anticipation.

It’s going to be an interesting weekend, especially with the knowledge that a decision should be coming in the next few days. I don’t know what to ask right now. I don’t know if it’s appropriate to ask for anything. All I know is, the next days will involve a lot of patience, and a few more knocks.

Walking tall

As I wait out the next five days to see if I receive any good news, I think I have a good advantage in one regard: I don’t know how to drive. The last time I was behind the wheel, I was sixteen, the car was somewhat of a clunker, and my penchant for poor hand-eye coordination and interpreting the rules of the road as literally as possible (as is my way) led me to never sliding into the driver’s seat of a car since then. Nor am I in any big hurry to learn.

This is where living in a college town really comes in handy. My most effective mode of transportation is my own two feet. Just tonight, I walked the given route to rehearsal for the first time tonight. I wish people wouldn’t make a big deal about this – there was enough visibility, and it was relatively easy. Once I hit the movie theatre, I did it in just under forty minutes. Considering that the route I took requires a roundabout crossing and is slightly uphill right before it, I’d say I made great time. The only other time I tried to walk it, I went the other way (left instead of right as you leave), which led to another roundabout, several wrong turns, and two hours of travel time, with rest breaks included.

I really don’t mind using my feet to get around. I need the exercise, and I can be contemplative this way. Plus, I may not have great access to a car anyway if I go overseas, so I figure, why not? It’s good practice this way. Of course, there are times where it would be feasible to carpool,  but if you know the right routes to take at the right time, there’s very little cause for concern.

As is another way, I like to refer to music for quotes. I first heard this song when I was doing research (i.e. travel blogs, videos, etc.) about where I would be going.

As Ted Leo and the Pharmacists would say:

“I see the road is long, so get on my side
There’s a whole lot of walking to do

And if we stay on our feet
We’ll make it in our own time
And though the road has got some steep climbs
I believe we’ll be fine.”

Life doesn’t have to be a chaotic mess. If you’re willing to let it happen, you can make a big place smaller. Who says we have to go at a breakneck pace all the time? Walking is not only healthy, physically and emotionally, but I argue that you learn more that way. It’s more than learning a route and how to get there, and in how much time. It’s learning about commitment, punctuality, self-discipline. Before I got to college, I probably didn’t have any of these. I really started taking my feet my freshman year of college, and even if I went the wrong way, I knew what to look for. Plus, walking saves more money.

This serves me well. I feel like walking is one of the better decisions I made in my life. If I am able to serve next year, that’s arguably the most underrated tool I’ll have at my disposal.

As the saying goes, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” So, pick your head up, and step out the door.

The one-year dynasty – 1984 Detroit Tigers

In 1984, Ronald Reagan was running for re-election for President (he would win in the biggest electoral college landslide ever over Walter Mondale), Amadeus was on its way to winning eight Academy Awards, including Actor, Director, and Picture, and the Detroit Tigers tore up Major League baseball, winning 104 games and the World Series. It remains the all-time best season in Detroit Tigers history. And yet, they didn’t become a dynasty like some of the other best teams. The Red Sox from 1912-1918 were a dynasty. Numerous Yankee dynasties existed. The Oakland A’s won five consecutive division titles and three consecutive World Series in the early 1970s. That didn’t happen in Detroit. After that, they won one division title in the 1980s, and fell in five games to the Minnesota in the 1987 ALCS. As of this writing, the only Hall of Famer on that team is manager Sparky Anderson. As players, only Jack Morris and Alan Trammell have been close. Barring a miracle, Trammell’s eligibility will run out next year without him making it.

So, you could see 1984 as a bit of a fluke for the Tigers. But what a fluke it was.

One of the reasons that Detroit went 104-58 is that for whatever reason, most of Major League Baseball had an off-year that year. Kansas City, who won the Western Division, were 20 games worse off than the Tigers. Both Western Division winners in each league would be the only team to finish better than .500 in that division. So, the Tigers probably had a little bit of an advantage. The Tigers started 35-5 in their first 40 games, and Jack Morris threw a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park. Reliever Willie Hernandez, one of the greatest one-year wonders, won both the MVP and Cy Young Award, notching 32 saves in 33 tries. After that hot start, they played mostly .500 ball, but they went wire-to-wire in the AL East. They made quick work of the Royals in the ALCS, completing a three-game sweep and outscoring Kansas City 14-4.

Thirty-one years later, the story of the baseball season in 1984 that everybody remembers is the return of the Chicago Cubs. For the first time in thirty-nine years, the Cubs would be playing in the postseason. But the lack of lights of Wrigley Field at the time would potentially come back to haunt them. According to league rules, they were looking to generate more revenue by starting more games at night. As a result, although the National League was supposed to have home field advantage, had the Cubs won the pennant, they would have had one of two things happen: either play the “home” games in St. Louis, or give home field advantage to the Tigers. So, Cubs fans, in retrospect, perhaps it’s best that they hadn’t won the pennant that year. Even with league MVP Ryne Sandberg in their lineup, they couldn’t overcome a spectacular home run by Steve Garvey and a clutch error by Leon Durham.

The San Diego Padres had inexplicably won the pennant. And yet, they would have home field advantage against the Tigers. Opening on October 9, the Tigers and Padres split the first two games in San Diego. Game two, won by the Padres 5-3, remains their only victory to date in the World Series. Light-hitting Kurt Bevacqua led the way with a home run. However, it was soon apparent that the advantage had swung to Detroit.

Although the three games in Detroit were close, the dominant pitching of Detroit won the day. Tiger Stadium, hosting what would be its final World Series, would become the oldest park to host a World Series (since surpassed by Fenway Park). Alan Trammell would go on to win World Series MVP, including a pair of home runs in Game 4. But Game 5 remains the most iconic image of the series. With the Padres having closed it to a one-run game in the eighth, San Diego manager Dick Williams (HOF ’08) brought in Goose Gossage (also HOF ’08) to pitch to Kirk Gibson with two men on. Although he won NL MVP in 1988, Gibson holds an undesirable record: he never once made the All-Star team in his career. Williams asked Gossage if he wanted to walk Gibson with first base open. Gibson bet Sparky Anderson $10 that Gossage would pitch to him, and Sparky seemed to confirm it, saying “He don’t wanna walk you!” Gossage pitched to Gibson, and Gibson hit an upper deck shot into the right field bleachers at Tiger Stadium. Rightfully so, they remember Gibson more for his 1988 home run against Dennis Eckersley, but you could argue that he won two teams World Series titles with clutch home runs. The ninth was quick work, and Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn made the last out. The Year of the Tiger was complete.

So why didn’t the Tigers use the momentum to create a 1980s dynasty? I put it down to age. When they got old, they got old fast. They finished 84-77 the following year, losing the division to the Toronto Blue Jays by fifteen games. They also narrowly made the playoffs in 1987, only making it after the Blue Jays collapsed during the final week of the season. Alan Trammell was probably robbed of an MVP award that season, but after losing to the Twins, that would be the last hurrah for Detroit until 2006. None of the Tiger players on that team made the Hall of Fame; every other team that made the postseason had at least one, and the Padres had two (Gwynn and Gossage). Still, in a year where everything goes right, you take the good times.

Even if it was only for a year, what a year it was in the Motor City.

I’m on a tightrope. I’m afraid to look down.

The title refers to a lyric from a song by Mike + The Mechanics called “Get Up.” Sometimes, we all walk a tightrope, metaphorically speaking. Sometimes, we must take a step back to take a step forward. If we don’t step back, we will be in trouble. Even as adventurous as we are sometimes, there is also something to be said for backing off a step. When and if you do take that step forward, make sure you take a deep breath and know where or what you’re aiming for.

Nine days potentially separate me from a great journey of self-discovery, humanitarianism, and connecting with the world in a better way. If they are able to give me the chance, I would love to take it. I’ve done all I can do. It’s out of my hands now. But I did what I could do. It’s been thirteen months to the day with regards to my mom. In those thirteen months, I have cried, laughed, reminisced, rediscovered, and re-examined countless times. I am slightly disappointed in myself in how narrow my lens was in my own hometown. Before yesterday, going to our local farmer’s market wasn’t something I had really considered doing, at least not on my own, or just for the atmosphere. The last time that I remember being there was my senior year in high school, being part of an acting/theatrical production class project, doing “living statues.” But I had a day off yesterday, so I took a walk. I had lunch plans a little later in the day with a friend, but with the students back in town, there was a vibrant energy that came back. Not that it dies in summer, but I would argue that without the university, we lose something. It may not be a huge metropolitan city like Chicago or even Indianapolis, but in Bloomington, where I was born, grew up, and went to college, it’s still quite a place to grow up.

I didn’t have any money on me, and I didn’t even go to the market looking to buy anything. I just went to explore. With the Lotus Festival coming up in September, I’m trying to venture out into more activities. I think my mom would have wanted it that way. Largely, though, I am doing it in case I do leave town early next year. It would be a nice way to say thank you to my hometown for all its gifts.

Sure enough, I saw several friends, including the person I would be meeting with later that day. How beautiful of a coincidence. Two brothers that I know from high school were busking, one on guitar, one on drums. Although they had their guitar case out for people to put money in, they played for the love of it. They just played. As people passed by, even if they didn’t receive any money, they still played. Rigging up a suitcase in lieu of a snare drum, they played. The atmosphere drove them on. It was a beautiful and sunny Saturday morning in a college town in the Midwest. It may not sound like much, but for me, it’s Americana, my slice of the pie.

The song I mentioned in the beginning of the post offers up the following lyrics:

“Well I’ve already said that you ought to be proud
Listen, talking is cheap oh but action speaks loud.
Get up! and do something
Get up! and take control of your life
Get up! and do something about it
Don’t ever make the same mistake twice.”

Watching these two friends from so long ago play their hearts out purely for the love and the atmosphere reminded me why I got into acting in the first place. And I remembered what my dad had said to me that morning in an e-mail. He told me he was always proud of me. And I began to reflect as I stood ten feet away from these two gentlemen. I have a job. I have a place to live. I have two B.A. degrees from a Big Ten university. I have a family that loves me, even if I can make it very difficult sometimes. And I’m doing a show right now, trying to hold on to what I love. Lastly, I made it to the interview stage of what could be a once-in-a-lifetime chance, without any outside influence. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating, because this doesn’t happen very often for me: this one is all mine. I can be proud of myself.

After meeting with said friend at a local coffeehouse, I took a good walk home. I didn’t even have to be anywhere that day. I did go home, but it had been a while since I had really taken in the look and feel of the city. Even with all the construction going on right now, you can still observe a lot here.

If I do end up going overseas next year, I will go into it with nerves but also excitement and a sense of adventure that I’ve always been afraid to let out. If it doesn’t work out, I plan on re-applying when the time is right, and on another note, it would be another chance to enhance the good. I do have a lot of good going on right now, and I’d like to keep it going.

Maybe we shouldn’t focus on a “big” or “small” world. It narrows our vision that way. Just focus on where you are in the world at the moment, and make where you are is the best it can be while also being the best you can be. Put one foot in front of the other, and tread carefully and slowly. Just like walking on a tightrope.

Forward

It’s the final weekend of summer for Indiana University Bloomington. Classes start on Monday, and I know that there will be several friends of mine graduating this year. Several of them have become good friends of mine. I am grateful to have known them, even though I will have been out of college for five years. I hope that we can keep in contact. Much like many of my own peers went their own way when we all went off to college and then into the real world, I understand that this is a necessary step. But when that day comes, it’s always bittersweet. But as my old and new friends have told me, and I’m trying to understand and take their advice, the world goes forward. I’m slowly learning to forgive myself. I’ve never been very good at that, unfortunately. But the affirmation that I have gotten in recent weeks is very nice. Mistakes are not the be all and end all. We’re all human.

Even though I’m an outsider now, I can still watch and admire things. It’s going to be an interesting school year, and perhaps a bittersweet one. Here’s to the future, and I know you will all do extremely great things. And here’s hoping I can do great things as well. I’ve got a lot of things going well right now, and here’s hoping it stays that way.

Ask me how I am, and I’ll say, “I’m here.” And it may not sound like much, but I mean it positively. My feet are still on the ground. Another step forward. One step at a time.

MLB updates – 3/4 season report

Well, it looks like another lost season for my guys in Boston. At this point, I hope they can keep it respectable and use John Farrell’s lymphoma treatment as an incentive to do better. I was sadly proven correct about their lack of starting pitching – Wade Miley has probably been their best, and he’s 9-9 right now. Injuries have taken their toll as well – Dustin Pedroia, Koji Uehara, and others are hurt. Better starting pitching and health will help the Red Sox long term.

Anyway.

If the season ended today (as of August 18, 2015):

American League playoffs
1. Kansas City Royals (Central)
2. New York Yankees (East)
3. Houston Astros (West)
Wild Card: Toronto Blue Jays or Baltimore Orioles
In the Hunt: Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers

National League playoffs
1. St. Louis Cardinals (Central)
2. Los Angeles Dodgers (West)
3. New York Mets (East)
Wild Card: Pittsburgh Pirates or Chicago Cubs
In the Hunt: San Francisco Giants

A lot of teams are near .500, but still don’t have winning records.

Who I would have winning each Wild Card

AL: Blue Jays
NL: Pirates

As of August 18, 2015

NLDS
Cardinals vs. Pirates
Dodgers vs. Mets

ALDS
Royals vs. Blue Jays
Yankees vs. Astros

Match-ups I’d like to see:
Royals vs. Cardinals (all-Missouri World Series, and rematch of 1985)
Yankees vs. Mets (Subway series)
Yankees vs. Dodgers (Renewal of classic rivalry)
Royals vs. Dodgers (Colors are so similar, you won’t know who’s who)

My (way too) early World Series prediction, with home field advantage listed first:

Kansas City Royals (AL) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (NL)

Why: Because they have the best record in each league. It would be a re-match of the 1985 World Series, which is famous for the Don Denkinger play and the Royals rallying from a 3-1 deficit to win 4-3 in the Series. I know a lot of Cardinal fans would love a chance to avenge old ghosts. And the Royals came so close to winning a second title, that I’m sure they would love a chance to get it this year.

Baseball “What ifs?” – The strike seasons

So, this is a “what if” hypothetical scenario regarding baseball history. There have been three documented strikes that have actually stopped play, either for the rest of the season or for part of a season. I post this because during these shortened seasons, certain factors can affect the postseason more than in other seasons. Here is what I think could have happened if the seasons had played out all the way. That’s why these are hypothetical.

1972 season 
The first strike that actually caused a loss of games occurred in 1972. This was the last year that pitchers would bat for themselves in the American League, and Roberto Clemente would later lose his life in a plane crash. Although this was the shortest strike of the three, this probably caused more confusion scheduling-wise. They only lost one-and-a-half weeks, but not every team had played the same number as games. Every team lost somewhere between six and nine games. The schedule makers didn’t figure out a way to balance out the games, and as a result, there was an inevitable controversy. The Boston Red Sox lost one more game than the Detroit Tigers, and they finished their seasons head-to-head. The Tigers won two of three, winning the division by half a game. Before 1909, not every team finished with the same number of games, but a league rule passed soon after mandated that every team play the same number of games. It’s likely that the Tigers would have won anyway, because when you compare managers head to head – Billy Martin for the Tigers and Eddie Kasko for the Red Sox – Detroit comes out ahead. For all of his problems, Martin was a terrific manager. He could turn bad teams good and make good teams better. Kasko is most remembered for being ejected from a game for fainting and pretending to have a heart attack. While he did bring up and cultivate Dwight Evans and Carlton Fisk, Kasko never came as close again, and lost his job one year later. Had Boston won that division, they would have matched up with Oakland. Dick Allen was MVP for Chicago, and they finished 5.5 games back, so the west race wasn’t affected. Take into consideration as well that divisional play was only introduced in 1969. In real life, Oakland defeated Detroit 3-2. Had it been Oakland-Boston, I think Oakland still would have won in five, but Boston would have given Oakland a better fight. In the National League, Clemente said that the Pittsburgh Pirates had a better team than their previous year’s team that won the World Series. But they probably underestimated the Cincinnati Reds. This was in the heyday of the Big Red Machine, and that series also went five games, with Cincinnati winning on a wild pitch in the ninth. Had the season been played out the same way, I think Boston overtakes Detroit, but the pennant winners – Oakland and Cincinnati – remain the same, and I think Oakland prevails again, because the Big Red Machine hadn’t quite come into their own yet.

World Series: Oakland Athletics (AL) vs. Cincinnati Reds (NL) 
Champions: Oakland Athletics 

1981 season 
This one is noted for being divided in half, and this one I can have the most fun with, so to speak. Free agency was still in relative infancy, and on June 12, the players walked out. It may go without saying, but maybe this was an impetus for the collusion agreements between the owners later in the decade. It was supposed to be a great year – Fernando Valenzuela debuted in Los Angeles, Len Barker pitched a perfect game, and Pete Rose tied Stan Musial’s record for hits in the National League. Once the strike was settled, a compromise was reached: the season would be divided into two halves, with the winner of each half advancing to the playoffs (or the runner-up if one team won both halves). This created some notable controversy, especially in the National League. The Reds finished with the best record overall, 66-42, but finished in second place in both halves, and so were excluded from the postseason. The same thing happened to the Cardinals – losing the first half to the Phillies and the second half to the Expos. In the American League, Milwaukee and Oakland finished with the best respective records, and both advanced, having win one half of the season. In the first modified LDS, it was Montreal over Philadelphia, Los Angeles over Houston, New York over Milwaukee, and Oakland over Kansas City. In the LCS, Los Angeles beat Montreal, and the Yankees beat the A’s. Thus, the most recent Dodgers-Yankees series, one of the best rivalries in the game, began under fluky circumstances. Although the Yankees won the first two games, the Dodgers rallied to win four straight, winning their fifth championship. But in my re-trial, I would go by overall record.

Here’s how mine would look like, with no LDS.

ALCS: Milwaukee Brewers vs. Oakland Athletics
NLCS: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Cincinnati Reds

Peter Golenbock offers up that the Cardinals losing Steve Carlton cost them a title in 1981, but I think the Reds were still great that year. I think we would have had a rematch between the Red and A’s, and this time, the Reds win. So, if there are any Reds fans reading this, then in my book, you are the unofficial champions for 1981. I know it’s of little consolation, but you take what you can get.

World Series: Oakland Athletics (AL) vs. Cincinnati Reds (NL) 
Champions: Cincinnati Reds 

1994 season 
This was the only one I was alive for, and the most devastating. It was set to be a record-breaking year. Matt Williams was on pace to challenge Roger Maris’ record, and Tony Gwynn finished three hits shy of hitting .400, the first such hitter since 1941. Also, the three-division format was supposed to take effect, and have the first year of the wild card. But on August 11, the players walked out. And as we all know, there was no saving the season this time. There would be no World Series that year. The Texas Rangers, despite being ten games under .500 (52-62), were in first place in the modified AL West. It’s said that this was the death knell for the Montreal Expos. They had the best record in the majors, but Montreal was always a hockey town, and Stade Olympique was always a horrible stadium to play. Still, when you look at some of the talent on that roster – a young Pedro Martinez, Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom, Moises Alou – there’s no doubt they’d have been in contention. The Braves run would have ended at three division titles, but they still would have finished ahead of the Astros for the Wild Card. Had they played the postseason, here’s how the playoffs would have been seeded, when the season ended.

American League:
New York vs. Cleveland
Chicago vs. Texas

National League
Montreal vs. Los Angeles
Cincinnati vs. Atlanta

ALCS
Yankees vs. White Sox

NLCS
Expos vs. Braves

It’s likely that the Yankees and Expos would have faced each other. The Yankees were back on the rise, and potentially could have given Don Mattingly his only title. But I think Montreal had too much talent. So, Expos fans, had the season played out, I am confident you would have been champions. Perhaps this wouldn’t have saved baseball in Montreal. But it may have given them a better chance.

World Series : New York Yankees (AL) vs. Montreal Expos (NL) 
Champions: Montreal Expos 

These are just my analyses. I was only alive for the 1994 strike, and as a seven-year-old who was crazy about the game, it broke my heart. It makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

When Belgium beat the champs.

This is another one of my World Cup retrospectives. However, this one occurred five years before I was born, so I’m relying a lot on archive footage for this one. But given my heritage, and how I wanted to find a great World Cup story for them, I think I finally found it.

In 1982, Spain earned the right to host the World Cup for the first time. For many, it was surprising it had been fifty-two years for it to happen in Spain. The Spanish national team had a reputation for under-performing, but the Alfredo di Stefano Real Madrid teams dominated the European league scenes in the late 1950s and early 1960s, winning the first five European Cups (a.k.a. UEFA Champions League) in a row. Twenty years before Senegal did it to France, the Red Devils pulled off the big upset against the defending champions in the opening match of the tournament. The fact that it was not only the opening match of the tournament, but that this moment occurred at Camp Nou in Barcelona, makes it even more special to me, and I wasn’t even alive for it. But, for Belgium, it was a defining moment, which arguably gave them momentum for their semifinal run four years later.

Coming into the 1982 World Cup, Belgium was widely regarded as a second-tier team. They were appearing in their sixth World Cup but had failed to make it out of the first round in their first five appearances. They had only earned a grand total of three points in World Cup competition, with a win in 1970 and a draw in 1954 (this is correct because up until 1994, wins were only awarded two points instead of three, as is the practice now). They hadn’t played in the World Cup in twelve years. Still, although they had the defending champion Argentina in their group, many Belgians must have felt that they had a chance against the other two teams, Hungary and El Salvador. In fact, Hungary would demolish El Salvador 10-1 two days later in what remains the biggest scoreline in World Cup history. But many of the prognosticators were writing the Belgians off. Still, it was clear they were on the rise, having made the finals of the Euro 1980, finishing ahead of eventual 1982 world champion Italy, and narrowly losing 2-1 to West Germany, who would be runners-up in Spain. It was a start.

Argentina came in to Spain ’82 under very strange circumstances. Although they had hosted and won four years prior, controversy surrounded them on and off the pitch. Not only was their government ruled by a military junta, but controversy ensued during their second round tilt in 1978 against Peru. Having to win by at least four goals to ensure progression to the final at the expense of their archrivals Brazil, Peru’s goalkeeper Ramon Quiroga, Argentine by birth, allowed six goals, including two apiece to Mario Kempes and Leopoldo Luque. Rumors persist to this day that Peru was either bribed or threatened by the military junta to allow Argentina to advance. In the final, the kickoff was delayed after protesting about Dutch player René van de Kerkhof’s plaster cast. This was enough to rattle the Dutch, who would fall 3-1 in extra time. Both of Argentina’s titles in the World Cup have come under mysterious and controversial circumstances. FIFA had allowed the Argentina-Peru match to start at a later time than the Brazil-Poland match, which gave Argentina advance knowledge. They wouldn’t learn from their mistake in this World Cup, allowing the “Disgrace of Gijon” between West Germany and Austria before they finally decided to implement simultaneous kickoffs for the final group stage games.

Several months earlier, England and Argentina had begun transgressions in the Falklands War. The Argentinian players flew to Spain having heard from the state-controlled newspapers that they were on the verge of a terrific military victory. Only upon arriving in Spain did they hear the cruel truth: the junta was on the brink of surrendering, and England was going to maintain control of the Falklands. In his first World Cup, Diego Maradona would have to lead a team whose morale was now crushed. It was a foreboding sign, one could argue.

For much of the first half, both sides created chances, but neither side could break through. The first half of the first match proved to be an exciting setup to the final act. Realizing that they had a good chance to push through, the Belgians pressed on the attack, and in the sixty-second minute, Franky Vercauteren lofted a pass into the eighteen, where Erwin Vandenbergh was running into the box. Many claim that Vandenbergh was offside, and incidentally enough, Vercauteren’s pass wasn’t hit all that well. The ball took a high bounce, where Vandenbergh was waiting. His first touch wasn’t his best, playing it off of his chest. For whatever reason, Argentinian goalie Ubaldo Fillol didn’t go for the ball right away. (Two interesting facts about Fillol, by the way: his nickname was “The Duck,” and at that time, Argentina gave their jersey numbers out in alphabetical order, so instead of wearing #1 as is common, he instead wore #7. Midfielder Ossie Ardiles wore #1, perhaps the only non-goalkeeper ever to do that in a World Cup.)

After playing the ball off his chest, it looked like Vandenbergh would try to head it over Fillol, but he let it bounce. Again, the keeper didn’t try to make a clutch save. After that second bounce, Vandenbergh had total control of the ball. From there, he one-touched it towards the back post on the left side. Fillol made his move, but much too late. As two defenders looked on, Vandenbergh hit the back part of the net. It was 1-0 Belgium. Even if it wasn’t considered “pretty” by our standards, it is still arguably the most important goal that Belgium has scored at a World Cup. Belgian announcer Rik De Saedeleer’s famous call can be heard below.

It’s surprising that more people don’t know Erwin Vanderbergh’s name. Perhaps because he never played for a “big” club in Europe, and played in the pre-Internet era, his name gets lost in the history books. But for Belgium, he earned forty-eight caps and scored twenty goals. In 1980, he led all of Europe with thirty-nine goals in thirty-four games for Lierse SK, a team that would finish sixth in the Belgian First Division that year. Vandenbergh also won Belgium’s league scoring title six different times (including four years in a row), with three different clubs, no less (three with Lierse, twice with Anderlecht, and once with Gent). This record still stands today. He may have been unknown outside of his home country, but those who saw him know what I’m talking about.

This rattled the Argentinians, who were now forced to press forward for an equalizer. Belgian keeper Jean-Marie Pfaff almost made a mistake of his own, coming out too far on a cross, which was then rebounded and shot wide by Ardiles. Belgium almost had a second, with Eric Gerets shooting just high of the bar. Late in the match, Argentina earned a free kick after a handball outside of the box. The subsequent shot rebounded off of the crossbar, and then Kempes secured the rebound. But Pfaff made a diving save, which then caused the ball to deflect off Kempes and go out of bounds for a goal kick. Belgium got lucky, because Pfaff had his back turned for much of the action, but regained his composure just in time. The ball bounced their way, figuratively and literally. As Argentina made a desperate attempt for an equalizer, Pfaff came up and made save after save, keeping the Belgian lead intact. With time running down, Argentina made one final push, but Pfaff was up to the task. Argentina’s final stand would end with the whistle blowing before they could make a throw-in. The Belgians had done it. Seen as “minnows” by most before the tournament started, they had opened the World Cup with an upset of the defending champions.

Whether or not the news from the Falklands had anything to do with Belgium beating Argentina, Belgium and their fans were euphoric. Argentina would subsequently rebound with a 4-1 win over Hungary (Maradona scored his first two goals in that game) and a 2-0 win over El Salvador, who as of this writing have played in six World Cup matches, and lost each one of them. Belgium also used the momentum to give them a 1-0 win over the El Salvadorians and earned a tight 1-1 draw with Hungary. For the first time ever, Belgium had advanced past the first round. It’s a testament to how strange a game it can be. Despite Hungary having a better goal differential than Belgium, and scoring ten more goals, Hungary went 1-1-1 and were eliminated while Belgium was 2-1-0. Belgium had won the group, with Argentina taking second.

Alas, the Red Devils would run out of luck in the next round. For that tournament only, they would divide into four teams of three. Belgium would be undone 3-0 by a hat trick from Poland’s Zbigniew Boniek and 1-0 against the Soviet Union. Argentina would also struggle in the next round. Brazil, still seething over the results from four years earlier, would get a measure of revenge by beating Argentina 3-1. Maradona would be sent off for a horrible tackle on Batista. Maradona later apologized, but not for the foul itself. He apologized for getting the wrong person (he was going for Zico, who was replaced by Batista two minutes earlier). Brazil would later go on to lose 3-2 in a classic match to Italy, which many still remember fondly today. Argentina and Belgium would play in the semifinals four years later, with Argentina winning 2-0 on their way to their second World Cup title; Maradona scored two sublime goals, and you can’t help but clap, even if it was done against “your” team.

For Belgium, this was their first real big moment in the World Cup. Even if it was only for once, they proved they could play with the best and beat them. Belgium would make the semifinals four year later, narrowly finishing fourth to France. With the exception of 1998, they have made the second round or better in every subsequent World Cup that they’ve appeared in (and the 1998 team didn’t lose a game, drawing all three matches, but not earning enough points to advance). I’d like to think that the goal from Erwin Vandenbergh was the breakthrough that the Red Devils needed. It set the stage for future upsets in opening matches, like Cameroon over Argentina in 1990 or Senegal over France in 2002. Maybe Vandenbergh will still only be remembered in Belgium. But for those who do remember, this is one moment they’ll remember fondly.

Pride

Some updates, for those who were interested:

As August wears on, I stand on the precipice of potential life-changing news. Last Monday (August 3, to be exact) I had my Peace Corps interview. I think it went as well as it could go. There were a couple of answers that were tricky, but that’s to be expected. I think recruiters like it when you don’t just jump on an answer.

Why this, and more importantly, why now? I’ve always been interested in the world, or at least cultures of the world. I feel like I actually can do something related to my two degrees here. Besides, who knows how many times we get to take this chance? And it’s more down to timing than anything. This is the second time I’ve applied, and the second time I’ve subsequently made it to the interview stage. The first time, there was no set location and/or position, and they were forced to suspend my application because my mom passed away the same week.

Just for once, I want to see something all the way through to its completion and succeed. I have a daydreamer quality to me. Unfortunately, there’s also an “all-or-nothing” mentality to how I define myself. “Go big or go home,” right? I just want a chance to finish what I started.

Still, I can be proud of the fact that I actually completed it this time. I have three options with this: getting accepted, not getting accepted, or being wait-listed. If worse comes to worse, you take the bad with the good. I think I can rightly say I’m proud just for making it this far. If the journey is more important than the destination, then here’s hoping this journey gives me a happy ending. Knock on wood (or whatever wood substitute I can find, haha).