Around here we love our baseball so much it has the power to break our hearts. We're crazy for football. We're die-hard hockey fans and the biggest Bulls boosters.
And this year, I am proud to say, I was officially an inaugural season ticket holder for the newest incarnation of the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Let's go, Rowdies!
(Sound of crickets.)
You know … the Rowdies?
"Kick in the grass" and all that?
Then you don't know what you missed. If you were among the modest thousands who trooped to Steinbrenner Field for the first season that ended this month — more than 8,000 for the first home game — you got just a taste of what soccer can be.
Sure, the Rowdies' record wasn't great. They didn't make the playoffs. The team and coach Paul Dalglish parted ways, and rain delays made you rethink that open-air stadium thing. And, okay, technically it was a baseball stadium, with a smaller-than-usual soccer field.
(Fun soccer fact: Unlike football fields, soccer fields can range in size, though they can't be square, which must make away games quite the adventure.)
Excuse me, that's soccer "pitch." Also soccer "match," not "game."
And, okay, the mascot is a sock.
A green-and-gold sock named "Hoops." To most of us, "hoops" means basketball, but in soccer it's the classic stripey sock. Probably Hoops could not take the affable Raymond in a thumb-wrestling match, much less the Bucs' Captain Fear, but he's a fine mascot anyway.
Soccer is fast and feisty, and there was something nicely small-town about the games, stands full enough to be festive and empty enough to switch seats to stay out of the sun. Bonus: Restrooms didn't get crowded even on $1 beer Thirsty Thursdays.
Made me wish I had been around for the Rowdies' first incarnation, when they were Tampa's only professional sports team in 1975, when kids had a favorite Rowdie and they were everywhere, kicking balls along the Gasparilla parade route, pulling in 30,000 fans.
So maybe this year they didn't pack the place, but the team did not lack for energy. You could count on Ralph's Mob, named for the mustached guy in the old Rowdies' logo, to be camped behind the south goal. Count on them? You couldn't miss them if you wanted to. Bewigged, painted and loud, they chanted and sang and dissed the other guys and were generally more amusing than what was happening on the field. (Pitch!)
Which brings us to the vuvuzela — a long plastic horn blown by a fan, or many fans, like the ones that made World Cup games sound like hornets were attacking. I am proud to have mastered the vuvuzela (apologies to the guy who dropped the beer). Some will consider this blasphemy, but I say while the monotone vuvuzela may sound like the low moan of a birthing cow, it is infinitely less annoying than the brain-piercing clang of a thousand cow bells. There, I said it.
So does soccer have a shot?
Remember, we're in the running to bring fans worldwide (not to mention $400 million in economic impact) here for the 2018 or 2022 World Cup.
Couldn't hurt to show 'em we like soccer, too.