As Neil Diamond so eloquently put it “Everywhere around the world, they’re coming to America, Every time that flag’s unfurled, they’re coming to America. Got a dream to take them there, they’re coming to America.” Just like his song lyrics, I followed my American dream and I now find myself studying at the University of California, immersing myself in the culture and traditions that make up the fabric of attending an American University.
One major tradition is sport. It cannot be avoided as you navigate your way around an American campus. The Addidas tracksuits sported by the athletes, soccer players, basketball players, volleyball players and baseball players in lectures are testament to the vast amount of budding sports stars in the California. The only sport that seems to be missing here is American Football. A football team is expensive to form and run. From building a stadium and maintaining it, to the large numbers of players involved in playing the game and the subsequent scholarships and funding. Rumour has it they built a Science library at UC Irvine, for the same cost as setting one up. But if I’m honest, American football is not really my thing. I tried it at Glasgow and if I’m honest I think it sounded cooler than it actually was. It’s too technical and stop start, with endless calculations and yardages to count; math’s was never my strong point, so it was never going to be my sport.
The lack of a football team at my University is no great loss. In fact I wasn’t even that enthralled by the Superbowl- aside from the razzmatazz, fanfare and early drinking in a bar- the actual game was quite boring; confounded by the fact it was technically won by a guy falling on his arse with the ball and scoring a touchdown in the last few minutes of the game. I prefer other American sports, such as basketball and baseball. I recently took in a College basketball game at the UCI Bren Centre, with a crowd of 4,000 in attendance for a midweek game, and it was being televised live on some obscure ESPN channel. They really know how to put on a show and the game was like a mini NBA game, with all the same side shows and displays from cheerleaders. The court they play on, is also used by Kobe Bryant of the LA Lakers, as part of his early morning training regime. I’ve not spotted him yet, but I doubt I will as he trains at 6 or 7am and I’m still in my American dreamland.
One such dream, was to watch my first baseball game at a legendary and historic stadium, like Wrigley’s in Chicago or Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, but life has a funny way of not fulfilling your dreams. I always dreamt I would lose my virginity to a Swedish Olympic Beach Volleyball player for instance but that never transpired so I made a compromise. I took in my first match at the Anteater Stadium here at UC Irvine, to watch UCI take on UC San Diego. It was a warm, balmy night and the stadium was alive with the sounds and smells of a ball game. The organ music was being piped through the loudspeakers and hot dogs were grilling in the food kiosks behind the main stand. Proud parents and relatives beamed as they took their seats to watch their respective connections.
I was captivated by it all from the respective team uniforms, to the pre-game national anthem and the stars and stripes swirling above the large, logo infested scoreboard. This was America in all its glory; I was basking in some of its finest and most cherished heritage, which essentially is just a very glamorous game of rounder’s. But that’s what they do best; they manage to elevate mundane or ordinary things to a higher status, by adding tinsel, trimmings and a lathering of Americana. I bought into it hook, line and sinker. I slurped on my big gulp soda, I munched my nachos-although sadly not from a Homer Simpson style nacho hat- and I wolfed down my hot dog.
The only thing I couldn’t manage to do, was bring myself to whoop and cheer as enthusiastically as the locals, there was no point in trying to compete, as nobody can come close to the American enthusiasm for sport. So I opted for a mix of polite clapping, with the odd nod of approval thrown in for good measure, the likes of which can be witnessed on football terraces across the UK, by people who believe they could have done the same thing as the star player. In my head I was saying things like “I was quite good at rounders at school” and “how difficult can this actually be?” The majority of the players were not exactly the most svelte or toned of athletes, which again encouraged my mind to wander and consider that as long as you can hit the ball very far, you can afford to be as out of shape as you like, as you can just walk around the bases, while chewing on your tobacco and saluting the home fans. This is why I like baseball, as it leaves the door open for us non-athletes. I could never keep up with the pace of a College basketball game, I would need an oxygen tank and paramedics on standby to even attempt it. But get me one of those pinstripe uniforms and the tin hat, give me a few weeks in a batting cage and I reckon I could be taking my place at the plate. Just like the other players, I would have my own theme music-probably something Scottish based to milk the crowd- and then I would take aim and fire the ball high over the illuminated scoreboard and out into the Californian wilderness.
It’s probably at this point I wake up, but hey we have to keep dreaming, in the hope they one day they’ll come true.