Yes, I have been watching the World Cup. Apparently it's this soccer tournament that's very popular in Europe, the Americas, Africa and parts of Asia. Oh, and in Australia too. Probably in Antarctica and possibly in outer space somewhere as well. It has been fun to learn the minutiae of all the rules of the tournament and to race to get nominally up to speed on the sport and players. We have been showing the World Cup on a screen in the Teen room at our library and it's also a treat to stumble upon the diverse collection of followers gathered to watch the games in there. The river of nations flows through my library indeed, and when some fans watching were bitterly disappointed when Cote d'Ivorie lost to Greece and was bumped from the tournament, those people were sad because they actually came from Cote d'Ivorie, unlike me, for instance, whose attachment to Cote d'Ivorie was based on the fact that I like jackets that are an off-white color. So, when I have some break time I generally head to the teen room. I suppose I might even check in there a little more than I should. I enjoy getting briefed by Marcus, the teen librarian in there, who possibly would be considered a futbol Johnny come lately by your random fevered European soccer fan, but is considered something of a knowledgeable devotee out in our part of the world and answers all my questions with an impressive amount of color commentary and background knowledge. But happily I find that whatever librarian is in the teen room when I walk in has some interest in the game.
If there was one point where I went all in on this World Cup, I would have to say it wasn't at some thrilling or beautiful goal or pass or play (though without that there would be nothing), it was when I realized that one of the players was, I believe, five foot four inches tall. That just melted my heart. I think it hearkens back to my first love of sport, baseball in the seventies. It was the end of an American era where baseball was still almost, or just barely, America's sport, the last time that the best athletes might live down the street from you (The 1974 baseball MVP lived down the street from me!) and where that same athlete wasn't likely to be any larger than your local grocer. Shortly after that time Football and Basketball seemed to take over, and with it came gigantic athletes, and it was no longer sufficient to play endlessly and be magnificently talented, you had to be large first.
So soccer has brought me back to that, a sport played on the ground, by mortals who rely entirely upon skill, and are conferred little, indeed probably no, advantage by sporting the mountainous size of some mythological figure or some astonishing great height. On the contrary, the greatest soccer player in the world right now is about my height. And I confess to you that I am not now, nor have I ever been, remotely tall. It gives one a kind of hope. At the very cliff end of my forties I don't know exactly what kind of hope. I will not be playing any World Cup soccer tournaments. But hope nonetheless. Perhaps that there is still a shiver of democracy in the world, that though millions may be whittled down to a rare few, there is still a whisper somewhere of an even playing field.