Travel photography from Ensenada and Tijuana, Mexico by Fat Tony.

Tijuana

I staggered out of my cousin’s car, the sun beating down on my skin, and proceeded to vomit all over the Mexican-American border. A victim of another severe migraine that I had grown accustom to as a teen, I dropped to my knees in a dirt car park. This was my first and so far last visit to Tijuana, Mexico.

In 2001, I was 19-years-old and along with my best friend Johny, was visiting cousins I’d never meet before in San Diego and Anaheim, California. A few months before, I had pestered my mother into convincing her cousins to let me come stay with them. They relented and Johny and I flew to Southern California.

Nearly 15 year later, I’m quite embarrassed about imposing on them. Two hillbillies from Missouri travelling to California to sleep, eat and unsettle their lives. It’s now easy to look back and realise you should have done things differently, but at 19 I was still a big child dependent on my parents. I was influenced by MTV-friendly punk rock and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater in my late-teens. Of course I had to go to Southern California and see what all the hype was about.

Picking myself off the ground, wiping the sweat from my brow and spitting the taste from my mouth, I proceeded to walk to the entrance to Mexico. Dazed, both Johny and my cousin led me to the Mexican border and we were waved through.

I remember  feeling very nervous as we walked into Mexico and on to the streets of Tijuana. The city obviously has a reputation both good and bad; like a Mexican Amsterdam. Prior to arriving I had been told about the bent cops and the pickpockets all around. When I saw the police walking down the street I remember being very apprehensive, wondering if they were going to rob us because we were American.

We wandered the streets of Tijuana taking in the sights, sounds and smells. Bouncers at strip clubs tried to entice us to go inside, Johny was offered steroids on the street by a drugs peddler. Obviously, he thought Johny needed to add mass. Johny relented, but did buy several luch libre (Mexican wrestling) masks, however.

Lucha_libre_máscaras

Much of our time was just spent wandering. If I had to do it again, I’d obviously do it differently. See a donkey show, seek out some lucha libre, drinking in the bars… something different.

In all, we were only in Mexico for a few hours, strolling here and there and eating lunch. We walked back to the border and easily through to the other side, back on American soil. This was before 9/11, so I assume the procedures are different. At the time we didn’t need passports to move from one side to the other, only a driver’s licence.

Waved through with no fuss, we passed the dried pool of vomit I produced earlier, climbed back into my cousin’s car and proceeded back to his house in Anaheim. My first trip outside of the US was complete. It would be six years before I would do it again.

 

seattle mariners

Seattle Mariners, Washington Nationals, big money, long contracts and World Series predictions

Of course, baseball season is just around the corner and to my surprise several top baseball analysts have chosen the Seattle Mariners to win the World Series. If the Mariners haven’t been chosen to win, the team have at least been picked to represent the American League in the World Series.

By my calculations, the Mariners have not made the postseason since 2002. Last season was the first time in five seasons they had a winning record, winning 87 games. I don’t share the optimism others apparently do, but then again, I’m not a baseball analyst. At this time, I’d just like to say that several of those analyst did pick Tampa Bay to win the World Series in 2014 as well. We saw how that unfolded.

Looking at Seattle’s roster only one name jumps out at me and that is Robinson Cano. The former Yankee jumps out for obvious reasons as he signed with the Mariners at the end of 2013 for $240 million over ten years.

After being away from following baseball for several years, when I resumed keeping tabs on MLB, I was shocked to see how teams throw around money and long-term contracts. After reading Moneyball I had thought baseball teams were through with these tactics; or at least they were on the decline.

Cano did have a .314 batting average in 2014 to go along with the other “important” stats Bill James’ disciples cream over.

Earlier this offseason, the Washington Nationals gave pitcher Max Scherzer crazy money as well:

“The structure is designed to pay him $15 million annually for 14 years and shield much of the money from District of Columbia income tax, since he plans to become a Florida resident.

“Scherzer gets a record $50 million signing bonus, of which $5 million is due this year and $15 million each in 2019, 2020 and 2021. The money is due in 12 equal semimonthly installments in those years from April through September.

“He receives salaries of $10 million this year, $15 million in each of the next three seasons and $35 million in each of the final three years. That $105 million total due over the final three years will be deferred without interest and paid in $15 million instalments each July 1 from 2022 through 2028.”

AP Sports

I always find American sports make things so difficult in the way they structure contracts, salaries and rules. It really takes the fans out of it in my opinion when something simpler and more straight forward could be done. But there’s really nothing simple when that much money is bandied about I suppose.

While I don’t agree that the Mariners will be in the World Series in the autumn, I do think that the Nationals will have a good shot. A solid line-up, excellent pitching rotation and good coaching could see to that. Also having a weaker Eastern Division should help matters. The Mariners are eleventh in payroll in MLB, while the Nationals are seventh. That isn’t a huge jump in money, the amount of talent on display is quite a leap, however.

Max Scherzer, Matt Williams

 

As we know, usually the more you spend, the more you win. This has been proven true over the years despite the occasional success story. Last season saw one of those success stories in the Kansas City Royals who are sixteenth in payroll. The Royals made it to the World Series where they lost to the San Francisco Giants. The Giants are currently fourth in payroll in MLB, but many are picking the Giants to turn in a rather poor season.

With 162 games to play nearly anything can happen as baseball is a marathon and not a sprint.

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Freddy Freddy Adu, where are you? You’ve got some work to do now


In 2004 I was a wide-eyed 22-year-old, stumbling my way through the beginnings of my adult life. I was also in university, slugging my way through a degree that I had become disillusioned with obtaining.

That summer, like many Americans fascinated by sports, I was greatly interested in a young American that had just been thrust into the celebrity limelight. And like many, I watched that summer as Freddy Adu became the biggest thing for American soccer since Pele in the 1970s and David Beckham would become three years later.

Looking back over the last 11 years, it’s easy to see where it all went pear-shaped for Adu; seemingly with many things not being his fault directly.

Adu was a 14-year-old soccer prodigy, at least that’s what people said at the time. Looking back, no fan really saw Adu until he was put on the field as a full professional and then it was hard to judge him against grown men. Against kids of his age, of course he was a prodigy at 14.

Adu became the youngest professional soccer player to ever play the game when he debuted for American team DC United in April 2004.

DC UNITED FREDDY ADU GESTURES TO REFEREE IN FIRST PRO GAME

By all accounts he was a genius with a soccer ball at his feet, the ‘next Pele’ so many headlines said. But really in 2004, just eight years after Major League Soccer’s debut in the US, it showed that those professing Adu as a prodigy didn’t have the youngster in mind when making decisions about his career or future. How great so many kids look amongst other kids, but in truth, thrown into a world of men and that kid looks less a prodigy and more a… kid.

American players like Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, both of whom are considered two of the best US players of all-time, had the time to develop, neither was rushed. In truth both needed time to become great. Something Adu could have used as well.

Despite being over his head, that first season was quite successful for Adu as DC United won Major League Soccer’s MLS Cup and the teenager contributed five goals and three assists in 30 games.

At the time, Adu seemed unable to do any harm as MLS marketed him as the next big American sports start. He was on magazine covers and TV talk shows re-introducing a game to America that had been forgotten after the North American Soccer League went bust and the end of the 1994 World Cup.

fa si

Adu was the league’s way to show America that their was professional soccer in the country, it mattered and this “phenomenon” was the face of it. But those times seemed to fade rather quickly. And in 2015 are a lifetime away.

Adu lasted another two seasons in Washington playing for DC United before being traded to Utah’s Real Salt Lake (RSL). In 57 games he only tallied 6 goals, but did add 14 assists.

In 2006, when I heard Adu had been traded, I couldn’t believe it. This was the guy everyone had said was “it”. Why was he being sent to one of the league’s worst teams? I felt like I had been lied to by the league and media hype-machine.

The Utah-based team were far from the team that they are currently. When Adu arrived at the club, RSL played at Utah University’s American football stadium. The pitch was not conducive to soccer with its rock-hard astroturf field and American football lines. Not surprisingly Adu was unexceptional during his 11 game stint with RSL, scoring once and assisting two goals.

MLS - FC Dallas vs Real Salt Lake - April 7, 2007

A high-profile move to Portugal was then followed by a move to France, both times looking likely that Adu would fulfil the hype that was birthed on his debut in 2004.

But Adu stuck with neither move and spent three more loan-spells in Portugal, Greece and Turkey playing the odd game here and there for clubs that found him quite underwhelming.

adu monaco

Finally, Adu returned to the US in 2011 with the Philadelphia Union, but that lasted less than two years. A sudden move to Brazil was then followed by a move to Serbia where he was released by FK Jagodina last autumn. Though Adu professed via Twitter it was mutual. The fact is, Adu has played two competitive matches since 2013.

Even before going to Serbia, Adu had underwhelmed former US National Team coach Bob Bradley, now coach of Norweigian club Staebak, who had originally invited the American for a trial; in hopes of resurrecting the American’s career.

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After his release from Jagodina it was reported by BBC World Football and numerous other outlets that Adu was working as a night club promoter. However, Adu has refuted those claims, stating that he “isn’t working” in a night club. Adu clarified the statement by saying he is “hosting events” at a night club. Semantics aside, it seems that they’re pretty similar.

Adu’s career is like a car wreck, you can’t help but continually look at it. I’m sure in a few years ESPN will produce another of its fantastic 30 for 30 documentaries, but with Adu as the subject. I look forward to that.

I am now 33, Adu is 25. It’s amazing what happens in a decade. I have gone to university, travelled, worked and built a life.

Freddy Adu

Adu has stumbled through a pro soccer career that he probably has no desire to continue; and may have stopped desiring it a long time ago. He is only in his mid-20s, a time when many high-profile soccer players are hitting their stride.

But Adu never had the chance to grow up like so many teens. Adu grew up in the spotlight when soccer was re-emerging in the US and being used as the face of American soccer didn’t help.

Now days, it seems these mistakes would be avoided in US soccer. But of course, they would’t be if we didn’t have someone to make them in the first place. Those ‘next Pele’ headlines that once celebrated Adu are now just ways of mocking America’s former great soccer hope.

shea

April 6, Opening Day is on its way

Baseball season is fast approaching. Every spring baseball re-emerges fresh and ready for a new 162 game season. This time of year every Major League Baseball team has expectations, thoughts and hopes that this season will be their “year”.

Last season, I was able to keep up with the first few months of the year for the first time in a long time. Living outside of North America makes it difficult to follow the day in, day out season. By last June, I was finished with keeping daily tabs on MLB and my beloved New York Mets. June was about the same time that the Mets were all but mathematically eliminated from winning the Eastern Division in the National League. A few months later and they were mathematically out of the playoff race.

Spring training has only just begun, but I’m keeping up on things thus far, getting my daily news from ESPN’s Baseball Tonight podcast. This in itself is a chore as I really need to listen to it every day to keep up on thing. Baseball is a marathon and not a sprint. There’s really nothing sprint-like about baseball in truth. It’s slow, methodical and action comes in bursts. Which is typical of American sports opposed to sports in Europe, South America or Australia. That’s unless you compare baseball to cricket. Being that cricket can last three days and stops for tea breaks, baseball has surpassed the great English pastime as more action packed.

metsWith eight seasons since the Mets last made the playoffs it shouldn’t be expected the team will do it in 2015. Strangely hopes have been high thus far. The Mets are middle of the pack in terms of payroll and don’t seem to be signing much quality. Pitching wise the team looks stacked, but in my opinion, too much stock is put into pitching as the last several years have shown high-priced arms are one throw away from injury and Tommy John Surgery. This season Matt Harvey will return from that very operation after missing all of 2014.

To say the Mets fans are long suffering would be an understatement. But being that the team are in the USA’s largest market, both the Mets and Yankees should be spending money – which doesn’t seem to matter in MLB – and playing in the playoffs every year. The Yankees are number two in spending, but baseball’s most famous team is two years removed from its last postseason.

MLB has shown in recent years that just making the playoffs as a Wild Card rather than winning the division outright is enough to propel a team to the playoffs. The bare minimum is sometimes all that’s needed in American sports to make the playoffs and become “World Champion.”

kop

Y N W A

It has been a few years since I can say I was a die hard Liverpool Football Club supporter. In 2009-10, my fandom for the club probably reached its apex. Since then, I’ve mostly followed Italian football, due to writing about it, with Genoa being the team that receives most of my attention as my “favourite.”

On Sunday I had the pleasure of finally seeing a game at Liverpool’s famed Anfield Stadium. Thanks to a friend and Italian football journalist colleague, I obtained a ticket to the club’s FA Cup quarter-final against Blackburn Rovers. The game finished scoreless and a replay will be contested in the coming weeks, but the game took a backseat to the experience of finally getting to see a match at Anfield, stand on the world-famous Kop and join in the chorus of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

Liverpool were the team that got me into football. As a Yank, it wasn’t easy to get into the sport, especially coming from the area that I did and for the simple fact that, when I first saw Liverpool on TV there was no domestic league in the US.

World Cup 1994 is what opened my eyes to football. However, it would be a long time until I truly understood the intricacies of the game . When mini-satellite dishes became cheap and affordable in 1995-96, I convinced my parents to get one. Prior to that we had a mere four channels. Unable to get cable TV because we lived in the country, mom and dad relented to my pressure.

Football was not my motivation for satellite TV. Rather it was professional wrestling, which is, as a sport (not entertainment) one of my first loves. I grew up in the time that WWF exploded and growing up in the mid-south, it was typical for someone like me and from my family background, that I’d fall in love with it. But this isn’t about wrestling.

Satellite TV opened my world to Europe as every week we received the English Premier League preview and review shows. I found Liverpool through this. Whether it was the red kits, the familiarity of the city’s name thanks to The Beatles or something else, I gravitated to the club.

By the time I was halfway through university in America, football was more readily available for consumption on TV in the states. It wasn’t to the point it is now where one can watch more football from England in the US than one can in England, but it was on its way. Those years really molded my life, not just in education, but of the way that I wanted football to be a major part of my future. While American friends followed American football or baseball extensively, I found a niche in which football was my sport.

The experience on Sunday was, in truth, what I had expected years ago. A relatively friendly atmosphere, pre-match drinks in the pub and a meaningful game that could lead to Liverpool lifting a trophy at the end of the season. Despite being a few years late getting to be a part of that match day experience, I finally got there in the end.

manchester-albertsquare

Manchester

I look out the window this morning and the sun is beaming down in beautiful Manchester, a place that has become my home over the last two years.

In England, whenever the sun comes out, pushing grey, rainy skies away, the people lap up the sunlight as quickly as possible. There’s no guarantee the sun will be back tomorrow. Nor is there a guarantee the sun will be out for more than five minutes.

When I first arrived in England in 2009, before my wife and I married, it was difficult to adapt to the rainy weather. It seemed like the rain would never stop. Coming from the US, the constant rain in the UK was something very different. After a year, we moved away due to work, this time to Eastern Europe which was cold before moving on to Korea for a second time and then the Middle East.

My time in the Middle East helped me to appreciate the weather in England. The weather in Qatar was hot and at times oppressing. Though when I arrived in November of 2012, it was wonderful to have warm weather after coming from bitterly cold Korea. But as winter turned to spring and then to summer, it become nearly impossible to do anything outdoors.

Even going to the pool was difficult as too much time in the sun could easily cause heat exhaustion or sun stroke. Never mind doing outdoor activities such as running or playing football in the sun. Even being out at night could easily dehydrate you.

Back in the UK, the weather may be cold and rainy for much of the year, but I’ve learnt to accept it. I’ve learnt to love it actually. Having students in my class from France, Spain and Italy, they question how anyone can get use to this type of weather. But in the end, it’s not so hard if you can learn to appreciate it.

toro loco

Wine is delicious, 2013 was a great year

Wine from Aldi is delicious. That’s right, wine from Aldi is delicious. This comes in handy as studies show in blind taste tests, people cannot discern between cheap wines and expensive wines.

Tonight’s bottle, a Spanish wine known as Toro Loco, came in at a bargain of £3.79 ($5.75 approx.). While it’s true I’ve drank more expensive wines over the years, unlike beer, I cannot recall the taste of one over another. Perhaps it is just my ignorant palette or perhaps no one else can either.

According to Freakonomics, it is regularly the price that dictates, subconsciously or not, our opinion of wine whether it tastes good or not. Being that I have grown alligator arms since having my first child, perhaps that is why, subconsciously, I prefer cheaper bottles.

This is just fine with me as a lot of wine is sold wholesale for the same price and it is the restaurant or store or what have you that puts the price on it.

So tonight, enjoy what you’re drinking as I enjoy my bottle of Toro Loco.

st peters bascilica

Rome in 72 hours with a baby: Part 2

st peters bascilicaThough I had been to Italy prior to my trip to Rome, on a mad weekend of football watching in Milan, Bergamo and Turin, I’d never had breakfast in Italy. On that previous trip I was either too hungover or rushing to catch a train or both on the days that I was there.

Of course Italian breakfasts are not the same as in England or the USA. In England there’s the full English with sausage, bacon, toast, baked beans, black pudding and tea. In the USA there’s Waffle House or IHOP to fulfill your breakfast wet dreams, something that the UK is completely missing out on. On the continent, breakfast is typically sparse and consisting of a croissant, some meats and/or cheese, maybe yogurt but of course coffee. At the Santa Costanza, chocolate chips cookies were also on the breakfast menu, which seemed odd. Yet, people were eating them for breakfast. So rather than have cookies and milk before bedtime, I had my cookies and milk for breakfast for a change. When in Rome!

crushingOn the second full day, Kate and I set off early as we planned to beat the crowds to The Vatican. Though neither of us is religious, The Vatican was something we couldn’t miss. Rome’s metro system got us there in no time and it wasn’t long until we walked into The Vatican, population 842. One minute we were shooing away people peddling tours of The Vatican Museum and the next we were inside St. Peter’s Square. The square was amazing and at 9:00 AM was still quiet. For those travelling on a budget or backpacking through Italy, it costs nothing to enter St. Peter’s Square and for me was well worth the time. Though the square is free, the Coca-Cola that is sold at the cafes and shops around The Vatican is not. I found this out after ordering a 20 oz. bottle of Coca-Cola at a cafe. There must be a high import tax on Coke as it cost me €6. It was a damn good drink though.

expensive cokeVatican seen, €6 Coca-Cola drank, and it was time to move on to the next ancient Roman site. That site was the Pantheon. On the way, however, we passed the Trevi Fountain. Good ol’ Rick Steves warned us it wasn’t an important site to visit on our trip and once again Rick was right. Perhaps the fountain would have been more interesting if there wasn’t renovation work being done on it this summer. Even if the fountain had been working as usual, I’m not sure I’d have been too impressed. I’m afraid due to the waterworks in places like Las Vegas, the lustre has been taken off of a historic fountain such as the Trevi Fountain.

mummy and finn pantheonDisappointed by the fountain, we continued on to the Pantheon which completely made up for the fountain’s inability to arouse our interest. The inside of the Pantheon was gorgeous and the whole structure is well preserved. The Piazza della Rotunda outside the Pantheon is great for allowing patrons of the local restaurants and cafes the opportunity to sit and eat or drink amongst a structure built between 27 BC and 14 AD. Not too bad. With temperatures reaching the mid to high 30s (Celsius), it was time to retreat to a pizzeria.

eating pizzaFull of food and a full diaper shortly there after, Finlay’s not mine, it was time to relax back at the hotel. The Pantheon would be the last site we got to truly see on our trip, though on our drive to the airport the next day, we continually passed structure after structure that made us ooh and aah.

drew romaThough I don’t think, at this moment, I could live in Italy due to the difference in lifestyle to England, I love everything Italian from the football to the mafia, pizza to Peroni. A trip to Italy twice a year would suite me just fine. But unfortunately, there are so many other places to see. Forza Italia!

daddy and colosseum

Rome in 72 hours with a baby: Part 1

daddy and colosseumIn Rome it’s not too difficult to find yourself amongst thousand year old monuments and architecture everywhere you turn. Those monuments and that architecture along with the food and wine attracted my wife and I there this past weekend. In tow was our 14 month old son as we embarked on our first family holiday. Though we had been to the US to visit my parents and friends last April, everyone knows that visiting family is much less a holiday and more of a necessity that must be fulfilled, much like seeing the dentist or getting that AIDs check you’ve been putting off.

In the eight months since I last visited Italy, I got a little more serious about studying Italian and took a six week course at a local college. Though my listening comprehension is at a beginner level, I surprised both my wife and myself with an ability to communicate a bit with locals until they figured out they could just speak English and feel good about themselves. In turn, making me feel inadequate at my ability to fully speak Italian. But hey, when in Rome!

The lovely Santa Costanza Hotel was our home for three days and proved to be a brilliant and cost efficient hotel. My wife always seems to be pleasantly surprised when our lodgings are of a good quality and this time was no different. Her surprise puzzles me as I expect a certain quality when I pay for something. I think this shows the difference between her growing up in England and me in America. I expect things to be good, she is surprised if it is. When in Rome!

colosseum collegueOf course Rome is packed with places to see and things to do, therefore we spent a few hours before leaving Manchester to come up with a shortlist of important places to see over our 72 hours in the Eternal City. To help us narrow things down was Rick Steves, American travel writer and tour guide extraordinaire. I must say I do love Rick Steves’ guidebooks, language dictionaries, TV series, podcast, breakfast cereals and decorative fanny packs (bum bags in England, because fanny means vagina here) and all products he endorses. With the help of Rick, Katy and I decided the most important things to see were The Colosseum, The Vatican, The Pantheon and though not important, we decided to see the Trevi Fountain as people gush (no pun intended) over the oversized wishing well.

One of the best things we did during our trip before even seeing any sights, thanks Rick, was to buy the Roma Pass. For €36 we bought the pass which allowed access to three sites in Rome and free public transportation for three days. A great deal for anyone traversing the city. However, if one wanted to explore the city and pay nothing to enter the sites but still see them, it can be done to a certain extent as viewers can walk up to most sites and walk around them.

Our first stop was The Colosseum which was every bit worth the price of admission. The Roma Pass not only allowed us access, but we bypassed the incredibly long line at 9:00 AM as we went from the end to inside the The Colosseum in one minute. Brilliant if you have a baby in tow. The Colosseum was amazing, though on TV it looks wider. We were able to walk around the inside, but with a baby, unable to make our way to the top due to the steep sides that go up some distance. If in a rush or a baby in a stroller, The Colosseum can easily be seen in 30 minutes, but if you can take your time it is easy to spend and hour or more walking through the halls and stairways. It’s also quite easy to ease drop on a tour and listen to a few historical tidbits for free.

daddy and finnWhile we were enthralled with The Colosseum, my son somehow had the same effect on the Asian tourists at the site. Two Japanese ladies even asked to have their picture taken with him which we of course agreed to without batting an eye. His ability to charm everyone in Rome was quite impressive. Even the angriest Roman cracked a smile for our blonde haired son with Harley Race-esque curls.

Day one ended sitting outside a cafe near our hotel drinking beers, which is always a good way to end any day. Having a young child that goes to sleep early doesn’t mean you have to stop doing everything that’s fun on holiday. You just need to work with or around their schedule. This meant buying meats, cheese, wine, Peroni and bread at the supermercato to eat back at the hotel post-baby bedtime.

Part 2 coming soon…

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Fifty Priests you say?

2014-07-14 07.31.38England’s Metro newspaper is continually unrivalled in producing the best/most ridiculous headlines. Obviously the editors want to work for The Sun. This headline caught my eye this morning on the way into work.

I’m actually quite surprised that the Pope gave this quote, using the word pervert. That’s the NEW Catholic Church for you.

Meanwhile, ‘Uber the Moon’ is awful in its own right and makes no sense whatsoever.