Ten Years in the USA

This week marks the tenth anniversary of my permanent arrival in the United States of America. What a long, strange journey it has been: like all of life, there have been ups and downs, highs and lows, and moments to remember in both directions. After the jump, you’ll find ten such memories, some personal and others global, to mark my decade as an American citizen…

1. November 2000: Arriving in the US.
The biggest leap in my life: quit my job, sell my house and pack up all my possessions to move over five thousand miles to live with a woman I’d only spent brief periods with. Was I insane? But on arrival, Chris told me that VNV Nation were playing in Phoenix the following day. It was not just one of the best concerts of my life, but in hindsight, a positive omen that my faith in true love would be rewarded.

2. September 2001: 9/11
This was the Kennedy assassination of our generation: everyone remembers where they were. We were hosting a film-maker whose movie we had screened at a local college the previous night. He and we watched as events unfolded through the day, but what sticks in my memory is going out for dinner that evening, to the appropriately-named Streets of New York. We were the only people in there. Phoenix and the restaurant were more deserted than I’ve ever seen them.

3. July 2002: Married Bliss
Having proposed to Chris after the Diamondbacks won the World Series the previous November, the wedding took place – by order of my parents – back in Scotland. The ceremony was in Aberdeen, at King’s College Chapel, with a busload of family having come through from Forres; we then took the bus back for the reception at Brodie Castle, and then honeymooned for two weeks in Europe. It was utterly unforgettable. But let’s not do it again, okay?

4. October 2004: Home Invasion
This was simply weird. Very late at night, we hear a banging down the corridor, as someone goes into our daughter’s room. At first, we thought it was one of her friends, but turns out to be some drunk woman, who had gone into the wrong house – we had left the front-door unlocked. And now she wouldn’t leave. We ended up having to call the police, who took her away to dry out. I guess, in the same category, there was my mid-night encounter with a Palo Verde beetle, which I saw on the floor of the kitchen and mistook for a bag of beads. The phrase “I can’t believe I picked the fucker up!” has now entered house legend.

5. April 2006: Life Begins at Forty
I turned forty and Chris decided to throw a comedy roast for me; we’d been putting on a lot of stand-up shows, and so she had easy access to a lot of comedians. You haven’t lived until you’ve been sat on a stage and been mercilessly ripped a new one, both live and “by satellite”, though I did get to fire back at the end, and think I gave as good as I got. The event also featured a set by The Strand, who supported VNV Nation for #1, who played a one-off cover of Trash City.

6. August 2006: My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult
No, not the band (though we did see them at the Mason Jar in 2002).  I mean our association with convicted serial-killer Dale Hausner: admittedly, we knew his brother much better, but had actually done Dale’s website for him – I was working for Go Daddy at the time. And then Dale got arrested. The shock of the news was only exceeded by the speed with which my employer escorted me off the premises, subsequently dismissing me, after I came forward voluntarily, and told them what had happened. Fuck Bob Parsons.

7. March 2007: Up the Ying Yang
Trash City Entertainment has hosted many fabulous, highly-successful events. But who remembers those? The one that sticks in my mind was putting on The Ying Yang Twins at The Sets in Tempe: a monstrous fiasco which left us several thousand dollars out of pocket and, in hindsight, should have sent us running and screaming rather than taking it on. The first rule of event-planning is stick to what you know. And we don’t know crap, about rap. Lesson learned.

8. August 2008: Pheel the Phear
On the other hand, we do know about horror movies, which may be why this was a far greater success! It wasn’t our first Phoenix Fear Film Festival – but it was our first “proper” one, as the original took place in an art gallery, which required us to spent some hours taping garbage bags on the windows, to get it dark enough to show films! Tn contrast, the second took place at Chandler Cinemas, a “proper” venue, and so represented the fulfillment of a lifelong ambition.

9. June 2010: Getting Press Ganged.
The Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team have become an increasing  part of my life here, since the won the World Series in 2001. But I never thought I’d end up covering their games from the press-box at Chase Field. But that’s what happened, as I guested there, in an online chat for Fox Sports Arizona. The whole “You’re not supposed to cheer in the press-box” thing proved harder to do than I thought, but it’s amazing what a fit of coughing can cover up…

10. November 2010: Another Moving Experience.
I end my decade here much as it began – by moving. Chris and I have just taken occupancy of our first home. It’s not the first we’ve lived in together, but it is the first we have bought together, and it’s surprising what a significant difference that makes. This move was less stressful than last time – November rather than June, and also felt like a positive move, being to a bigger place we own, rather than a smaller rental.

Of course, like all new houses, it’s a work in progress – and, I suspect, one that will take well into the second decade to complete. What else will the next ten years provide? Looking at the list above,  I think it would be pointless to try and predict! But whatever it is, I’m ready…

It’s a Baseball World After All… The growing global appeal of the US national sport

Like drive-ins and line-dancing, baseball seems a quintessentially American icon, a facet of the culture that has never quite caught on elsewhere. Yet the sport is more global in nature than might be suspected, and the international aspects have been around for almost as long as baseball itself. The origins are lost in the myth and mists of time, but legend has it that the first Mexican game took place at Jalapa in 1847, when American soldiers celebrated victory, using the artificial leg of defeated general Santa Anna as a bat. As early as 1878, Cuba had a league, with the proceeds funding rebels fighting for independence from Spain.

The spread of the game has largely been driven by American influence; for example, gold propectors brought Australia the game in the 1850’s. Due to this, baseball is most popular in areas with ties to the States: Central America, the Caribbean and the Far East. However, the record attendance for a game took place outside these strongholds, in Berlin, where over 120,000 people watched a demonstration match-up at the 1936 Olympics. More currently, the International Baseball Federation now boasts affiliates in 110 countries.

As well as exporting the game, America also imports players, drawn both by high salaries, and the opportunity to test their skills – the major leagues are universally regarded as the best in the world . Some deride the notion of a “World Series” involving only Canadian and American teams, but more than a quarter of the players currently in the major leagues were born outside the US, including natives of Australia, Germany, and even Englishman Lance Painter. This is not a modern innovation. Even in 1871, the first officially recognised season, history records ten players born in the British Isles, and Liverpudlian Tom Brown took part in more than seventeen hundred games while Queen Victoria was still on the throne.

Lance Painter
St. Louis Cardinals pitcher
Born: Bedford, England

Those in charge of the sport are aware of its international potential. “Baseball was born in America, but now it belongs to the world,” said commissioner Bud Selig, and the 2003 season was scheduled to start in Japan until the invasion of Iraq took place. The Montreal Expos are also playing several “home” series in Puerto Rico, pending a decision on where the team should go. Further down the road, plans have been floated to play in Europe at some point, probably in Italy, where there’s already a semi-pro league whose games are shown on regional television.

The task is not without pitfalls. Witness the failure of soccer to achieve mass popularity in the States, its place in public consciousness largely defined by Brandi Chastain’s post-penalty strip-tease. A quick straw poll revealed that many Americans are unable to name a member of their men’s soccer team, proving that people are averse to being told which pastimes to enjoy. Pure hype can work only in the short term. The London Monarchs won the 1991 World Bowl of American Football in front of 61,000 fans at Wembley Stadium; seven years later, barely five thousand watched the Monarchs’ final game.

Mark Grace on world baseball:
“I would love that.”

Despite the potential for failure, the Arizona Diamondback players we spoke to all supported the idea of playing worldwide. It wasn’t just the rookies either: “I would love that,” said Mark Grace, a player now in his 16th major-league season. Similar opinions were echoed elsewhere – typical was infielder Craig Counsell’s reaction, “It’d be a fun experience.” Despite such enthusiasm, there were some doubts expressed as to whether baseball could displace soccer in European hearts, and reliever Mike Myers raised the possible financial implications, especially for small-market teams. But the challenges were still felt worth the risk.

There was less consensus over the best aspects of the game: how do you sell baseball, in a market where people aren’t familar with it? Most commonly mentioned was the strategy involved, and certainly, that’s part of the attraction for me. Both beautifully simple – throw the ball, hit the ball – and deliciously complex, “It’s a thinking person’s sport,” said Counsell, and David Dellucci described it as, “A chess match, with the manager using the players as pieces.”

Other factors came up: “No clock, and no ties”, was Mark Grace’s view. Counsell feels it’s a sociable sport, in that it can be a link between parents and their children, with time within the game for interaction and relaxation – “You can enjoy a beer and a hot-dog,” agreed Delluci. Mike Myers appreciates the way centimetres, and even millimetres, can be crucial, plus the uncertainty of the outcome until the very last pitch. Or as the immortal Yogi Berra said while managing the New York Mets, “It ain’t over, till it’s over.”

Catcher Chad Moeller brought up the importance of building interest from a young age. He enjoyed soccer as a child, so has an appreciation of the tactics and skills: “Good soccer players, like good baseball players, have been playing all their life.” Attracting kids is certainly significant, and perhaps Major League Baseball should consider building from the bottom up, rather than sending teams to countries which can’t fully appreciate them. It is possible to come to the game late and still love it – I didn’t see my first game until I was in my thirties – but if you grow up alongside baseball, the chances of enjoying it as an adult are much greater.

Dellucci on one attraction of baseball:
“You can enjoy a beer and a hot-dog”

Moeller isn’t the only major league player with additional sporting talent. While growing up in the Dominican Republic, Sammy Sosa’s first love was cricket – had things been slightly different, he could be knocking balls out of the park for the West Indies team, instead of the Chicago Cubs.

Baseball is a wonderful sport, and there’s no reason why it can’t become as global as soccer. Perhaps eventually we’ll see the London Lions facing the New York Yankees, for a true ‘World Series’ place against the Hanshin Tigers. However, recent history cautions us that it’s best not to rush these things, organic growth offering the most secure route forward – anything driven solely by publicity is likely to leave the baseball cap as the game’s only contribution to international culture.

[Thanks to Susan Webner, Arizona Diamondbacks media coordinator, for her help with this piece]