Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Top Of The Heap

 by Dick Mac

I am a long-suffering sports fan.

I grew-up a Boston Red Sox fan, a devoted follower of baseball.  I visited parks around the country any time I could.  Major League, minor league, park league, little league . . . I would watch it.

I worshiped at the shrine of baseball for forty years. In 2003, I washed my hands of the sport, never having seen my team win the championship.

The Red Sox, of course, went on to win the World Series the following year, without me.

I left baseball because of my passion. I am passionate about some things: sports, art, spirituality, and politics being the top four. In 2003, Major League Baseball took a political stand that offended me so deeply that I really can't be bothered anymore. (I don't need to go into why, but you can follow these links, if you care: Petroskey Shames Hall and Baseball Hall Of Fame – The Bull Durham Debacle.)

I had spent quite a bit of time in London at the beginning of the 2000s, and another American ex-pat brought me to my first English soccer match. Because English television broadcast only one baseball game per week (the ESPN Sunday night game), and it started at 1:00 A.M. local time, I had a difficult time with sports entertainment.

Arsenal Football Club became my new focus. So, when Major League Baseball lost me in 2003, I had a team awaiting my allegiance: Arsenal! And they got my allegiance.

I was in love with Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Denis Bergkamp, Patrick Viera, Freddie Ljungberg, David Seaman, Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell, manager Arsene Wenger, and the rest of them. I worked hard to get access to Arsenal matches in New York City. It's much easier now-a-says, but in 2003, it wasn't easy to see English soccer matches.

I also became a season-ticket holder for my local MLS team, the Metrostars.

Having been a life-long Red Sox fan, the Metrostars were a perfect team for me: heartbreaking at every opportunity. A year after my daughter was born, I had to take a break and become a dad. Gong to soccer matches was really not in the cards anymore, so I let go of my tickets.

In my absence (I was only gone a moment), MetroMedia sold my team to Red Bull GmbH, an Austrian company with new investments in many sports around the world. My team became Red Bull New York. I was not pleased, but what can you do? We do not have a second team in New York, and well, I always had Arsenal.

I got new season tickets and returned to Giants Stadium to watch my team. We signed Juan Pablo Angel, the Colombian striker who'd had a very respectable career with River Plate in Argentina, Aston Villa in England, and on the Colombian national team.

It was a good signing, and I loved watching Angel play.

He was very discouraged about the attendance at Giants Stadium as were all players. It was an 80,000 seat stadium with ten thousand fans scattered around the lower bowl. Even when we had a big crowd, the place looked empty.

One day I read an article n a local media website about Thierry Henry, my all-time favorite athlete, formerly of Arsenal and who at that time was playing for FC Barcelona, told a reporter that he wanted to retire to New York City and perhaps he could end his career playing for the Red Bulls.

I nearly wet my pants. Ask anyone who had to suffer my enthusiasm. I was over-the-moon.

The next Summer, FC Barcelona came to Giants Stadium to play an exhibition match against my Red Bulls. Henry was with them, so obviously he hadn't signed with New York.

My daughter and I watched an amazing display of athletic prowess during the clinic Barcelona put on for Red Bull New York.

And there was Thierry Henry, in the unmistakable red and blue striped uniform of his team. I was watching him play again, live in a stadium and I was happy.

During this visit, Henry again said he would be retiring to New York City, because it is the greatest city in the world. And, perhaps, he said, he could finish his career playing for the Red Bulls.

What to believe?

Is he being polite and generous with the interviewer by giving him a great story, or does he really want to play on my team.

The next season started and he was still signed to FC Barcelona, and relegated to the bench. He was older than many teammates, and his role had changed.

When the La Liga season ended, Henry was rumored to be looking for a home in New York and a member of the Red Bulls front office told me that he was in the midst of negotiations with the team. I was sworn to secrecy, I honored that oath, and only discussed it when somebody else mentioned the possibility.

David Beckham had signed with Los Angeles, so there was now a precedent for a bib-time European player to sign with an MLS team.

Then it happened!

Thierry Henry signed with the Red Bulls. My all-time favorite athlete, the French god of soccer, signed a contract with my team! Not only that, he convinced Barcelona teammate, and captain of the Mexico national team, Rafa Marquez, to sign as well.

My team now had Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez!

And they came at a price. A high price.

Not only did they get a lot of money, Henry's arrival meant Juan Pablo Angel's departure. A huge loss for me and my daughter. To this day, I am an avid Juan Pablo Angel fan, and will cheer for him at any opportunity.

Now my team had the two highest-paid players in Major League Soccer. This meant that the silverware would start to accumulate.

But it hasn't.

I love my team. All of my team. All of the players are my players and my favorite player of all time is on my team. I am a lucky man.

Although we have not gotten to the top of the heap as a team, we are top of the heap as an employer: Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez are the highest- and second-highest paid players in the league. David Beckham is third.

Here's the list of top ten salaries in MLS:

Top 10 highest paid MLS player

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