Sometimes things just don’t turn out the way you think they will. I went to bed last night anticipating a morning spent at Sporting KC watching fitness tests and very light practice, and I did. I anticipated chatting with a player or two, shaking a few hands, shooting the shit with journalists and bloggers, and coming back and telling you all about ‘The first day of training’.
Last year I wrote about quiet determination and the tough road draft picks had. The year before .. well, I can’t remember, but I threw out some video interviews with Stephane Auvray and Craig Rocastle, which in hindsight, clearly doomed them both. Sorry guys. This year? A lazy old day.
Yeah, sorry, I know you might want to hear about grown men kicking a ball around but … I want to talk about something else. I don’t even know who won the beep test. Nobody was maimed. There isn’t much to say about the ‘action’. Off the plastic practice surface, however, was Sean Dane, unofficial KC Cauldron hype man, occasionally checking his smart phone and looking at donations pouring in for Hector Solario. You might not know the name, but if you are a Sporting Kansas City fan, you probably know him as the half-naked Mexican guy in the Indian headdress that stands behind the goal in the Members Stand at Sporting Park.
Hector Solario. Photo courtesy of Thad Bell/Backpost.net
Hector was in a terrible car crash just before Christmas. He broke his pelvis, he spent a month in hospital, and he’s not going to be walking for a little while. It is not a fun thing, and being America in 2012, the burdens of extended medical expenses take a toll, especially when you are a small business owner than cannot work.
Meanwhile, to our right, Robb Heineman was in the middle of a media scrum. It sounds amazing given the verbiage I have put into LIVESTRONG the last day or two, but I was surprised to see them all on a day usually attended by a few bloggers, with ‘the media’ turning up right at the end of proceedings for a few sound bites and some B-Roll. I lamented about the old days when nobody cared about Sporting KC before somebody mentioned Oprah and Lance. The chatter turned to Robb, how we felt for him having to deal with the mess.
I popped my camera on my monopod and started to snap a few pictures. Peter Vermes gesticulating like Al Pacino in the Godfather, Dom Dwyer, Claudio Bieler …I was looking for faces that I didn’t have in my collection. Kei Kamara sauntered into practice late, said hi as he walked by, and kept rolling. Practice wound down. Sean Dane let us know that another $600 had been raised. Aurelien Collin stopped by to bump fists and say hi. Robb Heineman sauntered over for a chat. I spent a few minutes talking to Kurt Austin about my kids. Traded a head nod or two with players I hadn’t seen for a while.
For some of you, this might sound like a big old name drop, but for fans who have been around for awhile, meeting the players and ownership is kind of par for the course. Don’t believe me? Just stick around awhile. Its a trip at first but nobody is really stand-offish. I felt comfortably within my element, happy that pre-season was rolling and then it was all over.
The media scrum closed around Peter Vermes, smaller than earlier, but most stuck around. The players completed their stretches. I chatted with Thad Bell, who gently suggested that I be a bit less like Jim Rome, who swears a lot. It was time for interviews … on the only local media day before media day in March or late February, I didn’t want a formal interview with a player spitting out formal answers while other folk shoved mics over my shoulder or while I felt rushed. I instead checked to see if I could get some access over the Arizona and Florida breaks. Thad needed to see Jimmy Nielsen.
He had a set of donated gloves that would be put up for auction for Hector. Thad and I explained what had happened. Jimmy signed the gloves happily, I dropped back to take a few pictures. Sean stopped by again … another update. Nearly $2000 … wow.
Thad moved on to do an interview. Robb stopped by to ask about Hector, not a casual chat but a real ‘what is the plan’. After the last three days, I’d have forgiven him for simply escaping, but he sought Sean out for details and then it happened, that moment in training I remember from every year.
A tall, skinny black kid was sneaking up on Robb. He looked kind of cautious, kind of shy … Ike Opara wanted to introduce himself to Robb “I’ve never met you before, I wanted to say Hi”. He looked so young, his body language was ‘timid’. Robb introduced him to Sean, Sean mentioned the Cauldron. “I’m glad to be playing for you instead of against you!”. He smiled, broadly, warmly, and I instantly liked him. I found myself thinking “You’re gonna fit in just fine around here … welcome to the family”.
Slowly, we made our way outside; I found myself with Sean, Thad, Andy and Todd Palmer. Just like every other first day, nobody seemed to want to leave. We stood in the warm sun and talked about the team and soccer, about work, and a thousand random topics before going our own separate ways. An hour with the team had turned into three and reinforced the idea that the friendly, warm, community made up of players, coaches, and fans is something so much more than football.
The last update from Sean? $3,670. Not bad. Not bad at all.