Are you ready for some (more) fútbol?
You may have read about the other Sons' luxury-suite wanderings, owner & GM fraternizing, and on-field frolicking. After reading through those posts, I thought to myself, "why don't I ever write about such experiences?" After easily answering that question with "well, because I have no such experiences," I figured I'd write about my closest recent experience.
Enter Boca Juniors and River Plate. If you're not familiar with the clubs, think of them as the Yankees and Red Sox of Argentine Soccer, except 1) they both play in the same city (Buenos Aires) and 2) their fans make either a Yankee or Red Sox fan at Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS look like a dude who's being forced to sit through a Mona Lisa Smile/The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants double-feature. In other words, Argentine soccer fans are truly fanatical (and by the way, the world's #1-ranked team is neither Euro 2008 Champion Spain (they're #4), World Cup '06 Champion Italy (#3), nor perennial favorite Brazil (#2)...it's Argentina!).
So, through a friend of a friend of the latter team's nutritionist (am I hooked up or what!), I recently had the opportunity to tour both teams' stadiums.
Let's start with Boca Juniors. The team, whose alumni include Gabriel Batistuta, Juan Roman Riquelme, and perhaps the second greatest player in soccer history Diego Maradona (FYI, that statement just got me banned from ever entering Argentina again), plays in the Buenos Aires working-class neighborhood of La Boca. Upon entering the stadium, nicknamed "La Bombonera" for it's box-like shape, at least one big difference between North American sports and Latin American sports became clear - in the U.S., it's all about the experience. We've got hyper-active interns flinging T-shirts into the stands, jumbotron screens pressuring estranged couples to kiss, home-run fireworks, sausage races, and, just in case you're interested, a baseball game. And while there was no game at the time of my visit, it was clear that in La Bombonera, they've got basically two things - a simple playing field and an aging spectator seating area (which frighteningly looks like it should hold no more than 25,000 but apparently seats 56,000). With all due respect to the team, I had to wonder how a club that routinely receives player transfer fees of tens of millions of euros (last I checked 1 euro = approx $400) apparently can't afford a coat of paint. Again, it's all about the game.
I also had the opportunity to tour the locker rooms (the visitors' was about half the size of the home team's and, as I was told, did not have running hot water), walk the field (which was meticulously kept), and visit the press room.
Next stop was Boca Juniors' arch-rival, River Plate, which coincidentally had won the Argentine League's equivalent of the World Series three days earlier. Located in the richer Nuñez neighborhood, the nicer stadium conditions are immediately apparent. While still nowhere near the polish of its U.S. counterparts, River Plate Stadium nonetheless was quite impressive. Besides the playing field, the facility grounds also house a basketball court, several tennis and handball courts, a playroom, a few restaurants, and even an elementary school. I also visited the Stadium's owner's box which, though very nice by my standards, is far more modest than what I'm sure Frank McCourt is used to.
So all in all it was a great day. While there was no visit from the team owner, no free choripan, and no yarn-spinning from Tommy Lasorda, I wouldn't have changed a thing.