HARLINGEN - They may be in the Valley playing baseball for the summer, but a number of the Roadrunners are multi-tasking these days when it comes to sporting attention. With the World Cup in full swing, many of the Edinburg guys took time before Thursday’s road game against the White Wings to toss back and forth their feelings and predictions about the world famous soccer tournament that began in South Africa June 11 and wraps up July 11.
Well, some didn’t. Take utility man Melvin Perez, who preferred to crow about the NBA title just tucked away by his favorites, the Los Angeles Lakers. Or the team’s leading hitter, ageless swatter Alexis Hernandez, a Cuban whose first, second and third love is boxing.
“I used to root for Lennox Lewis, when he was fighting,” said Hernandez, who is batting over .400, almost as good a hitting rate as Lewis had when he was knocking them out of there as heavyweight champ in the 1990s. “My uncle was a fighter, he was the only one to ever beat Teofilo Stevenson…twice, as an amateur.”
Stevenson was perhaps the world’s most dominant boxer back in the 1970s, a consistent Olympic gold medalist who could not turn professional and come to the United States due to the never-ending squabbles between that nation and Cuba as part of the Cold War.
As the Roadrunners continue to lead the pack in the ULB, it is mainly the Latinos on the roster from soccer-crazy places who are following the Copa Mundial. Even though the Dominican Republic is known as the cradle of Latin American baseball, the Dominicans in town are also checking out the futbol.
Slugging outfielder Ambiorix Concepcion is a die-hard fan of the Beautiful Side, Brazil, even going so far as to order a green jacket emblazoned with the team logo in time for the Portugal-Brazil game over the weekend.
“I don’t care if they win or lose, that’s my team!” Concepcion exclaimed. “But I think they’re going all the way this year.”
Venezuelan Wilmer Pino favors Brazil, which also has a supporter in infielder Felix Molina, a Puerto Rican who realizes that though some American football fans may think soccer is for wimps, the truth is far from that.
“Those guys are tough,” said Molina, who also thinks Brazil can win the Cup. “I used to play a little because in my hometown there is a college and they are always playing over there. I used to go over there, but they are really good athletes, so strong in the legs.”
Adam Matos was a soccer player through high school in Florida, so the speedy outfielder knows all about what it takes to play the game.
“They run for 90 minutes, and that’s hard to do, at least in baseball we don’t run that far and we get plenty of breaks in between,” he commented, adding that he has been all over the festivities in South Africa from the opening ceremonies. “I have been pretty much been rolling out of bed every morning and clicking on the games. It’s perfect because they are over by the time it’s time to come to the park and play baseball.”
And leave it to the “Mad Scientist” to put his intellectual spin on the phenomenon that is the World Cup. Aaron Guerra, the relief pitcher from The University of Texas-Pan American, is an avid reader who has polished off almost 50 books this year along with teaching science at Economedes High School. He’s noticed that there seems to be an unusual buzz regarding the international soccer scene these days.
“You can see it on Facebook, where there has been an explosion of interest,” he noted. “It’s just blown up this month, with a ton of closet soccer fans out there.”
Guerra suggested that the soccer craze might be a media-driven fad.
“I wonder where all these guys have been for the last four years, right?” he mused, while quickly asserting that he’s not one of them. “I mean, you go to the mall and you see all kinds of guys wearing soccer jerseys, they were wearing Cowboys jerseys a month ago. Makes you wonder if they’re just riding the bandwagon.”