CALLING OFF THE TOKYO INVASION
War: What is it good for? Apart from securing George Bush‘s re-election, the invasion of Iraq provoked MLB to scrap its season-opening series in Tokyo, between the Mariners and the A’s, originally scheduled for this week. While the players involved waxed philosophical over the cancellation (“If that’s the worst we have to deal with, that ain’t that bad,” shrugged Seattle’s Bret Boone), others were busy spouting the usual patriotic guff. Rabid Republican Roger Clemens, who campaigned for both Bushes, took potshots at anti-war protesters, suggesting that they’d act differently if they’d “had anybody in that building” (he meant the twin towers). None of the sportswriters present—possibly fearing a fastball to the head—pointed out that relatives of 9-11 victims are among those protesting. Peacenik bashing, in fact, is the one thing old enemies Clemens and Mike Piazza seem to agree upon, with the conservative catcher trumpeting similar views in the New York Post.
Though it’d be refreshing to see some liberal opinion countering the tasteless stadium chants of “U-S-A” (as heard at ballgames after the World Trade Center attacks, and no doubt again this spring), don’t expect any ’68 Olympics-style dissent from today’s millionaire athletes, a controversy-shy bunch whose idea of taking a stand amounts to charging the pitcher’s mound. Understandably, many of them just want to play ball, like the Mets’ Tom Glavine and Mike Stanton, who hope they can “give people a little break from reality” (in the latter’s words).
Sure, we prefer mystery and aura to shock and awe, but thanks to the Bush administration, neither civilians nor soldiers in the Gulf have that luxury. Commissioner Bud Selig, meanwhile, is planning a season opener in Japan for 2004, plus a series in Europe next summer, to extend MLB’s global reach. How about a few games in Baghdad (or what’s left of it)? Those are the folks who could really use a break from reality. —J.Y. Yeh
SO THAT’S WHY THEY’RE CALLED POINT GUARDS
Leave it to one of the NBA’s most international teams, the Dallas Mavs, to provide the NBA’s most visible spark of protest against what a Voice colleague calls Operation Freedom Fries. Canadian Steve Nash raised eyebrows among his fellow millionaires by wearing a T-shirt during last month’s All-Star Weekend that read, “No War. Shoot for Peace.” And then he recently started spouting some anti-war stuff. Of course, Nash is obviously one of them there longhair hippie types. So what explains Nick Van Exel? The veteran shaved-head, purebred American guard said, as the invasion of Iraq began, that Bush’s War “gives the American people a bad name.” And he added, “All Americans don’t think like Bush.” But center David Robinson stood up for the Stars and Stripes. Speaking of those who were “embarrassed” by the war, Robinson opined: “If it’s an embarrassment to them, maybe they should be in a different country, because this is America and we’re supposed to be proud of the guys we elected and put in office.”
At least Robinson didn’t directly tell his teammates to shut up. Dallas owner Mark Cuban, who cultivates his image as a free spirit, isn’t so free when it comes to free speech. Although he saw fit to advertise his own views by donning a flag-waving T-shirt, he reportedly instructed his players not to talk about the war. —Ward Harkavy
GETTING ALL GOOGLY
For the past six weeks a group that’s probably small and probably mostly includes expatriates from Commonwealth countries has been entranced with satellite telecasts of the Cricket World Cup, which concluded in South Africa on March 23 with the reigning champion, Australia, defeating India.
In a country like the U.S. where cricket is generally ignored, old friends Nadir Azim, 27, of Pakistan and Gautam Jaggi, 25, of India, overcame their nationalistic cricketing rivalry to assemble a group in Jersey City that shared the costs of a satellite feed so they could watch the tournament from Azim’s home. “It was comfortable and cost-effective,” said Jaggi. “Cricket is not a contact sport, so you don’t need a cheering and jeering bar atmosphere to watch it.” When the final match starts at 3 a.m. EST and lasts for eight hours, however, maybe a bar is not such a bad idea. And in fact, bars, restaurants, and cinemas in and around Manhattan carried the satellite feed, charging up to $30 per match.
Taufiq Rahman, son of Bangladeshi and Pakistani immigrants, grew up in Queens, so like many other second-generation Americans, he doesn’t know much about cricket. He does, however, recognize the passion among recent immigrants, whether they’re from his parents’ generation or his own, for watching a game that reminds them of home. That’s why he decided to televise the World Cup at his family restaurant, Shaheen Sweets, on East 29th Street. “People come to watch a match and we give them free tea and appetizers,” said Rahman. “They get hungry and order food, and may come back for more. It’s definitely been worth it.”
Ehsan Mani, president-elect of the International Cricket Council, has said he hopes the U.S. will compete in the next Cricket World Cup, scheduled for the West Indies in 2007. For now, though, the U.S. is only an associate member of cricket’s ruling body. It would have to move to full membership to qualify for official Test matches. But it’s debatable whether the game will ever catch on in America. Brooklyn resident Pierre Devaud, 28, who first watched cricket in Asia, doubts it will. “The game play is fine,” he said, “but playing for eight hours is ridiculous.” —Joya Rajadhyaksha