During the course of an MLS season, the Chicago Fire's players (and players on every MLS team) make several appearances throughout the community. As many fans will attest, our league is probably more fan-friendly than any other in professional sports. The players won't hesitate to sign an autograph, and most will freely discuss their team and the league with you like you were talking with a fellow fan. The bottom line is that most guys are just normal, down-to-earth guys that are fortunate enough to make a living playing a sport. Having said this, during a couple of the appearances I've made a few pretty awkward situations come up.
The first came last season while making an appearance out in the western suburbs of Chicago. It was for the commencement of a brand new soccer complex for a large Hispanic club. As I arrived on the scene the ceremony was already underway, and it was a bigger deal than I thought. There were 1,500 people there, with all the players from ages 5 through 19 parading around the new complex with their teammates and coaches. It was a party atmosphere with food, music and even the Mayor of Cicero.
At each appearance there is a person from the Fire office that tells us where to go and introduces us to the people we are supposed to meet that arranged the event. I did not know it at the time, but my Fire contact was in a car accident on the way to the appearance, so that person would not be able to make it. As it got closer to start time I began walking around, hoping somebody would recognize the 6-foot-4 white kid with the blonde afro, wandering aimlessly wearing Chicago Fire gear and holding a pad of his own player cards to be signed.
It was now about five minutes past the time I was supposed to show up and there was no sign of my Fire contact. Suddenly, over the PA system, I hear a string of sentences in Spanish that ends with the name "Jim Curtin de Chicago Fire." Then I thought to myself, "At least I'm in the right place." Then, in English, the man exclaims, "How about a big welcome to Jim Curtin, a defender for the Chicago Fire, who has come here to speak on behalf of the city, and the new complex we have here."
I felt incredibly nervous knowing I would have to say something about a city and a club that I knew nothing about. I considered running away. One minute I was thinking all I would have to do is sign a few autographs and hang out with the kids, and then the next minute I was walking my way out to the podium at midfield, waving to the cheering fans who had no idea I'd been completely caught off-guard and had no clue what I was going to say to them.
I remember shaking hands with the mayor and a man passing me the microphone. The next five minutes are a blur. I'd like to think that it was an amazing speech, but the truth is I have zero recollection of my rambling on that day. After I finished speaking, they played the national anthems of the USA and Mexico ... it was as if I just made a Presidential speech to a nation. If anyone had a videotape of me at this event and my teammates got their hands on it, I'd be in big trouble to say the least.
After the whirlwind of events, I recognized a face from the Fire office. Before I could express how mad I was that I had no idea I had to give a speech, they informed me that the Fire person who was supposed to be there for me was in a car accident with a CTA bus. My complaint now seemed small and, since the person was not injured, I now had a pretty funny story in the day of the life of a Major League Soccer player.
Now for the usual listing of some random thoughts for the week:
I can remember when I was, like, 10 years old, and an episode of "The Three Stooges" would come on that included Shemp, and I would get very angry. That guy was terrible ... and don't even get me started on the seldom-used Joe as a Curly substitute.
The worst candy in the world is easily Ju-Ju Bees. "Slightly flavored plastic" is what I call them. They are the Grape Nuts of the candy world. Grape Nuts taste like gravel.
The No. 1 ad campaign that worked incredibly well that made almost no sense at all was Spuds MacKenzie. I was 9 years old and thought that beer-drinking dog was the coolest thing in the world. In fact, Spuds MacKenzie immediately makes me picture an entire segment of my life that will from this day be called "the Spuds years."
Last year, I said I lost all faith in America when "Kangaroo Jack" was the top movie rental in the country. Today, I read that filming has started on Miss Congeniality 2, and now I consider myself a Communist.
This week's three people that I'd put on a deserted island, never to be seen again, include: 1) Dr. Phil, the guy that puts out diet books and is noticeably obese. 2) Jeff Foxworthy. 3) Nicole Richie.