International flavor spices Blast holidays

Melting pot: Eight nationalities are represented on the team, making for a blend of traditions, cultures - and some loneliness.

Soccer

December 24, 2003|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

The plane was coming in last week from Toronto, and Blast forward Chris Handsor could barely contain his excitement.

His family was coming for Christmas.

His longtime sweetheart, Michelle, and their two children, Sheradan, 10, and Christian, 18 months, were making their first trip to Baltimore since he signed with the Blast in August.

"I'm really looking forward to just sitting on the couch and being able to hold my kids," Handsor said. "I'm looking forward to doing all the things this Christmas that most fathers can do every day."

At Christmas, athletes don't always have it easy. Time is always short, whether a player is scheduled for a home game on Christmas Day or the day after, as the Blast is Friday, or playing for a team based in another city or traveling to a game somewhere else.

Often, the family can be far away.

Ask Blast rookie Carlos Garcia what he wants for Christmas, and the answer is immediate: "A plane ticket to Colombia, so I can go home and see my mom and sister."

Or ask Blast veteran Denison Cabral, whose eyes go dreamy: "I'd like to take my daughter and my wife home to Brazil so they could experience the wonders of Christmas as I have."

Christmas is much the same around the world, celebrated with family and friends. But every culture has its own traditions. And the Blast, with eight different nationalities on its roster, offers a global look - from Canada to South America to West Africa and back to Bermuda and the West Indies.

Perhaps it is being away from home that makes the Blast players so aware of home.

"Brazil is a totally different place," said Cabral. "It is summertime in Brazil. Santa Claus comes in a T-shirt, shorts and sandals."

But he is still Santa, with the white beard and the bagful of toys. Children hustle off to bed on Christmas Eve about 4 p.m. for a long, early nap, so parents can help Santa prepare.

"You know if you don't sleep, Santa won't come," Cabral said, explaining how children leave their letters for Santa around the Christmas tree before going to sleep. "You tell him, `I've been good, doing my homework, listening to my parents,' and let him know, `This is what I want.' You get up again around 10 p.m. You dress up, and you've gotten a nice haircut. You all gather for a great family dinner around 11 or 11:30 p.m., and it is while you are at the table that Santa comes."

Cabral recalled how hard it was for everyone to pull themselves away from the table where his dad had made a "California turkey," roast turkey surrounded by fresh pineapple, peaches, bananas, strawberries and watermelon. But, of course, it happens. Presents await,

"The first chance I get, I'm going to take them home," Cabral said. "All the doors in the neighborhood are open, and family and friends go around and visit each other. I want my family to experience that."

This Christmas, Blast backup goalie Brian Rowland will be spending only his second Christmas away from his parents' home in Toronto. What he'll miss most is spending time with his family.

"There will be hours on the telephone," he said. "My mom will probably call first thing and pass the phone around to my immediate family and then, in the afternoon, everyone will gather with other family members and there will be another call with aunts and uncles and grandparents. I wish I could go home, but that's not going to happen."

Blast forward David Bascome's family - his wife and three sons - are traveling to Smiths, Bermuda, to spend Christmas with family there. He wishes he could go, too.

"My memories of Christmas might not be like everyone else's," said Bascome, who grew up in a group home with periodic visits to his grandmother. "Me and Santa had a falling out. My whole life, I wanted a G.I. Joe. Every year, I asked for a G.I Joe. Not a big one, just a little one. Every year, I'm thinking I'm going to get it, and I never have. I got soccer balls, soccer cleats, soccer shorts. Santa still owes me a G.I. Joe."

Still, Christmas in Bermuda offers fond memories, like the Dudley Eve Cup on Boxing Day, when everyone dresses up in the clothes they got for Christmas and show everything off at the soccer games.

Blast defenseman Wendell Regis said in Trinidad everyone spends the weeks leading up to the holidays doing housework.

"Everyone cleans their houses," Regis said. "You cleaned the inside and outside walls of your house. It was like making a new beginning.

"And it was about food and family and friends. There was smoked ham and a dish called pastille. The outside of it was a flour mix and inside was ground beef and maybe some other things. After you boiled it, it would be wrapped in fig leaves."

This Christmas, Regis will visit his mom, stepfather, brother, his wife and kids in Germantown, where they now all live. He will take gifts for everyone, and he might even sing a rhyme as he enters his mother's home.

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