Soccer fever isn't found all over

Baltimore-area World Cup activity varies

World Cup

July 10, 2006|By PAUL MCMULLEN | PAUL MCMULLEN,SUN REPORTER

Carla Ramirez was perplexed by the ample elbow room at the bar in Federal Hill where she watched the World Cup final.

Brandishing a cue stick amid NASCAR fans in Arbutus, Kevin Brittingham had no interest whatsoever in the world's most intensely followed sports event.

Like Paris and Rome, parts of Baltimore shut down to watch Italy vanquish France yesterday. The Korean community was missing from Herring Run Park, where it routinely holds Sunday soccer festivals. The Latin Americans who gather Sundays at the Bauernschmidt Manor park in eastern Baltimore County were also absent, presumably planted near a television, anticipating an event of enormous international significance.

Many here, however, from Brittingham to the estimated 35,000 who went to Camden Yards to hear Billy Graham preach, paid little notice to the World Cup.

"I'm surprised by the lack of interest," said Ramirez, who was flanked by empty barstools at the Mad River Bar & Grille. "Anywhere else in the world, a bar like this would be packed. When World Cup games are on, pretty much everywhere else in the world, most people don't even work."

Ramirez, an architect who recently moved to Baltimore, speaks from experience. She's from El Salvador, and she did part of her studies in France.

Brittingham, a twenty-something like Ramirez, wore a Ravens baseball cap and a Maryland Terrapins T-shirt as he shot pool at Fish Head Cantina in Arbutus, where every stool was occupied and all but one TV was turned to the USG Sheetrock 400. The set mounted near the service bar showed ABC's coverage of golf's Western Open, at the insistence of the barmaid who kept it tuned to soccer once the race came on.

"I'm not even a NASCAR fan," said Brittingham, a printer from White Marsh. "I come here for billiards and baseball. I could watch anything, except the World Cup."

As a boy, Brittingham played soccer indoors and out, but count him among the segment of America that finds the game "boring."

World Cup TV ratings in the U.S. were up from 2002, when only fanatics arose in the wee hours to watch the U.S. play host South Korea. That American team advanced to the quarterfinals. This one went 0-2-1 in group play.

"Maybe I'd pay attention if the U.S. was better," Brittingham said. "It helps to have a rooting interest."

While the parking lot at the Fish Head Cantina included several Harley-Davidsons, Zach Henderson and his wife, Amanda, rode their motorcycles to Mother's Federal Hill Grille to watch the World Cup final. They planned to be at their Timonium home for the NASCAR finish, as their sampling of the sports smorgasbord includes a serious rooting interest in Jimmie Johnson.

She grew up in Georgia, played soccer at Oldfields, and, along with her husband, experienced the Caribbean passion for the game when they lived in the Virgin Islands.

"I'm surprised this many people are here," Amanda Henderson said of the crowd at Mother's, which wasn't as soccer-savvy as those at James Joyce Pub, Slainte and other establishments with an ethnic flavor.

Across the street from Mother's, a few stools down from Ramirez at Mad River, Josh Young saw another World Cup come, go and leave a minimal dent with the American majority.

Another newcomer to Baltimore, Young caught the fever in 1994, when he saw World Cup matches in his hometown of Chicago.

"I was in Chicago when the White Sox won the World Series," said Young, wearing a Munich team jersey. "That was electric, but it wasn't anything like the World Cup. I'm a globalist. You either get soccer, or you don't. We're not the center of the universe, whether we like it or not.

paul.mcmullen@baltsun.com

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