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Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012

Going Hungary for Sports News

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Ridiculous as it sounds, there are places on our planet where ESPN, Major League Baseball and the NFL don't reign. These primitive lands somehow get through the day without the constant blare of "SportsCenter" or hundreds of light-beer commercials interrupted by a few minutes of baseball or football. Sure, technology makes these things available, but somehow most people creep through their petty paces without them—and seem not to care!

Frank recently visited two of these deprived lands, Hungary and Austria, and tried to fit in by going "cold turkey" on wild-card races, salary caps and hang-times on punts. And you know what? It ain't that difficult when beauty and culture are there to help.


The experiment ended Sunday when Frank called Artie from Long Island.


Artie: So how was the goulash?

Frank
: Excellent, and not just in Budapest. I also enjoyed it with my nephew and his wife in Vienna and on a brief visit to Bratislava, which is the capital of Slovakia.

Artie
: Like I didn't know that.

Frank
: And I succeeded in spending eight full days unaware of the major American sports.

Artie
: I can't believe you weren't stopped on the street and asked, in whatever language, "Aren't you one of the Great American Observers?"

Frank
: Incredible but true.

Artie
: But there's that World Wide InterWeb, and we're on it, ain'a? This is what I hear. I guess the locals were respectful that you were on vacation.

Frank
: Let's just say there were as many street recognitions as we get on our own turf. But it wasn't that I was completely separated from all sports. Yeah, I had to avoid the International Herald Tribune and CNN International, but through BBC World News, Sky Sports and English-language networks out of France and Russia, I got a look at sports that are important to Europeans.

Artie
: Such as what?

Frank
: Of course there was the real football. You can ask me anything about the UEFA Champions League matches.

Artie
: I won't, but I think you already knew that.

Frank
: OK, I'll go down my list. How about Twenty20? Know what that is?

Artie
: It has something to do with good eyesight and I haven't had it for about 50 years.

Frank
: This is a quick form of cricket in which the games last a mere 3 1/2 hours.

Artie
: That beats the NFL, where this year's games are averaging about 3:45.

Frank
: So I guess the league hasn't wised up and brought the regular refs back. Anyway, there's a Twenty20 world tournament in Sri Lanka, and from the highlights it seems the shorter matches boost the offense. Lots of mighty "home run" clips. But I couldn't follow the stats, except that somebody won and somebody lost.

Artie
: They've got that right, anyway.

Frank
: Then there's Formula One car racing, which is huge everywhere but the States. As a NASCAR fan, do you care?

Artie
: Nah. I suppose there's some way to see it on TV here, but I don't know it.

Frank
: And there was motorcycle racing, the kind where they seem to take the turns on a wheel and a knee. I saw this bizarre clip from a Brazilian race where a rider spun out, couldn't get the bike restarted and tried to get the race halted by pretending to faint in the middle of the track.

Artie
: Jeez Louise, these foreigners are into diving even when it could turn into dying?

Frank
: They figured this diver out and suspended him. I also saw some hockey in the Russian league, but I can't imagine a regular-season game there is any more important than one in the NHL.

Artie
: Except when they don't even play a regular season, like the NHL is fixin' to do for the second time in eight years.

Frank
: And I saw some golf highlights of the PGA Tour Championship because lots of Europeans were playing.

Artie
: But who cares because it wasn't one of the four majors?

Frank
: I guess Brandt Snedeker, who won, but I sure don't. That completes my list of Euro-sports highlights.

Artie
: What I don't get is: How can Europe not get on a baseball kick? With all the big money—hell, Bobby Bonilla is still getting paychecks from the Mets—and this fiscal-crisis thing they've got going, they should figure, "Man, this is the way to pile up some quick cash."

Frank
: Baffling, to be sure. But just for kicks I extended my boycott of baseball news for almost a full day in this country. It took some doing, but thanks to Turner Classic Movies and English Premier League soccer telecasts...

Artie
: Oh my God.

Frank
: And the fact that it was a beautiful Sunday and I was reliving my trip for my relatives, I made it right up to this phone call. And it was fun to discover that life can be acceptable, even enjoyable, without obsessing about sports.

Artie
: But as bona fide sports columnists, is that the message we want to send?

Frank
: Right now my message is that if someone has a chance to visit the Budapest Wine Festival, they should grab it! A week ago we were at "The Var," a promontory full of fancy government buildings and museums on the Buda side of the Danube River, and below us the lovely Chain Bridge and St. Stephen's Basilica and the Parliament building were brilliantly lighted at nightfall, and we were sipping our wine and listening to jazz and... who needed sports?

Artie
: Except for that last part, sign me up!

Frank
: OK, we've reached the big moment. Are the Brewers still in the wild-card hunt?

Artie
: You betcha, just 2 1/2 games behind the Cardinals, with 10 to play, as we speak.

Frank
: So they gained one game on St. Louis while I was gone. But if they don't do better than that in the next nine days, the miracle won't happen.

Artie
: Yeah, but it sure bodes well for next year. Those young pitchers have been great; Wily Peralta really has the goods. The bullpen has stabilized, and the offense has been great. No way did I ever think they'd be playing September baseball that I'd be interested in. As we speak, they've had a 24-6 run!

Frank
: That's in the five weeks since we walked out of Miller Park on Aug. 19 after the Phillies beat them 8-0. They were 12 games under .500.

Artie
: This is reminiscent of the Cardinals last year...

Frank
: When their bullpen was crummy longer than the Brewers' was this year, even into the final week.

Artie
: And it's reminiscent of the Rockies' big surges in a couple of recent years.

Frank
: The .800 winning percentage over five weeks even recalls the famed 1951 Giants, who went .841 down the stretch, 37-7, to catch the Dodgers and set up Bobby Thomson's great moment.

Artie
: Might there be a similar moment ahead for Beertown? Why the hell not?

Frank
: They have to play well in Cincinnati this week, but after that it's the Astros and Padres at home.

Artie
: The Astros have been pesky of late and the Padres recently had a 25-12 stretch. But the Cardinals finish against Cincy, and you know there's bad blood between those teams. I think the Reds would just love to knock the Cards out of things!
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