Book review: “This Love Is Not For Cowards”

12 06 2012

I don’t buy a lot of books. I do once in a while, or I’ll trade books with my parents.

Until a few days ago, every book I’d ever read or bought was the actual book. A hard copy or paperback. Then I located an Itunes gift card I was given, and after reading excerpts from one book in particular, I went online and purchased “This Love is Not for Cowards: Salvation and Soccer in Ciudad Juarez” by Robert Andrew Powell.

I couldn’t put down my phone. Every chance I got, I read the words on the screen, trying to form a mental picture of the places the author mentioned and described in the book, places I know I must have seen from high viewpoints across the border from Juarez in El Paso, Texas. Safe and sound on the American side.

To have read this book — a personal account about the now-defunct Indios de Juarez Mexican professional soccer team and its players, personalities and the incredibly difficult things the Indios and their supporters had to deal with living in Juarez on a daily basis — and been in El Paso just a few weeks ago looking right at Juarez every day was almost unexplainable.

Visiting El Paso and being within a few steps of Juarez and the border made quite an impact on me, and I felt that impact again as I read this book.

I’d heard of Powell’s book before I went to West Texas, and I think there was a part of me that really wanted to walk over one of the bridges and set foot in Juarez just to say I did.

Pedestrian tunnel-like walkway between Mexico and the USA, from American side.

Probably better that I didn’t. I didn’t bring my passport, one, and everyone in El Paso that I talked about Juarez with told me to avoid it. I didn’t question their reasoning.

Vancouver Whitecaps forward Omar Salgado, before he was drafted into Major League Soccer, is a proud borderland native from El Paso who would cross the border to see every Indios match, he told me recently.

“My dad had season tickets and my best friend is the owner of S-Mart, which (was) their biggest sponsor,” Salgado said. S-Mart is mentioned in the book as both a place of business and a team kit  sponsor.

“It was a team that I really loved and it was unfortunate the way it ended,” Salgado said.

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Back to the Oregon Coast

11 06 2012

The Oregon Coast was always a great place to go growing up. Astoria, Fort Stevens, Fort Clatsop, Neakahnie, Cannon Beach, Seaside, Tilliamook, Lincoln City, Depoe Bay, Newport… I saw pretty much the whole northern coast.

So going back there over Memorial Day weekend with my wife — the first time she’d ever seen the natural wonders of Oregon’s Pacific shoreline — was a lot of fun, even as an adult. And this trip was perhaps only the second one in which I drove so much. Happy to give my parents a break after all the driving they did for me.

It’s been developed a little bit here and there, but the coast was still pretty much unchanged from my younger days. It’s one of the reasons I love Oregon — change is steady, there’s population growth and development but it doesn’t always happen so fast.

Me, wife and mom at the Seaside turnaround. Wife is wearing a Fulham FC jacket, she’s a fan!

Bridge over the mouth of the Columbia River from Astoria Column.

Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, Ore.

View from Neakahnie Mountain. Wow.

My parents at the Tillamook Cheese Factory.

Like I said, this trip wasn’t so much for me as it was for my native Arizonan wife. She said she loved it. I think she liked Mo’s clam chowder, cheese samples and pepperoni sticks more than the scenery. Well maybe not.

Passing (time in) the Old El Paso

1 06 2012

Not sure if I have ever tried Old El Paso salsa but I remember those old TV commercials about “tasting the old Southwest.”  Guess that means I’m getting older.

Well, I finally went to the real El Paso earlier this month. The vast majority of my 5.5 days in the West Texas town were spent at the Dow Jones Multimedia Training Academy, getting out of my comfort zone of writing and learning about other forms of storytelling — audio, video, slideshows. There was a lot to learn.

A very good experience and this was the final project I helped create. Had a good team to work with and everyone in the program was very nice. I was also able to get out and see a few things.

Day 1: The Sun Bowl and the Don Haskins Center on the University of Texas at El Paso campus.

Don Haskins coached Texas Western, now UTEP, to the NCAA title and made history in the process. Look it up.

At night I went to a baseball game in town.

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“The Avengers” was good, and seeing Las Vegas in a new light

12 05 2012

Let’s go with the most recent occurrence first. My wife and I went to see The Avengers Friday night – were we like the last people in America besides the people in the theater with us to see this? Oh well.

Good movie. A lot of action. Funny lines, especially from Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark’s Iron Man. Thor is kind of lame, I like Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk, especially when he slammed Loki back and forth like a rag doll.

The Captain America movie was really good, I thought, but his role was pretty secondary in The Avengers. And ScarJo > Pepper Potts any day.

Moving on to Vegas, it’s been a week since the big Mayweather-Cotto fight and I have to say, being in Vegas as a media member with a pass to go places the average person cannot is a much better way to roll. I didn’t see all of the celebrities that apparently attended the fight, nevertheless, it was a lot of work but a pretty good time.

Honestly, Vegas is fun, but it costs so much to go nowadays. You want to feel like you get what you pay for, and you’re really paying a lot for a four-star hotel. Especially during a fight weekend. Cab fares are tremendously expensive and they add up.

Three positive reviews from Sin City: The Trump Hotel just off the Strip near the Wynn is fantastic. Such a nice suite I had, unforgettable. Good cheap eats during happy hour (I was there around 5 p.m.) at Pink Taco at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. I ate very well for about $14.50 including a really good tip for my server. And the Japanese cuisine at Grand Wok and Sushi Bar inside the MGM Grand was a bit pricey but delicious.

Tempura shrimp sushi, beef rice noodles and these lettuce wrap type of things. Solid.

Photos from Vegas:

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Boxing thrives in Phoenix

4 04 2012

I feel confident I can say that boxing is kind of a big deal in Phoenix.

The two nights of pro fights I’ve attended have had good crowds. I’ve been to gyms and seen so many young kids in the ring or hitting the speed bag or working out. Local promoters work hard and those fighters who are barely beginning their pro careers already have followings.

There hasn’t been a real big name in the ring from here since Michael Carbajal, but Jose Benavidez Jr. looks to be on his way to stardom and there are plenty of young pros coming up.

But what really convinced me that boxing is in good standing here is when I humbly accepted  an invitation to attend an afternoon of amateur fights at the Victory Outreach Center in west Phoenix this past Saturday. I didn’t know what to expect going in, but the place was completely packed and people were being turned away at the door. Seriously. Every seat.

It was Arizona fighters vs. California fighters, for the most part. Some thirty or more fights featuring young punchers from ages 8 to 22.

Michael Carbajal was introduced before the first fight.

My friend Juan introduces Michael Carbajal to the crowd.

The first fight was between two girls, 11-year-olds, in the 90-pound weight class.

If you didn’t think they took boxing seriously, then you didn’t see Alexis, the kid from Phoenix, began sobbing when she reached her family in the seats. The judges ruled that her opponent had won the fight and she stood tall and left the ring, but the tears just flowed and her family wrapped her in warm embraces.

It almost made me tear up, too.

Two 8-year-old boys were next, and a guy who must have been related to the smaller one kept yelling “Go Pacquiao!” The smaller boy was clearly the fan favorite and fought hard, but the judges awarded the decision to the bigger kid, and there were a few boos.

I thought to myself that the future of boxing looks pretty bright here. So many clubs and young fighters.

The best fight I saw before having to duck out to go to work was the one between 110-pounders Edgar Ortiz and Abraham Zamora (below). There was a standing-eight count, a furious rally of punches in the third and final round and ultimately a stoppage of the fight. People were really into that one.

All in all, I was glad to be there. And impressed by the turnout and devotion to the sweet science.

My first NCAA basketball regional

26 03 2012

This past weekend I covered the NCAA Mens Basketball West Regional (aka the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight) in Phoenix for SB Nation Arizona. You can see some of my work here, I did the top three stories in the stream. 

It was a lot of fun. The games on Thursday weren’t so great but Saturday’s regional final was very exciting at the end, and Louisville came out on top over Florida.

I covered an NCAA women’s regional in Spokane when the University of Washington women’s team was there and made the Elite Eight in 2001. That was good times, but this was on a higher level with so much more media attention and national exposure.

I took a lot of photos and I’ll use this space to share them.

Louisville practices on March 21, day before game vs. Michigan State.

Michigan State players at the dais, day before they lost to Louisville.

The view from my seat as teams line up for national anthem before game March 22. Louisville in orange.

See if you can find Kirk Gibson, Steve Mariucci and Magic Johnson in the crowd.

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Kaleb Canales is a guy ‘La Raza’ can be proud of

19 03 2012

The Portland Trail Blazers — MY Portland Trail Blazers — have a Mexican American head coach.


Portland, Ore., metropolitan area where I was raised, is where Kaleb Canales, the first Mexican American head coach in the NBA, is employed.

Photo courtesy of the Associated Press

Who would have thought? Not me, not in this lifetime. I grew up with Jack Ramsay and Mike Schuler and Rick Adelman (whose family goes to my former church back home). I remember when I was a kid and my mom took my sisters and I to the grand opening of the new Fred Meyer store in Beaverton. I wanted Jack Ramsay’s autograph on a day when actress Farrah Fawcett was also there for the opening, I have no idea why. But by the time we got there, Farrah’s limo was leaving with her in it and Dr. Jack was gone, with only a few people wanting his autograph so I guess he cut out early.

Since then the NBA has gotten bigger and richer, and since then, the Blazers have also had P.J. Carlesimo, Mike Dunleavy and Maurice Cheeks as head coaches. Then came maybe the best hire of all, Nate McMillan. At least it was at the time.

Well, McMillan made it almost seven seasons before the Blazers fired him last week. The guy they replaced him with on an interim basis? Canales.

I couldn’t help but get fired up watching this video from the team website.

Before Kaleb, the only big-name Canales I had heard of was Johnny Canales from the Tejano music TV show on Univision (“You got it! Take it away!”).

I guess I could write about how historic and refreshing this is, and it is on many levels. One of us… La Raza… ascending to this height. But the only thing I can think of saying is, the Blazers, known so often for making the wrong decision or being snakebitten by the good choices, simply went with a guy who worked extremely hard to get to where he is, earned the players’ respect and rewarded him with the job of head coach. A groundbreaking but sensible move. Even if it’s only on an interim basis.

I’d be shocked if Canales kept the position beyond this season — the Blazers would somehow have to make the playoffs and probably win the first round, which looks highly unlikely. But he can tell his kids and grandkids that a kid from Laredo, Texas who loved basketball and started out as an unpaid intern with the Blazers lived  the dream and became an NBA head coach. Stood in the huddle and coached up millionaires. Made substitutions and game plans. Strategized. Wore  designer suits on the sidelines. Ran practices. Dealt with the media and the public eye.

How cool is that?

There haven’t been a lot of proud moments as a Blazers fan since the early 90s. Even when the team was loaded with talent the likes of  Scottie Pippen and Rasheed Wallace back in 1999 and 2000, it seemed artificial. Those guys were just highly paid mercenaries who were brought in by a win-at-all-costs GM to win a championship for the owner, and they failed. Fans loved the winning but not the seedy underbelly of a team full of bad-character guys.

Shoot, this team might yet have to rebuild sooner than later. The guys just seemed to quit on former coach McMillan, lacking passion and energy on the court in recent games. Too many home games, where the Rip City crowd always had been a huge advantage, have been dropped.

Change was imminent. Drastic measures were taken.

But there is something to be proud of for me as a lifetime fan of this team, and one of Mexican descent at that: The coach is “one of us.”

You know Canales isn’t going to rest on his laurels. The guy got to where he is by paying his dues and knows the significance or the position he’s in, and he strikes me as one who won’t take it for granted or stop grinding.

Excuse me well I go find my Blazers basketball maracas I got on the somewhat-contrived Latino Night at the Rose Garden several years back. Now I can shake ’em con mas corazon.