Tales From Japan "The Shoes"

“We will be watching you. You should not go pee on your own.” 

A tale told by Patrick Baylis

In the weeks leading up to Worlds, I did a lot of visualizing. I imagined tough games in pool play (see: Australia), surprise upsets (see: Japan vs. Sweden), nail-biting runs by the other team (see: Canada), and, of course, sharing the immense joy of a World Championship with my teammates. What I did not visualize, however, was the life-changing three hours that I would experience following the finals and that began with the sentence above.

I’m told this by one of two very nice Japanese men who find me within minutes after the game and are holding a clipboard with my name on it. I have been randomly selected to be drug tested. A bit of backstory: well before the tournament, all teams were informed that drug testing would occur at some point during the week, with one or more members of each team randomly selected to verify the absence of any and all performance-enhancing drugs in their system. In practice, only members of the semi-finals teams were selected. I was one of the lucky ones.

Leaving my team behind to smile and take pictures with our newly-earned gold medals, I spent the next hour filling out forms, chatting amicably with the very professional drug testing staff, and, of course, peeing into a little cup with some VERY close supervision. I found out later that I was one of the lucky ones with my hour-long adventure; a player on another semi-finals team had to be there for five hours – first he was too concentrated, then too dilute, then too out of pee. Since I found myself in the Goldilocks zone of hydration, I was sent on my way with relatively little hassle. Once I got back to the fields, I realized that, in an impressive display of unity, Team USA has already packed up and left for the hotel without so much of a thought for their forgotten comrade. Thanks guys. Fortunately I still had my backpack, money, and clothes, but my street shoes were nowhere to be found.

Thus began my quest. The field site is huge, and we warmed up in a couple of different places that day, so I started the search at the finals field. Nothing. Next, I returned to our second warmup site and started poking around the sidelines of some very confused Japanese soccer players. Deploying my full arsenal of elaborate foreigner hand gestures, I managed to convey that I was looking for my running shoes. There is a brief flurry of activity as the game literally stops so that people can help me look for them. Again, though, we find nothing. Apologies then ensue: I apologize for interrupting their game, they apologize for not finding my shoes, I apologize for making them think they need to apologize for not finding my shoes, they apologize for my apology. We narrowly escape the infinite loop of apologies when one of the spectators pulls me aside.

His name is Yama-uchi, and his English is pretty good. He manages to tell me that there’s a lost and found area, and where it is. I thank him and start walking, only to realize that Yama-uchi is with me: he’s going to take me there. If you’ve ever traveled in Japan, you know that this is pretty normal (and totally awesome). It’s a 15 minute walk to the lost and found, so Yama-uchi and I have some time to chat. He’s a family man, lives in Osaka, and plays pick-up soccer at the complex occasionally.

We get to the lost and found and come up empty, but they tell us there’s ANOTHER lost and found. I say, “Hey, great, thank you for the help, I can just go there on my own, you go back to your game,” and he smiles and nods. And then keeps walking with me. So it goes for about half an hour – we walk around to various lost and founds (there are apparently four on site), Yama-uchi walks with me and we engage in fantastic broken conversation. We joke is that we agree that I traded a gold medal for my shoes. Worth it.

Eventually I’m overcome with guilt over him hanging out with me for nearly an hour, so I make the necessary hand motions and English phrases to indicate thank you very much but I’m just going to go home. He stops smiling and gets really distressed.

“No shoes on train!”
“Hm, okay, I guess I’ll just wear my cleats?”
“Spike-u! No wear spike-u on train!”
“Well, I don’t think they’ll so I’ll just give it a shot.”

There’s a pause, and he kind of looks at me. I start to thank him one final time for his help, and then he looks down, looks at me, and takes off his shoes.

“Take my shoes.”
“Take my shoes.”
“No no no no, I can’t take your shoes, that’s crazy.”
“Take my shoes.”

The above is the beginning of a 10 minute argument about whether or not I should take his shoes. At first, it’s unthinkable: I literally try and walk away twice while smiling and thanking him (without the shoes) and he grabs me both times. I also try to offer him money, a jersey, whatever, and he won’t take it. Think a few rounds of this – me saying I can’t take the shoes, offering something, him smiling and refusing, me looking down at his shoes, him pushing his shoes closer to me, me looking back up at him in disbelief, me saying I can’t take the shoes again, and so on. In the end, I can no longer refuse. With tears in my eyes, I leave. With his shoes. Barefoot, he waves goodbye and goes back to his field, but not until after he apologizes for his shoes not smelling good.

It was the most generous act from a complete stranger that I’ve ever experienced. And not the only one of its kind: multiple members of our team, lost and confused in Japan, were helped by kind strangers to get out of jams and where we were going. In telling this story to a Japanese friend later on, I was told that offering to repay Yama-uchi for the shoes was an immense faux pas; these gifts to guests are meant to be given for free.

So here’s to you, Yama-uchi, and your shoes. I’m wearing them right now. They feel like kindness.

2012 Revolver Jerseys, Last Chance!

Last chance to order extra 2012 Revolver Jerseys is this weekend, if you would like a jersey or have a friend who would love this as a gift then get an email to our Revolver Gear coordinator before its too late.  Numbers on the jerseys are made to order, check the Team Gear page for info. 

Team USA, WFDF World Champions

After a long morning sleeping, eating, getting ready to go, watching the Fury women take on Japan, killing time, and eagerly awaiting the chance to take on GB in the final – we finally hit the warm-up field and the team vibe is a very focused excitement.  This is a world championship final, in front of a big crowd and a live audience on NGN – overall we know this is a great opportunity for us to showcase our team and to avenge the last two WFDF finals for the USA.

Finals: Great Britain, 17-5 (stats)
Finals finally start and we are ready.  GB is not, possibly jitters from this being their first final or a bit of a tricky wind that came up late in the warm-up, either way they give us 3 easy breaks in the first three points, starting off with several first pass drops or throw-aways.  We punch in all three before GB finally get on the board.  The wind has shifted to be relatively up-wind/down-wind, and we trade a few down-winders before a great huck catch by Zach Travis triggers the defense – the D gets on a roll and we never look back.  The game features a difficult and changing wind causing lots of unforced turnovers, but the USA continues to punch in goals after multiple turnover points while the GB squad struggles to get consistent offense.  Ryo throws two monster upwind flick hucks, Martin catches three deep goals, and Robbie leads us with steady handler movement and all-around dominance over the field.  The game concludes with a 7 point run for the USA and a nifty footwork goal by Beau Kittredge to bring home the first WFDF Open Gold medals in 12 years.   We congratulate GB for their impressive run to the finals, and we know that this experience will make them stronger in tournaments to come.  After a closing ceremony and frantic jersey swapping/ photograph taking, we start our trip home with a raucous bus and subsequent train car ride featuring singing, dancing, and other spectacles.  We skip the express and take the slow train home, with a dance party train car to ourselves, not minding that the ride will last a while.  We are happy, after a tough tournament and surviving difficult tests from Australia and Canada, we’ve played well on the big finals stage and triumphantly achieved our goal.  Congratulations and thanks to Kurt for joining us from Houston and being such a great teammate in the short season we had, to Bart who we’ll miss dearly in the coming club season, to the parents and fans that came all the way to Japan to support us, and to the Revolver founders and alumni whose support and direction we wouldn’t be the same without.  Now we head home to the U.S. via various routes and stops, reveling all the while in this:


Semifinals vs. Canada, a classic matchup

Semifinals brought the matchup we had been looking forward to since last October – Team Canada, two-time reigning WUGC world champions.  With a large Furious George contingent (along with GOAT players and others making it through tryouts) featuring some well known faces, we had no doubts about what we were going up against.  There was some strategizing to be done and matchups to be set, but for the most part we were focused on our mental and emotional preparations ahead of the semi.

Team USA vs. Canada, 17-16 (stats)
    Like several of our earlier games, we started off a little soft against TC.  Our D was unable to get more than a hand on the disc against their O line over their first few points.  Meanwhile, the Canadians capitalized quickly on two turns from Adam “Chicken” Simon, one off a big open side foot block by Andy Collins, to grab an early lead.
At 7-5 Canada, however, suffocating pressure on their handlers from  Mark Sherwood, Tom James,  and Sam Kanner started to pay off, forcing turns and tight throws.  Martin Cochran got a nice layout D under and a missed huck from Oscar Pottinger led to two USA breaks and brought us back on serve.  Our offense really started to click here, with a great Cahill-Wiseman deep shot to tie it at 7.  We couldn’t punch in the break for half, but at 8-8 Robbie Cahill gave a lesson in boxing out with a great catch on a blading huck, and we took half a few throws later.
    We knew it wasn’t enough – we were back to even but had much more work to do.  Out of half we kept up the pressure, shutting down their cutters and working hard to break up their handler motion.  Short field turns led to two more breaks and some momentum for Team USA.
On an unfortunate note, a full-speed collision between Zach Travis and Brendan Wong after the pull at 9-8 knocked the Canadian cutter out for the remainder of the game.  Two shots from Cahill to Kittredge got us two more O points and set us up to get a third break and the 15-12 lead.  After a Canada timeout, the D line worked a long point with chances for both teams, but a deep D by John Hassell got the disc back and the Canadians finally got the goal.
    Team Canada was down late, but far from out of it.  Coming back down in their zone, USA was able to gain yardage but not finish off their points – an end zone turf and a mis-timed jump on an upline cut to the end zone and Canada was able to strike deep for two quick goals and bring it to 15-14.  Our offense finally punched it in to come within one goal of finals but our defense failed to finish it off – leaving us with two chances to win on offense.  Again we worked it patiently to twenty yards out, but a dump miscommunication led to yet another quick deep strike for a Canada break.  Double game point – seven on the line, everyone else pacing the sidelines with nerves on edge.  Again we marched it up the field, and again our O was held up just outside the goal.  A discussion over a contested stall/fast count was tense, but good spirit prevailed, and Beau worked the throw and go dump swing with Cahill for the clinching goal.
    Like our game against the Aussies, this was a well fought game that lived up to our highest expectations for world-class play  We were somewhat drained after the tight finish that perhaps we thought we were going to avoid, but still happy to celebrate our berth in the finals:
Great Britain, tomorrow, 11pm PST. Big thanks to all our supporters and fans, both local and online – see you there!