Schu Strings: 80's fever

It's as if I found myself in a time warp. Fame on TV and the Arizona baseball team in the post season. Have I returned to the 80s?

I was hungry, so I called my friend and asked if he wanted me to pick him up for lunch. I defiantly told mom I was heading out, hopped in my 1983 Mercury Lynx, popped the Journey Escape cassette in the car stereo and headed on my way. I passed Biff, dressed in his pink Le Tigre polo, collar raised high, snuggling with his girlfriend Heather, who looked dashing in her leg warmers. I waved and continued my trek.

Man, I was rockin' out. Don't Stop Believing. Open Arms. Turn to Stone. At the end of side one I had to fast forward the cassette before popping it out so I could enjoy the equally inspiring side two. But I decided to take a bit of a break and opted for a quick listen on the radio. After manually tuning the station in just right, I heard play-by-play announcer Brian Jeffries talk about the Arizona baseball team, and its chances for another deep College World Series run.

Was this only a dream?

Just another day in the 80s. It's the decade known for its superficiality, where the likes of Billy Joel, Elton John and Genesis made the transformation from musically gifted to syrupy sellout. When Dynasty and Dallas ruled the airwaves. When the Breakfast Club was considered a classic of the era.

Yeah, most of us would just as soon forget the 80s. But not Arizona baseball. Those were the golden ages, a grandiose window of unparalleled success that helped to vault a program and the school it represented into the limelight. Sure, Arizona men's basketball has given the university its nationally accepted profile on today's stage, but baseball took the first successful, significant swing.

But at the same time glam rock gave way to Nirvana, Arizona baseball swung and missed. Times have been dark pretty much ever since.

However, there's a revival of sorts. That name we saw included among the 64 post-season entries was, in fact, the team that plays its ball in Tucson. This wasn't just like every other year, where the UA started off strong against overrated non-conference competition, then got its lunch handed to it come Pac-10 time. No, Arizona hung on at least until the last week of the regular season, when it got routed at ASU, to do that. Arizona actually played well for most of the conference slate, thus extending its season for just the second time in a decade. And even though it got bounced unceremoniously at the regional in Fullerton, at least it got a sense of what the post-season is about.

In the minefield of college sports mysteries, the fall of Arizona baseball is among the most explosive. I just don't get it, and nobody has explained it to my satisfaction. Those who love to use the early 90s argument, lamenting the loss of 17 out of 18 players from one team, can make that excuse fly for about two seasons. Not 10.

Regardless of why it was, it looks as though it might not stay that way. During the off-season, a friend of mine whose opinion on matters such as this I respect, even dating back to a love of Judas Priest in the 80s, told me he thought Arizona would be good this year, and great next season. So far he's right, and it bears well for the future of the program.

It seems hard to argue that Coach Andy Lopez has things moving in the right direction. Maybe there's something to be said about this whole nostalgia thing. Where's my Foreigner 4 cassette?…

…Onto other diamond related issues…

…Despite not advancing to the final game of the College World Series, it was another fantastic year for Arizona softball. Imagine, this team loses Jennie Finch, unquestionably on the pinnacle of Wildcat softball talent, and replaces her with a freshman who put up better numbers.

Regardless of who graduates, of the losses that occur, one just has to assume the UA will be there in the end. It's a continuing testament to Mike Candrea, who operates the most dominant team sport on campus…

…Moving on…

…It's time for part two of the Johnny Schu slide show. This week's report: Rome.

As you might recall, we reviewed the Barcelona portion of the trip in part one. In a nutshell, Barcelona is a very modern city, and it takes awhile to find its unique qualities. That is not a problem with Rome. There are probably a handful of cities with an unmistakably distinctive quality. Certainly, New York City and San Francisco are in that category. So is Rome.

Instantly alive. After taking care of our airport situation, we looked for transportation into town. The airport is a good half hour from the city. Instead of trying to figure out the confusing Metro system, we were recruited by a shuttle service that offered us and another British couple a ride into town for 15 euro each. (In retrospect, that's not too bad. The Metro return trip was seven euro and not nearly as fun.)

Our driver had to be pushing 80, in years that is. Once the British man figured out the passenger side is on the left and not the right, our chauffeur pretty much kicked the needle on the Lancia to about 160 kilometers, while conveniently occupying two lanes of traffic. For this reason, I assume the airport is about a half hour away. Hell, the way this guy was hauling, we could have flown into Milan.

Rome is like that drive. Always uptempo. The men, pretending to be romantic, overtly hit on women all the time. My friend Kel enjoyed that part of Rome quite a bit. But the women call the shots. Bossy as hell, what they say goes, simple as that.

The guest house where we stayed had a three-key system: one to open the main five-story building, one to open the door to the guest house and one for our room. I figured out the guest house and the room, but made the mistake of buzzing in instead of understanding the purpose of the third key. Once I arrived upstairs, the young Italian lady who was manning the desk gave me quite the stern five-minute lecture on how to operate the keys. I couldn't understand a word, and in truth really didn't care, because she was pretty darn hot.

But I digress (there was much visual digression in Rome). Communication is sort of like Pictionary. Some folks speak broken English, and in those cases it's pretty easy, but when the language barrier is more significant, it's a matter of finding a common word of understanding and utilizing visual capabilities from there. I always sucked at Pictionary.

Rome is the who's who and what's what of western civilization. It's simply overwhelming and nearly impossible to see everything. If you're into history, if you're into art, this is the must-see city. The Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Basilica and Michelangelo's Pieta, the fountains and architectural wonders of Bernini, the Collosseum…where as an aside, Paul McCartney was performing the first night we arrived. McCartney was also playing Madison Square Garden during our visit to New York City. I wish he'd quit following us.

Our best people watching experience occurred on the train from Rome to Firenze (Florence). We sat next to a young man who was en route to do some computer troubleshooting work for IBM, so we picked his brain about places to visit overseas, and perhaps places to avoid. In the latter, he mentioned Germany was not his bag. He was actually quite polite about it, but a woman sitting across the car took offense, and in Italian berated this young man for a good two minutes. So he argued back. Kel and I just watched. It was the greatest conversation I've ever been a part of where I didn't understand a word. When the young man was done, he returned to our conversation and calmly stated, "She didn't like what I had to say about Germany."

Artistically, Florence is certainly worth the day trip, even though the main cathedral has some of the most gruesome middle aged hell-related artwork I've ever seen. Hell-related artwork rocks. No wonder the Italians have mastered the zombie and cannibal movie genre.

Speaking of, if you're into that sort of thing (and I know there are so many of you who are), Profondo Rosso is the horror store owned by Italian director Dario Argento. I spent more than my share of euros in that locale. Thankfully, we found the place by virtue of good directions from a guy who worked at a nearby movie theater, who only spoke with us because a young lady who knew very little English bossed him into it.

While lively, Rome is also wrought with scams. If anyone offers assistance, it's probably not because they're being nice to the tourists. They want money. This gets tiring after awhile. The pickpocket problem is significant as well.

As is the public transportation situation. The buses are nearly impossible to comprehend. The Metro system has just two lines because every time the city tries to enhance it, archaeologists encounter more ruins. Old vs. new is a battle Rome must struggle with on a constant basis. So we opted for walking, which is also dangerous when crossing the street because Romans drive like, well, 80-year-old chauffeurs in Lancias.

Food in Italy is as good as you'd expect, except that it's all Italian. This seems logical, but it also helps to appreciate the variety one can get in the States.

Finally, if you visit, consider purchasing a soccer jersey. It doesn't matter which one. Any will do. I opted for the Arsenal jersey because I thought it looked cool. I felt like the stereotypical sports moron who picks teams in the college basketball office pool based on the mascot. I must say, it was quite liberating. Anyway, Arsenal is a British soccer team, and the jersey is really cool. So there. But British soccer teams don't go over real well in Italy. I must have been verbally reamed a dozen times because of that shirt. Talk about an instant icebreaker. Fortunately, they don't have ice in Rome. Otherwise, they might have broken it over my head.

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