Aug. 9, 2013
Usually trips with the basketball team are pretty regimented. While the schedule can change a little, for the most part, the days are scripted pretty well. However, when you are on an exhibition tour like this one, every now and then you get sort of a free day, and after all the travel and games, today was the day we finally got a chance to relax.
Other than a morning lift after breakfast at 10 a.m., everyone had a chance at some free time, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. (end of lunch until dinner time). It varied as to what folks did. Coach Neal used the time to talk with his wife who is still in Sydney with Cullen, to check on Cullen, and get a good walk in around the city. Some guys slept. Some guys went shopping. Being just eight blocks from one of the most historic sporting venues on earth made the decision for me pretty clear...it was a chance to take of guided tour of the MCG, the Melbourne Cricket Grounds.
Prior to that was lunch at Trunk, which is a popular downtown restaurant in Melbourne. One of the items on the menus was a hot dog with chiles and peppers. It was called the "Breaking Bad Dog", which most of the guys got a kick out of. From there it was off to the Cricket Grounds.
The MCG was opened in 1854, and obviously has changed quite a bit. It currently seats just over 100,000 fans, and it's the 10th largest stadium in the world, and the largest in Australia. It's light towers are the tallest in the world for a sports stadium. It is a massive structure, and being inside it is akin to being in Madison Square Garden, or Fenway Park, or old Yankee Stadium. The history just oozes out of the place.
Ironically, two of the younger kids on the tour were from Hobart and knew of Hugh Greenwood...odd to say but small world.
The MCG hosts plenty of cricket matches, but during the winter months it hosts several AFL games a week. With none on the Friday, tours were given instead.
The tours went through many areas of the stadium. Certainly the sparseness of the locker rooms (called change rooms here) was interesting. At The Pit, the Lobos locker room is cherry colored walls with tons of historical Lobo photos and championships and things like that. You walk in and you know you are in the home of the Lobos. Because several teams share the stadium, the locker room is just a plain white-walled room. It could have been a hospital ward. There is nothing in there to get you going...to give you pride in the jersey you are wearing. It was really odd.
The media areas were remarkably similar to what we have at New Mexico, except they have eight radio booths. Eight. Two are used for statistics and scoreboard operations, but the rest are used by the media. The scoreboards are interesting here. At both MCG, and Etihead Stadium where we saw the AFL game on Friday night, to even the rugby league match we saw, there was a sparseness of the scoreboards. There is a video board on each end, with a clock and scoreboard total, and that's it. No stats, no funny videos...no nothing. I don't think that would fly in the states.
The interesting thing is because there isn't a home team using the stadium (let's face it...there isn't a home sport as it hosts AFL, cricket, rugby, and international soccer as well as a religious crusade or two), the fancy areas are not team specific, but specific to the membership of the Cricket Grounds, sort of like Wimbledon. Those areas were rich with history, old paintings and photographs, memorabilia and the like.
After free time was a chance at a quick dinner, and of course in Australia, we went for authentic Italian pizza. The irony is it was really run by immigrated Italians, and it was delicious. Then the bus took us to Etihad Stadium for Friday Night Football featuring two Melbourne teams in St. Kilda (The Saints) vs. Hawthorn (the Hawks). Hawthorn is the league's best team at 15-3, and St. Kilda is 16th out of 18 at 3-15. The game was the blowout you would expect, with the Hawks pulling away in the second quarter for an easy 102-56 win.
The game live is much better than on TV (which in the States is the only way to watch it). You get such an appreciation for the skill involved in seeing the field, moving the ball around be punting it to teammates, and the defensive skills you have to show. The game has elements of soccer (with the spacing and kicking), football (with the emphasis on getting the ball in scoring position, the tackling, and kicking), and basketball (mostly defensive on attempted marks, trying to box the opponent out).
For a rivalry game, the fans of the two teams got along really well, but given how congenial folks are here, it's not really a surprise.
Hawthorn is really good, and they pulled away with five goals in the second quarter (each quarter is 25 minutes long). To put that in perspective, St. Kilda's fifth goal of the match came in the fourth quarter when the match was well over. Overall the players appreciated the match and the effort it takes to play "footy", but I'm pretty sure they will be sticking to basketball.
Hugh Greenwood handles interview duties today, talking with Alex about the match, with his video diary coming from Etihad Stadium. Early morning flight to the Gold Coast tomorrow, and hopefully some warmer weather.
Cheers Mates! UNM Hoops