“What a long, strange trip it’s been.” Although terribly cliché, and it was my high school graduating class’ motto — as it probably was yours as well — the over-used mantra can be nothing short of the truth when referring to my most recent journey in sports.
It’s one of those journeys that makes me ask myself – more than once – where do I begin?
I could start by mentioning the six soccer legends I hung out with; legends which include Hall-of-Famers Alexi Lalas, Tony Meola and Cobi Jones. I could mention how Lemmy Kilmister from Motorhead was involved in my trip. Then of course, there’s the donkey. (If you’re already thinking this sounds like a spin-off of the Tom Hanks classic ‘Bachelor Party,’ think again. But the personalities encountered aren’t far off.)
El Jimador, the fastest rising Tequila brand in the states, wanted to branch out with their marketing efforts and do something different. Instead of celebrating Cinco De Mayo, they were to hold a contest in which they would choose the most avid soccer fans in America and send them to Guadalajara, Mexico where they would play with six soccer legends from both the U.S. and Mexico in competition for the first ever ‘Cinco De Jimi Cup.’
And they asked yours truly to come help cover the event.
My first question – since I’ve never really truly been to the heart of Mexico – was in regard to safety. Now maybe I’ve heard too many stories and read too much negative press about the drugs and violence, but after some reassurance from a good friend that visits Mexico often for school (thank you Lana), along with some correspondence from the public relations team wanting to send me down there, I felt comfortable accepting the trip. It’s probably too late, but to make a long story short, after arriving at the airport in Guadalajara, I immediately began taking countless pictures…shamelessly.
I told Humberto, my driver who is always smiling (who, by the way, is as charming as anyone just by the way he speaks English. He kind of reminds you of Ron Burgundy’s restaurant pal, Tino, in ‘Anchorman.’) that I would be taking pictures for mom – when really they were for myself as well.
Nonetheless, here are some very benign pictures of the trip from the airport to the hotel – just to prove that Guadalajara doesn’t look like Gotham City over-run by drug lords. You’re welcome, mom.
After settling in we were all rounded up for dinner and taken to what had to have been one of the top restaurants in the city; a restaurant aptly named LA Tequila. While waiting for our food – over beverages – (it was quickly becoming apparent that Tequila would be the drink of choice for all), I made friends with a girl named Foster, who played golf for N.C. State, her associate Jonathan, and a very funny and outspoken fella from El Jimador named Mark.
Although Mark’s joke in reference to ordering the Chihuahua was hilarious (his pork shank was literally the size of a miniature Doberman Pinscher), it was from across the room where I heard all the hysterical commotion.
I hear soccer legend Alexi Lalas shout “That’s Buffalo guy! Stand up Buffalo!”
Mark quickly explains to me that one of the contestants had been talking ‘smack’ to soccer great Tony Meola via Twitter in the days leading up to the ‘Cinco De Jimi Cup.’
After some investigating, the aggressor in question was Buffalo native Jake Szopinski. Jake has an American flag tattoo on his lower right leg, an Arsenal –his favorite soccer team – tattoo on his inner arm, and is as outspoken and eccentric, yet funny, as anyone.
“I was doing some research…and I was like wait, he bailed on my home town. So I wanted to call him out,” said Szopinski.
Turns out, Tony used to play in-door soccer for a pro team in Buffalo in the early 90’s. He left the team before the season was over to take a role in the Broadway production of ‘Tony and Tina’s Wedding.’ Very interesting stuff; soccer player turns Broadway star, then goes back to soccer.
The only ammunition Tony needed in his rebuttal was Jake’s Twitter avatar; a picture that will haunt you forever.
(Jake's Twitter picture is actually Lemmy from Motorhead.)
Upon seeing Jake’s Twit-pic, you can imagine the mockery that ensued. Lalas later told me “I’ve been on twitter for a long time. And you better have a thick skin…I like the fact it got Tony riled all up.”
Not only did the picture scare the wits out of Tony, but the comments made by Jake also made him think twice about how to approach the upcoming competition.
The rapport was building, the jokes were flowing – along with the Tequila – and it was just the beginning to an eye-opening trip.
And as far as the donkey goes, well, you’ll hear all about that on day two of my journey.
Check back to the CraveOnline Sports page on Friday to read day 2 of Josh's journey.
Josh is the editor for CraveOnline Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @JHelmuth or subscribe at Facebook.com/CraveOnlineSports.