Tuesday, May 8, 2012
In-depth: Johan's soccer pitch
By Adam Rubin
As the New York Mets board their flight for New York after completing their six-game road trip Sunday in Miami, Johan Santana’s eyes will be glued to a soccer game -- assuming the team’s charter aircraft offers WiFi service and he can watch the match in the air via the internet.
Santana and a group of friends during the last baseball offseason bought 70 percent of the Venezuelan first-division soccer club Estudiantes de Merida.
And the team’s future is very much up in the air, according to Santana.
The regular-season finale is Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET. And, Santana explained, the club enters the last match one point out of the bottom two slots in the first-division standings. (The online standings on the team’s web site seem to reflect Estudiantes being secure in avoiding the bottom two and relegation, but Santana said he received a text from a club official saying otherwise.)
The bottom two teams are relegated to the second division next season. It is the same system that sends the lowest-finishing English Premier League teams to the equivalent of Triple-A in Europe.
Estudiantes -- which has four wins, five losses and seven draws -- has played to two consecutive scoreless ties. They play middle-of-the-pack Zamora F.C. in the final match.
Santana did not contribute to buying the club with profit in mind. In fact, Santana said, the soccer club is a nonprofit business.
But he cheered for the club while growing up and is now trying to stabilize its footing. So he is trying to add credibility. The team’s web site features a photo of Santana wearing the club’s jersey during an appearance in the baseball offseason.
The name “Estudiantes” means “Students” in English, although Santana said the club is unaffiliated with the town’s university.
“When I grew up, I watched this team for many, many years,” Santana said. “And it’s always good trying to help. It’s more about helping than anything. This is a nonprofit organization. So we’re trying to participate, trying to help, trying to find sponsors, trying to get this team on the right track. It’s been hurting for years. And now we’re trying to see if we can put things together. But definitely I’m a big soccer fan.”
Santana, as those who follow him on Twitter can attest, is a big soccer fan. He is hoping Venezuela can qualify for its first World Cup.
“I played as I grew up,” Santana said. “But I never had a chance to play professionally. Not even close. These guys are amazing what they do.”
“I always played as a forward, because it was kind of tough for me to go back and defend,” Santana said. “I always liked to score goals and have fun attacking.”
A southpaw on the baseball field, Santana revealed he kicked with his right foot when he played soccer. At least that’s true as far as he can recall.
“It’s funny, because I played with my right foot,” Santana said. “But, at this point, I don’t know.
“I’m a big soccer fan,” Santana said. “I follow my national team in Venezuela. They’re doing pretty good. I’m hoping that for the first time ever they make it to the World Cup.”
“In depth” appears Tuesdays during the regular season