23 May 2012

Sitting with Mr. Jazic

I planned to post about our May 19 broadcast, which I was really pleased with, but instead I took a couple of days’ vacation at my parents’ house in North Jersey. We went to the Red Bulls-Chivas USA game tonight, and I want to tell you about our seats. Or, more accurately, the people sitting near our seats.

We were fortunate enough to be guests of the Red Bulls on this night, enjoying seats in the lower level. As I informed my parents of the various storylines in the game: Juan Pablo Ángel’s history with the club, Thierry Henry’s pedigree, Rafa Marquez’s reputation, and the recent trade, I could tell the gentleman in front of me was listening in. As the game went on, it became clear he and his wife were emotionally invested in Chivas USA for a pretty good reason.

After a hilarious visit to adjacent seats from some of Juan Agudelo’s family, still getting used to Chivas USA colors, I guessed the original couple in front of us was Dan Kennedy’s parents, because they seemed so focused on the defense. But after Chivas scored in the second half, the man stood up to cheer and encourage the Chivas players celebrating right in front of us, then turned around and apologized by explaining his connection to the team: They were actually the parents of Chivas left back Ante Jazic.

As the second half continued, Mr. Jazic talked to us a bit, and it provided a really different perspective than you typically get. Sitting with a player’s parents, every play by that individual is magnified. The parents perk up, raise their camera if they're into photography, and stop everything else to watch the play. Take the focus you would have watching an American playing in Europe or a player from your alma mater making his debut. Then multiply that by a few million hours of parenting. That gives you a bit of an idea. Ante Jazic is 36 years old, his father told us more than once, and he has played hundreds of games in more than a dozen countries. Yet for this fairly average, regular-season, mid-week game, Mr. Jazic was still lifting up out of his seat with excitement when Ante had a chance to cross from the left, and he was crestfallen when Dane Richards snuck behind Ante to set up New York’s tying goal.

Having called several games that included Jazic over the years, I could not resist asking Mr. Jazic how the family name should be pronounced. After all, it looks and sounds Serbo-Croatian, but the pronunciation has always been listed as a very North American-sounding ‘JAZZ-ick’ in every pronunciation guide I’ve seen. A Canadian-Croatian, Mr. Jazic quickly confirmed that it should be pronounced ‘YAH-zich,’ but after all this time in Canada, he said it is OK to say ‘JAZZ-ick.’ Still, having heard it directly from Ante’s father’s mouth, I think I’m going to go with ‘YAH-zich’ when Dallas plays Chivas USA in October.

Throughout the second half, Mr. Jazic shared some other good tidbits concerning the pressure-packed environment of Ante’s early days at famed Hajduk Split in Croatia and told us a bit about his career with the Canadian national team. But most of all, he rooted for Chivas to pull out the result. On the field, his son recovered well from the goal, using his experience and positioning to limit the speedy Richards the rest of the way. He even made a key goal-line clearance in the 83rd minute. In the stands, Mr. Jazic celebrated the Chivas goal and rooted for the final whistle. It brought joy and relief, another positive result for his son.

Players are players, and we judge them on their attributes and performances. But they all have families and support systems, traveling the country or staying online late to watch their sons with pride. I was glad to see that pride first-hand on Wednesday, and one has to admire those contributing to the often untold back stories throughout Major League Soccer.

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