Walking On Cloud Nine

Earlier this fall, a friend gave me tickets to the Earthquakes vs. Seattle Sounders game. He also told me it was a reunion day for former Quakes. I was thinking of all former MLS players. To my joy, it was of the original San Jose Earthquakes of the NASL, of which my father was a part, and for which I was a ball boy during the '77-'78 season.

While driving Sunday morning to the game I was wondering if the players I had come to know and come to idolize would be there. Names from the past came racing through my head — Hewitt, Child, Demling, Liveric, Gizzi and many more. Walking around Buckshaw Stadium I was keeping out a keen eye, but there was nothing in the pre-game. I was disappointed.

At halftime, 20 to 30 gentlemen in white polos came onto the pitch. I was trying to see who I recognized, but was too far away. Then, over the public address came the names — Mike Hewitt, Paul Child, Laurie Calloway, Mark Demling, Davy Kemp, Johnny Moore. They continued to come. It was as if I went back in time to Spartan Stadium, running down the path between the juniper bushes during pregame (both as a ball boy in '77-'78 and then a Junior Team player in '83-'84).

The hair was rising on the back of my neck. I felt 12 again.

Yes, the players were older and most had graying hair (if any hair at all), but these were my heroes, my idols, my friends that I had not seen in a very long time.

After halftime I watched to see where all the white polos were sitting. They were only a section away! I wondered why I did not see them before. Then, in my mind, I realized that I had been looking for them as they were 32 years ago, not as they looked now.

I walked up to the section to look for familiar faces. The first one I saw was Johnny Moore; I went up to him and asked if he remembered me. He took a while and I said that I was a ball boy in '77; he immediately said, "Your Hanzy's son!" and gave me a hug. We sat and spoke for a while and talked about the past, and my dad. Hans was of course teaching a CYSA course that weekend and could not attend. He then started pointing out other players who he knew I would want to see.

I missed most of the second half of a good game, but this was where I wanted to be. I spoke to Archie Robistooff, Laurie Calloway, Paul Child, Manny Hernandez, Easy Perez, Art Welch and more. Some remembered me; some said they did, but I know it was a long time ago. But, they all wanted to know how my soccer turned out, and how my dad was. When I told them of my accomplishments, they all looked at me a little differently, not as the ball boy, but as someone who should be sitting among them. I felt as if all the hard work over the years was really worth it; the only other time I ever felt like that was after my first World Cup appearance.

I was still looking for two players who had influenced my life, one as a coach and one who was a 12-year-old's hero and mentor. After the game, the original Earthquakes went to what is called "Autograph Row." This is where the players sign after a game, but for this game it was a little different, featuring both the old and the new players.

After a couple moments, I saw one of my former mentors, Mark Demling. He was signing autographs so I walked up said, "Hey, coach." He looked up and all he said is, "Hey, keeper." He gave me a big hug and we talked for quite some time as he signed autographs. We talked of all the years I went to the Santa Clara Soccer School at University of Santa Clara and then the Woodside Priory.

I still had not seen my childhood idol, though, and thought maybe he had left. Suddenly, Johnny Moore called my name and said there was someone who wanted to see me.

It was Mike "do it" Hewitt of the famed "No Goal Patrol."

Walking over I felt nervous, I felt 12 again. When I reached him, he was the first to speak.

"I hear you've done pretty well in soccer," he said in his Scottish growl.

I said, "I did O.K., how are you?" We talked for some time, took some pictures and as I left he said, "Hope you're here in five years, and remember, I never made it to a World Cup."

I was walking on Cloud Nine. All my heroes were taking pictures with me and remembering the time we were together. It did not hit me until later, but my Idol was paying me a compliment with his last words about my accomplishments.

The day was growing older, and most of the players had left, but then as we were leaving we saw the Sounders boarding their bus, I noticed Kasey Keller walking toward the bus, I walked over and asked if he remembered playing together. He laughed and said, "You were the only keeper ever taller than me." He took a picture with my wife Shauna and me, and we wished him well. He again laughed and said he'd try.

For one day, everything that has been bad in my life over the last couple of years was gone. I was known as a ball boy, a teammate, and a friend. It was one of the best days in soccer since I retired as a player.