From Maracana to Coliseum
Issue #35, November 1997
Lil Bartholo was born and raised in Brazil. She moved to the United States in the early 50s and received a BS in biology before attending the Sorbonne and studying neurodiagnostics. She went back to Brazil in the 70s, and finally returned to the U.S. for good in 1979. A lifelong sports fan, she has been a season-ticket holder for the Oakland Athletics baseball team since 1980.
I grew up going to soccer matches at the Flamengo Futebol Clube, a famous soccer club in Rio. My family has a lifetime membership with the Flamengo (you are born into it). Soccer clubs in Rio are like country clubs, but they are also the home of the professional teams that play in regional championships. The clubs have many social functions for their members, but the main events are the soccer matches.
Children and adults play and follow soccer on a daily basis, all year round. The rich and the poor, the young and the old. The entire country breathes, eats, sleeps with soccer. All year round.
I studied in a boarding school, but I was home for the summer of 1950. I was seven years old and remember the big excitement of the 1950 World Cup, which was the most important event that Brazil ever had. They have never hosted a World Cup again.
During that entire summer I remember sitting next to my "vovo" (grandfather), listening to the games on the radio. There was no TV and I had never been to a World Cup soccer game. I don't recall much else, except going to Maracana with my brother to the final match of Brazil/Uruguay. My uncle got us all seats with the other big shots from the Flamengo Club. Some of what I remember may have been "added" as years went on, and it is difficult to really know what is the memory of a 7-year-old child or what I heard and felt in subsequent years.
The 1950 World Cup in Brazil was the fourth such competition, and the first after a twelve-year absence due to World War II. Uruguay, winners of the first World Cup in 1930, were large underdogs to the host team from Brazil. The final match of the tournament took place at the Maracana, and was attended by more than 200,000 people.
Maracana was built for the 1950 World Cup. It was at that time the biggest soccer stadium in the world, with a capacity of more than 160,000. It was huge and round and the field was beautiful.
That day, the stadium was filled to capacity and then some. There were people standing everywhere, even on the roof. The excitement was hard to describe. Brazil needed only a tie against Uruguay and they would be the champions of the first World Cup hosted in Rio.
I don't recall much about the game, other than hearing the crowd singing a well-known chant, "ai, ai, ai ai, esta chegando a hora," meaning "the time is coming." Brazil was ahead by one goal to nothing in the second half. The crowd started yelling "Ole!" everytime a Brazilian defensive player would pass the ball to another, while the Uruguayans would try to get the ball away to initate an attack.
Then it happened. One player did get the ball and quickly initiated a counter-attack and a goal was scored. The game was tied. The cheers started to grow, screaming to the Brazilian team to attack and score another goal. I remember my uncle saying "No problem. A tie will do it. Just close up the goal. The game is almost over. No problem."
The crowd was throwing confetti and chanting and cheering and everyone was standing, just waiting for the final whistle to blow. Then, out of nowhere, Uruguay got the ball and scored. A second later, the game was over. The Brazilian players didn't even get a chance to try an attack.
The entire stadium was silent. I looked around and all I saw was grown men crying and some just sitting with their hands holding their heads. No one even dared to look at each other. I just looked around and felt like crying and I felt scared. I didn't know anything could cause such grief. I remember shaking and trying to stop shaking and holding my brother's hand real tight.
On the way home, I looked out the window of the car and I saw flags being burned and people throwing bottles. My uncle got us home quickly and safely. My vovo was there waiting and gave me and my brother a big hug and took us to bed.
I remember quite well looking at his face to see if he was crying. He was not crying, but his nose and his eyes were red.
I don't even remember names of players, nor the times the goals were scored. What really remains in my memory is the intense emotion and despair that surrounded me that day. In my entire life, I have never experienced such an intense feeling of loss and shock. I didn't really feel it myself. I just remember feeling scared and sad.
Lil spent most of the following decade in the United States, getting her biology degree in Vermont.
I had finished college in the States in Vermont, and was thinking of entering med school, possibly in Brazil or France. I went to Brazil to spend some time with family and got involved with a huge political movement. The social injustice and poverty in Brazil was shocking to me, after having lived and enjoyed life in the United States with all its wonderful college atmosphere. I was totally unaware of what was going on in Brazil until my arrival.
In 1964, the leftist movement that had the backing of intellectuals and the Catholic church was crushed and a military dictatorship took hold for the next 10 years. I had met and fallen in love with a very amazing, intelligent and wonderful man, Raphael. He was an activist and lived very dangerously. He was involved in the "student union" that was our meeting place.
We were all bracing for the coup. A group of right-wing politicians were secretly conspiring to oust socialist President Joao Goulart from power. They had the backing of the Brazilian armed forces. Washington applauded the military intervention and had its naval forces under alert, but they were not needed.
So on March 31, 1964, the military struck quickly, the President fled to France and the leftist movement crumbled in disarray. There was no opposition. They crushed the unions, allowed no strikes and "put people away" without batting an eye.
By 1969, the human-rights situation in Brazil had deteriorated badly. Most of the intellectuals who had dared to speak out had to leave the country, or risk "disappearing" forever. Political prisoners were placed in jails with regular criminals. Tortures and beatings were common practices.
I left to continue my studies in Paris and so did Raphael. We married and we spent our time just talking about what had happened. We did nothing. We could do nothing but talk. We would meet at coffee shops with other "Brazilian exiles" and it was a very bittersweet time for all of us. There I met Vinicius de Moraes, the poet and ex-ambassador that led the intellectual movement in Paris. I met the now-president of Brazil, a wonderful and cultured man, a socialist, Henrique Cardozo.
At the time, there was a huge student movement in Paris. The students were destroying the "myth of the professor." The unquestioned word. The useless and false information that was fed to us without questions. I had joined this movement too, but I was also pregnant. Motherhood changed my life.
I knew that I had to take responsibility and could not continue the reckless and bohemian style I had lived till then. So I took my son and I came to the United States.
By 1979, as part of an amnesty that permitted political exiles to return to the country, the military regime made certain that there would be no investigations and no accounting for the barbarities that took place. No trials, no probes. Just silence and impunity.
Raphael still lives in Brazil, in the north. I still love him. The last time I saw him was at the beginning of this year. He was in Rio with his friends, Brazilian song writers and poets. They are now embracing the cause of the "Sem Terra," the poor people that have no place to live because of the landowners who took large portions of land and don't allow settlers there. He still loves me too. But it's not enough for either of us to give up our independent lives. Some of his friends are Brazilian composers like Chico Buarque de Holland, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso and others. I had the most wonderful time when I spent a week with them earlier this year, but my life is here now.
I don't know if you ever saw the movie The Way We Were. My life was very much like that, only one generation later. I feel the frustation and the bitterness of having witnessed so much injustice and so much unfairness, without really having done nothing but talk about it. And here I am, still talking about it.
The Oakland A's have been one of the most successful baseball teams in America since coming to the Bay Area from Kansas City in 1968, winning three consecutive World Series from 1972-1974, and a fourth in 1989. They have recently fallen on hard times. Lil is one of their most outspoken and passionate fans, as anyone can attest who has attended games with her at the Oakland Coliseum or argued with her in online forums.
Baseball. Take away everything from me. And I mean everything. But leave baseball in my life.
I was 10 when I met baseball. I had heard about it, but I had never seen it nor knew anyone that had ever played it. There was no baseball in Brazil.
When I came to Long Island, I met and started a wonderful friendship with a schoolmate and her family. They had moved to Long Island from Brooklyn and were, like myself, strangers in town. They introduced me to the Brooklyn Dodgers. I spent weekends with them in Brooklyn during baseball season and went to as many games as they were willing to take me.
Later, when I was in Paris, whenever I would meet an American student I would always find a way to steer the conversation towards baseball. I never found an American that had the interest in baseball that I had. In fact, they found it very strange that I would be asking baseball questions in the intellectual and political setting we lived in.
Baseball to me became America and America became baseball. To this day, it still is. They say that in order to be a real baseball fan, you have to have played the game or you have to be the parent of someone that played the game. I think you have to fall in love with it when you're a child. As a child, you play it and you watch the real players and you play it in your dreams.
To me, baseball is more than that. I grew to love America (and its people) in a baseball park. People of all walks of life, sitting together and talking, laughing and crying. No sense of time. No hurry.
To this day, I'm always sorry when a game ends.
Coming from a country of great social disparity, I was amazed to find so much integration at the ballpark. Interesting that I had found the same thing in Brazil, at the soccer stadiums. The integration of fans.
This country was going through all the civil rights struggles, and baseball was at the forefront of integration. Not only with Jackie Robinson, but also in the stands, among the fans. I remember the love the fans in Brooklyn had for Jackie. And how they cried when he was traded.
I always felt that baseball is America at its best.
Between 1953 and 1958, I watched the best players who ever played the game. I watched Campanella and Yogi and I watched the greatest ballplayer that ever played the game in my opinion, Willie Mays. I watched him hit his homeruns against my Dodgers, and I hated him for it, but I was always in awe of him. I watched Jackie steal home in a World Series game in 1955, even though the Dodgers lost the game. Yogi was the catcher for the Yankees.
Those things you never forget.
When I moved to California with my 10-year-old son, I introduced him to baseball. He was born in Brazil and I brought him to the States at the same age I had arrived. He also learned to love America through baseball. What better way to become an American than to learn English and baseball at the same time? So I bought him a mitt and a bat and enrolled him in Little League. I taught him English and baseball. He fell in love with the game, just as I had done. I brought him to see the Oakland A's, simply because I could not bring myself to root for the hated Giants of my childhood. I outgrew being a Dodger fan, thank goodness. But I could not bring myself to love the Giants that had broken my heart so many times when I was a kid. But I respect the Giants and the Yankees and I respect the players.
Life took me all over the world. To Europe and back to Brazil and back to the United States. But I never lost track of what was going on in baseball. While in Europe and in Brazil, checking the box scores was almost an obsession for me. Never could my day end during baseball season, without first finding out what teams did and how players were doing, no matter what part of the world I was in at the time.
I will always love and respect this game that goes on slowly, with exciting moments and plays that stay in your memory forever. It takes a special breed of people to love baseball. Maybe that's why I love the United States so much. It is here that the game is played and loved the most.
I love baseball with an undue passion. And what's worse, I'm not ashamed to admit it.
Lil Bartholo is an independent neurodiagnostician. You can find her in section 119 at the Oakland Coliseum during baseball season. Or, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.