Soccer is indeed king in Barcelona

Back from celebrating my birthday during a week’s vacation in sunny Barcelona, and a few thoughts/notes as we head into the hectic 72-day stretch known as the spring sports season:

• Yes, Spain is very, very big into soccer (or, as they call it, “fútbol”). It has six channels on television solely devoted to the sport; you can’t turn your head without seeing a fútbol billboard or advertisement, someone wearing fútbol apparel, or a kid kicking a ball, and the country is home to two of the three most valuable sports teams in the world, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, which are both valued at slightly over $3.5 billion.

Speaking of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, I was told there’s no bigger sports rivalry in the world, and yes, New England, that means Red Sox-Yankees. Barcelonians treat every match between the two longtime rivals as if it’s life or death. The city is pretty much shut down the way towns in Texas close shop on Friday nights for high school football, and if you aren’t paying attention to the match, but you have your windows open, that roar you’ll hear is either a goal scored by “Barca” or one scored by Real Madrid.

While in downtown Barcelona, I couldn’t help but notice all the souvenir shops devoted to FC Barcelona. There’s almost one on every block, with player names like Messi, Suarez, and Neymar Jr. displayed in the windows. While the team colors are red and blue, the alternative jersey they sell is a very cool-looking bright teal. And if you’re brave enough to shop for a Real Madrid jersey, you’ll have no problem finding a good deal on the bargain rack. (My wife gave me a Messi replica jersey for my birthday – well before his suspension came down!)

• During the winter season, it seemed like I received a email every other week from Bentley University regarding former Smithfield High track and field star Stephanie Mattson and how well she was doing with the Falcons’ indoor squad. This spring, it’s Simmons College flooding my email box with emails about former Cumberland High ace softball pitcher Juliet Nelson.

The 2014 graduate of Cumberland High, who is the only active player from the Clippers’ 2011 state championship team, recently combined on a no-hitter by pitching the first three innings of her team’s 11-0 victory over Wentworth Institute of Technology on Wednesday night. Interesting stat: Nelson is 4-2 this season, and in the games she did not pitch, Simmons is 0-5.

• Local high school baseball fans anxious to see defending Div. II favorite Ponaganset battle neighboring Scituate will have a long drive awaiting them if they plan to do so. Both teams will face each other at the Baseball Hall of Fame’s historic Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, N.Y. on Friday, April 21, at 4 p.m. But don’t worry, it’s a non-league game; the two teams meet for real on Saturday, May 20, at the Spartans’ Manning Field.

• Former Lincoln Little League coach Frank Kelly, who quietly announced his retirement from coaching during this past offseason, is back in the dugout this spring as the Lincoln Middle School baseball coach.

• Another name that’s very familiar to the Lincoln sports scene, former LHS All-State softball pitcher Alyssa McCoart, is making her debut as a high school coach, as she will be heading the Shea High program this spring. McCoart graduated from Lincoln in 2011 and continued her softball career at D-I Central Connecticut State University.

• Julie Reddy, a 2013 graduate of Smithfield High who helped lead the girls’ tennis team to three straight D-II champions, has also entered the coaching ranks after concluding a tennis career last fall at Rhode Island College that was filled with Little East Conference honors. She will be the head coach of the Sentinels’ boys’ tennis team this spring.

• Bad news for those baseball fans who were looking to attend the Pawtucket Red Sox’s “Touch of Spring” Open House on Saturday. Because of the inclement weather forecast for that day, the event has been postponed until next Saturday, April 8, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Good news? Former Boston Red Sox pitcher Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd is still expected to be on hand to meet and greet fans.

• Because of the Capron Road closure in Smithfield, the Smithfield Lions will be postponing its 3rd annual Conquer the Hill road race, which was schedule for this May. The race is the shortest in New England, but it’s not an easy one – the three-fourths of a mile course is all uphill. The race will come back next spring, but before then, the Lions will hold their annual 5K on Sunday, Sept. 24, at Smithfield High.


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