I met US Women’s National Team midfielder Tobin Heath tonight at the Seattle Reign game. My friend Jubilee ran into her down on the concourse at Memorial Stadium and we realized she’d been sitting two rows behind us for the entire first half. I snapped a photo of him and her and we began chatting a bit about soccer.
“We missed you last week…kind of,” I said of her being out on yellow cards for last week’s Portland – Seattle tilt. She laughed and said it was tough being on the sideline. The two teams play next week so she asked us if we were going to make the trip down. Both of us gave kind of noncommittal shrugs and she gave us a bit of ribbing.
“It’s a long trip just to watch your team lose.”
This time it was my turn to laugh. I gestured towards the scoreboard, a 2-1 result not in favor of the Reign. “Considering how things have gone, I have no real response.”
“It’s tough with all the injuries,” she said. “People know Jess (Fishlock) is a good player, but they don’t realize just how important she is.”
I said I was afraid I’d jinxed her by buying her jersey in the offseason and we talked a bit about Reign rookie Carson Pickett (my newest jersey) before my friend and I thanked her and left, him with a photo of the two of them and me seemingly empty handed.
A couple of my friends are big into photos and autographs. It’s a cool way to connect with a sport, with the athletes, it’s a cool way to accumulate memories. But I’ve largely resisted going after either. I’m not really sure why to be honest. Some of it is an unwillingness to bother players. It’s kind of a no-win, either they’re just coming off the field, out of their workplace, tired and sore, and perhaps frustrated depending on how the game went, or they’re as Heath was, enjoying some time to themselves.
Another is that I’m not sure it’s my way to connect with a sport. That said, I’m not sure what is. I like keeping tickets and programs and giveaways and hanging them on the wall. Proof that I was there for a given moment, a tangible callback to the adulation or the disappointment. I’m not really sure an autograph or a photo adds to that connection for me.
I’m not sure they wouldn’t either.
I do know that the conversation, the memory of meeting one of my idols (not individually, but as part of the USWNT), of getting to talk soccer with them like a couple of friends, will stick with me more than a photo or autograph ever could.
I like rooting for players that I like as people and I like Tobin Heath. If only for signing and posing for a parade of young girls and youth players and still being willing to talk soccer with a butthead like me for a few minutes after the game. They seem like such little things, but the little things are easy to pass over and I really respect someone that doesn’t.
If I’d have left without saying a word, the fact that she made so many young girls’ day would have been enough for me, but the conversation will be one I won’t ever forget.