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Patrick Reusse

Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968.

Reusse: Proud and loud, Croatian Hall draws a crowd for World Cup final

The United States was among the teams in the field for seven consecutive World Cups, before suffering a loss to Trinidad and Tobago in the final match of regional qualifying for 2018.

Truth here: The absence of the Yanks had zero impact on my level of intrigue over the World Cup that concluded in Russia on Sunday. In fact, it might have made the drama more interesting, since what attracts my interest is the nationalistic fervor.

There is more for-God-and-country emotion with the followers of this quadrennial sports theater than you find combined in the other two mammoth events, the Winter and the Summer Olympics.

We’re so late to soccer and so absent of real tradition that even when the U.S. has gotten a few points and advanced out of group play, it always seemed that 90 percent of the Yanks were simply acting as if they were delirious with joy.

Americans as a whole will not be full investors until we would be happier to have the USA team win the World Cup than to have the home state’s favorite NFL team win a Lombardi Trophy. Guaranteed, the patrons of Manchester City would have traded the dominance displayed on the cruise to the 2017-18 Premier League title for an England victory over Croatia in the World Cup semifinals last Wednesday.

Also guaranteed, dang near all of us here on the prairie wouldn’t give up Case Keenum-to-Stefon Diggs for a long run by the United States in the World Cup.

Frankly, what would be more compelling, more mind-blowing, more World Cup at its best: Croatia, an ancient kingdom reborn in 1991 with a population of 4.17 million, or the United States, a country of untold advantages with a population of 325.7 million, playing in the final?

More truth: If somehow the Yanks had managed to get by the combined forces of Trinidadians and Tobagonians and made it to this World Cup, and then made a run all the way to the final, I would have watched from the TV den — occasionally clicking over to see if the Serbian, Djokovic, was going to win at Wimbledon (which he did).

The fact it was Croatia as the opponent for France left a more-appealing option: a visit to Croatian Hall (Hrvatski Dom) in South St. Paul to check on what would be the level of enthusiasm for this fantastic occurrence.

This meeting, eating and drinking hall was established in 1919 by the Croatians that had joined the Slavic immigration to work in the stockyards and processing plants of South St. Paul. There was also a Serbian Hall right down the street, but that operation ceased a number of years ago.

“The Cro’’ remains a much-loved gathering place for locals, even a decade after the stockyards ended 122 years of operation in this wonderful, blue-collar burg. It was called by many an “Iron Range city attached to the Twin Cities,’’ and that was true, all the way to its devotion for hockey.

I had called The Cro for a radio hit on Wednesday afternoon, after Croatia had rallied for a 2-1 win over England, and received a scouting report on what were the plans for Sunday.

Tom, the manager, said there would be sarma (cabbage rolls) and lamb, and also an ample supply of Slivovitz.

I had not heard of the latter, although I did once agree to speak at a torsk-eating club in St. Paul, and wound up being heckled unmercifully by Norwegians after they were served the traditional Aquavit.

“I assume Slivovitz is the Croatian equivalent of Aquavit,’’ I said to Tom.

Tom said: “It’s a high-proof plum brandy. Basically, it’s diesel fuel.’’

The contest was scheduled for 10 a.m., Twin Cities time. One great thing about international soccer: When it is announced for a 10 a.m. start, the ball is put in play at 10 a.m.

I arrived 40 minutes early, and was delighted to see a parking lot crowded with vehicles. There were also several people with the red-checked, Purina-style jerseys featured by Croatia in front of The Cro, enjoying heaters. It is a sad commentary on what’s become of this country when even on a morning that Croatia is playing to win the World Cup, Croatian fans and/or descendants still have to go outside to have a cigarette.

There were 100 people downstairs in the bar (including Buzz Schneider,* a man familiar with frenzy over an international sporting event), where the sarma and lamb was almost ready to be served, and another 80upstairs in the party hall watching on the larger TV.

Manny Hill, one of my radio partners, was do to arrive shortly — and from what I could see, that was going to make him the Jackie Robinson of watching Croatia play for the World Cup in Cro Hall.

“Remember Ron Harper, the NBA player?’’ a Cro Hall historian said. “A friend brought him in one night. First thing he did was buy shots for the 30 people at the bar.

“Most popular guy in town right then. He was leaving about midnight and said, ‘Croatian … like Toni Kukoc.’ We said, ‘Yeah, of course,’ so Harper called Kukoc and we all talked to Toni on the phone.’’

A few minutes later, I was talking to another Cro Hall booster and asked if he had a fondness for Slivovitz. He laughed and said:

“Number of years ago, I came in and ordered a shot. The manager said, ‘I’m not stocking it anymore. People get a couple of shots in them and they either throw up, or fight, or both.’ ‘’

The game was about to start and I went upstairs for the larger TV. I was talking to locals at the bar and was introduced to a young lady, Tate, 8, who lives near Zagreb in Croatia and is visiting an aunt and uncle with her older brother Jack, 10.

 I said, ‘’You probably didn’t know Croatia had a soccer team until two weeks ago,’’ and, boom, Tate fired back: “I’ve known we had a soccer team since I was 2.’’

She was witty and fun. Most everyone was having fun on Sunday, even as France broke a 1-1 tie on a penalty kick, and then an own goal contributed to Croatia’s eventual 4-2 loss.

The penalty kick came after a review of a hand ball. There were some American fans of Croatia expressing doubt that it was a hand ball.

I asked Tate, the 8-year-old from the homeland: “Was it a hand ball?’’

She thought and said: “Yes, I think it was.’’

A couple of minutes later, I said to her uncle: “Tate’s quite a sporting person, conceding the penalty kick was deserved.’’

He laughed and said: “Yes, although she did ask me at halftime if she could punch me in the stomach if Croatia loses.’’

Hey, it was the finals. A Croatia devotee had to have a plan for taking out frustrations.

(*Buzz Schneider was part of the Miracle on Ice. If you didn't know that, shame on you.)
 

When impatience is among your flaws, don't take the train to Chicago

There was a time at the start of the 1970s when I was among the nation’s youngest and most-unqualified sports editors at the St. Paul Pioneer Press. There was a boss, an executive sports editor, a hearty and well-met fellow who also wasn’t much to write home about as an administrator.

One of the old Irishman working for the afternoon Dispatch was overheard by a friend to suggest that the Reusse kid seemed to be a “live and let live kind of a guy.’’

How right he was. All these decades later, I’m still a sweetheart, and yet have a quality of self-awareness that allows me to detect a few minor flaws.

One of those would be impatience. For instance: If we’re driving along and you’re in front of me, and there’s a chance for both of us to make a green/yellow light, and you slow down to make sure that doesn’t happen …

Well, I’m not the kind of guy to make obscene signals, for that could lead to violence, but I will let out a string of invectives inside my vehicle cursing you and all your relatives, living or dead.

This is particularly true when visiting Florida during baseball’s version of spring, where drivers EVEN older than me consistently will slow down to make sure they miss the light, rather than vice versa.

Anyway, patience … not one of my many strong points.

Which has me wondering why this took place last week:

The Star Tribune wanted a couple of columns on the atmosphere surrounding the Twins’ first visit to Wrigley Field in nine years. Mrs. Reusse agreed to join me on the trip to Chicago.

And on Tuesday night, out of nowhere, I had the idea of taking the train from St. Paul to Chicago on Thursday. The bride’s enthusiasm was minimal, but she said, “OK, if that’s what you want to do.’’

I checked on Wednesday, there was availability and I went ahead and purchased a pair of round-trip tickets. What I should have done instead on Wednesday was to schedule an emergency brain scan.

You know how people are always saying, ‘"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,’’ as if they have come with something new?

I have a definition that just might be new: “The definition of insanity is the impatient man who decides to take the train from St. Paul to Chicago when he could get there in under an hour for a similar amount of money on a commercial jet-powered airplane.’’

What happened was that impulsiveness defeated impatience in my aging brain. As I pointed on Twitter during Thursday’s ordeal, I arrived at the St. Paul Union Depot thinking the train scene in “North by Northwest’’ and wound up with the train scene from “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.’’

There’s a whole Twitter community out there. Before hitting purchase on the Amtrak site, why didn’t I send out a message: “Anybody ever take the train from St. Paul to Chicago? I’m thinking about it.’’

Pat Fischer could have alerted me to his family ordeal on a passenger train. Jan Unstad could have told me of the friend who was 27 hours late getting to Portland. And @msp_traffic could have told me, “The only way to survive is to drink, and you don’t drink, so you’ll hate it,’’ as he did when I told him about this trek at work on Wednesday.

It was too late with all the warnings, of course, because the tickets had been purchased.

We arrived more than an hour early at the depot for the 8 a.m. departure. We were soon informed the train now was scheduled to arrive at 8:35 a.m.

I wandered the terminal for a while. There was a lonely fellow running a shoe stand. My shoes were in need of a tuneup.

“Train late,’’ he asked.

“Yes,’’ I said.

“It’s late every day,’’ he said.

“Every day?’’ I said.

“Every day,’’ he said.

You know that uncomfortable feeling you get when you’ve talked your wife into going to a new restaurant, or to a movie not in her wheelhouse, and you can tell right away it’s going to be a disaster?

You know what’s worse? Having talked your wife into taking an 8-hour train ride to Chicago, and knowing it’s going to be a disaster and the train isn’t even within 100 miles of the station as of yet.

I could go on. The 8 a.m. train left at 10 a.m. Fifteen minutes later, my wife put down her Kindle for a moment and asked, “It’s a train. There’s a track. Why does it move so slowly?’’

There’s also 10 minutes of river scenery followed by hours of brush and the delipidated areas of towns. They don’t put train tracks in the nice parts of towns. I should have remembered that.

It had to be 3:30, maybe 4 o’clock, when the Amtrak train with 121 passengers – dang near all Twins fans – stopped in the middle of nowhere. The previous town had been Oconomowoc, but we were now in brush.

There could have been a family of Walking Dead out there and we couldn’t have seen them.

There was an announcement that we were stopped to allow a freight train to pass. They didn’t have the courage to announce how long this stoppage was going to take.

Forty minutes. In the middle of nowhere. Plenty of time for a few Walking Dead to break in and slaughter all of us.

After about the half-hour mark, I decided to lighten the mood and said to my wife: “We’ve done a fair amount of traveling, Sweetie. What’s the worst trip we’ve ever had?’’

She put the Kindle on her lap, stared a dagger and said: “This is it.’’

Right then, I knew we were flying home Sunday.

Which we did. The American Airlines flight was detected to have a bad tire right before we were scheduled to board. It took 20 minutes to change, we were off a half-hour late and on the ground at MSP within an hour.

(Note: We did have to take a cab to downtown St. Paul to pick up the car that was parked at the depot.)

Twenty minutes to wait for a tire change on an airplane; 40 minutes to wait for a freight train to pass … so much nothingness that you start thinking if there are daytime zombies.

It might not be a philosophy worthy of Confucius, but I can guarantee these as words to live by:

Impatient Man Does Not Take Train.