In the hours before the Red Sox hosted the Arizona Diamondbacks at Fenway Park on Tuesday, catcher Victor Martinez was leaning forward in a chair, staring intently at a television showing Brazil's 2010 World Cup debut against North Korea.
Sporting the jersey of Ronaldhino, a Brazilian soccer star who actually didn't make the current team, Martinez was oblivious to the swarm of reporters buzzing around the clubhouse.
When Brazil scored a goal, however, Martinez made his presence felt, jumping up from the chair and screaming before running behind pal Marco Scutaro — who was currently addressing reporters on the status of a cortisone shot to his neck — and screaming some more.
Soccer, ahem, football fever had gripped Martinez. Sunday at Fenway Park allowed a few more to get involved as the club kicked off its "Football at Fenway" festivities.
Red Sox executives, players and their families were on the field, er, the pitch for a casual kick-around prior to the Sox' meeting with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The "Football at Fenway" banner was unveiled on the Green Monster, promoting the match between Celtic F.C. of Glasgow and Sporting C.P. of Lisbon, who will square off at Fenway Park on July 21.
With World Cup match playing live on the big screen, a soccer ball design mowed into shallow center field and goals set up near the Red Sox bullpen and along the left-field line (exactly where they will be for the match next month), there was little evidence of baseball being the sport of choice in Fenway.
While Martinez showed off some considerable ball skill, Scutaro took aim with a soccer ball at the batting cage set up at home plate. He, too, showed he knows what to do in a pair of soccer cleats.
"I played a lot [as a kid]," Scutaro said. "When I started playing baseball my dad was like, because my dad's from Italy, he didn't understand baseball and he was like "What the hell you doing? You gotta play soccer. I don't understand that game.'"
The Red Sox shortstop eventually abandoned soccer in favor of baseball, but not before representing his state in Venezuela at national tournaments well into his teens.
In those days, Venezuelan soccer was not as popular, Scutaro said, but the country is gaining on its rivals.
"The thing is, to make it to the World Cup, they have to play Brazil, all those teams in South America," he said. "But they're getting better."
Of course, Scutaro has an affinity for Italy, due to his father's heritage, and Spain, where his mother hails from. So he has interest in the tournament in South Africa.
It seems as if the intrigue is reaching the rest of the clubhouse, as well. Hours later, Martinez's son and David Ortiz's little boy were kicking around a soccer ball with a large audience getting involved.
Clay Buchholz, just hours away from making his 14th start of the season, was on his knees playing goalie, and Manny Delcarmen issued a yellow card to the younger Martinez.
On the television was a highlight reel of Brazil's 3-1 win over the Ivory Coast. In his corner locker, the elder Martinez smiled.
Football fever is alive at Fenway.
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