Americans could invade . . . rugby, cricket

I've come to accept the fact that as an American living abroad, I'm a walking, interactive inspiration for an insult.

It comes with the accent. And it's okay. We Americans, due to our cosmically-sized obesity epidemic, have thick skin.

Most of the insults hurled in my direction are of the good-natured, piss-takey variety.

"How many countries did you invade today?" the barista at my favourite coffee shop will ask.

"Hey, your coke-snorting, alcoholic, born-again, redneck president is a disgrace," says my bank teller.

"Your foreign policy in the Middle East and refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol has cast a bloody pall over the legacy and leadership of the United States in the 21st century," a seven-year-old girl once quipped to me while waiting in a queue at Countdown.

One time, my former flatmate, a Kiwi doctor, told me during a particularly long lull of conversation while driving through Middlemarch, "You deserved 9/11 and frankly the country's `what's-wrong-with-us' reaction was the height of arrogance and the confirmation of American ignorance."

He was a sweet guy.

Now, I take most of this in stride and chalk up the country's poor ability to strike up an amenable conversation to the fact New Zealanders are marooned on some sort of birthmark of the world's rear-end.

However, I can't stomach the repetitious ribbing I receive over the "sissy-ness" of American football players needing protective pads (rugby players don't) and baseball players needing gloves (cricketers don't, with the exception of the wicket-keepers).

Say what you will about the spoiled American professional athlete, when game time comes, they're as hard as any.

Like the other inane comments shot in my direction, I don't put much thought into the conclusion that American football and baseball players are soft.

I do wonder how these players would translate into rugby and cricket.

There have been rumours and insinuations of rugby players and cricketers shifting to American sports.

When I was a lowly intern at the Boston Globe, I had to deal with such a rumour.

In April 2005, I answered a call at the sports department that went something like this:"Hello, Boston Globe sports department, future Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Zach speaking."

"Um. Yes, I'm calling from Channel 9 news in Australia. We've heard this rumour that the Boston Red Sox are trying to sign Adam Gilchrist to play baseball. Have you reported this?"

"What's an Adam Gilchrist?"

"We would like to talk to your senior baseball writer, this is a hot topic here."

I walked over to my editor, told him the query.

The problem was, our senior baseball writer, and practically all of our qualified staff was in New York for the weekend covering the season-opening Yankees-Red Sox series.

My editor told me there was a better chance of getting a one-on-one brunch with Jesus on a Sunday morning than there was getting one of our venerable writers on the phone with an Australian television station.

I went back to the phone, told my Aussie compatriot that he was out of luck. Nobody was here to talk.

Five minutes later, the phone rang again. Same question. Same annoying accent. Same response from editor.

Every few hours or so, the calls would come. This went on for three days.

Finally, my boss said, "you take care of it."

The next phone call came from a radio station.

"We need to talk to your senior baseball writer."

"Speaking," I happily replied.

And, after being announced as "Zach Hosseini, senior baseball writer for the Boston Globe", I went on the air to explain to the morning-time show that no, the Red Sox would probably have no interest in Gilchrist as a real major leaguer and that this was probably a stunt to raise the profile of the Red Sox in a market they were beginning to scout.

They were quite impressed by the acumen of the senior baseball writer for the Boston Globe.

So was I.

At the time, Fox Sports quoted Jon Deeble, Red Sox scout and Australian: "We expressed interest in him and we think he has a lot of potential, and the club has tapes of him batting."

"Boston has a payroll of $160 million a year and it's something worth having a look at."

Of course, I was right.

Nothing ever came to fruition with Gilchrist and the Sox, and lo and behold, Boston did raise its profile in Australia and have signed some intriguing Aussie prospects.

Enough with the anecdotes of self-congratulations.

Americans could make the switch to cricket and rugby, despite no pads or gloves.

For baseball players, the toughest transition would be hitting off the bounce and learning the technical aspects of defensive batting in cricket.

Here's my list of top baseball-cricket transitions:

Opening batsman: Derek Jeter, shortstop, New York Yankees.

While his skills are diminishing as a baseball player, Jeter has also been an example of cool under pressure as a batter and fielder and has show immense discipline and technique as a hitter.

Though I'm obligated to hate his guts because he is a Yankee, I secretly took joy rooting for him when he played for the USA in the World Baseball Classic.

Number three and four batsmen: Chase Utley, second baseman, Philadelphia Phillies; Alex Rodriguez, third baseman, New York Yankees.

With apologies to David Ortiz, Albert Pujols and other big boppers around the league, Utley and A-Rod get the call not only because of their hitting ability, but also their athleticism.

The worse thing imaginable would be watching Ortiz field. Think of a taller, rounder, happier and less-mobile Jesse Ryder.

Utley is an immense young talent, showing atypical power and patience from a second baseman.

A-Rod is rumoured to be dating Madonna and has blue lips. 'Nuff said.

Lower middle order batsman: Vladimir Guerrero, rightfielder, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

"Vlad the Impaler", as he is known, uncorks some of the most powerful, and explosive swings in baseball and often swings wildly from the heels.

With quick wrists and great eye-hand co-ordination Guerrero hits "junk", or pitches in the dirt quite often. A cricket switch could make sense.

Wicket-keeper: Joe Mauer, catcher, Minnesota Twins.

Mauer, though just 25, is lauded for his maturity and professionalism when handling the Twins' young pitching staff.

He hasn't shown great power as a hitter, but possesses great patience and regularly makes contact.

Pace bowler: Jonathan Papelbon, relief pitcher, Boston Red Sox.

Papelbon, the Red Sox closer, is probably insane, is as close to a John Belushi as you'll find in a professional athlete, and throws gas.

At this point, he is probably the most feared closer in baseball and his on-mound demeanor is as fierce as his fastball/splitter repetoire is lively.

Spin bowler: Justin Duchscherer, relief pitcher, Oakland As.

Besides having a great name to try and pronounce when you're drunk, Duchscherer has an array of off-speed pitches and has carved out a nice career for himself on guile and location.

American All-Yanks rugby team

Props: Logan Mankins, New England Patriots; Jamal Williams, San Diego Chargers

Hooker: Vince Young, Tennessee Titans.

Lock: Ben Watson, New England Patriots; Terrell Owens, Dallas Cowboys

Loose forwards: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings; LaDanian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers; Champ Bailey, Denver Broncos

Halfback: Bob Sanders, Indianapolis Colts.

First five-eighth: Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers

Second five-eighth: Joseph Addai, Indianapolis Colts

Centre: Marion Barber, Dallas Cowboys

Winger: Wes Welker, New England Patriots; Devin Hester, Chicago Bears

Fullback: Ed Reed, Baltimore Ravens.

Not bad

I'd probably have L.T at half back,
Shawn Merriman, Bryan Urlacher, and Adrian Peterson flankers and number 8.