Monday, December 15, 2014

The Beez takes his leave

It began at his brother's elbow, in a small room at South Side High School with all the oxygen squeezed out of it. They were packed in like sardines that day, friends and coaches and acquaintances and family, all to see a young man put his name to a sheaf of papers decorated with helpful red-and-yellow tags reading SIGN HERE.

The young man doing the signing was Jamar Beasley, who was going off to play soccer for the New England Revolution.

The kid at his elbow, in the shadow of Jamar's bright orbit, was his younger brother DaMarcus.

Now it is all these years later and DaMarcus Beasley is saying goodbye to an international career that knew both sunlight and shadow, that was incandescently bright for a while and then touched with gloom, and finally bright again in a wholly unexpected endgame.

He announced via Instagram that he was retiring from the U.S. Men's National Team, and if there is never an absolutely right time for an athlete to do that, this was as right as it was ever going to get. His international career, unmoored and all but finished four years ago, underwent an astounding rebirth under new USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who saw in the former child star something worth salvaging. And so he moved Beasley from forward to left half, where he started every game for the U.S in the 2014 World Cup, in the process becoming both the team leader he always wished to be, and the only American in history to play in four World Cups.

It was the future predicted for him when he burst onto the scene by winning the Silver Ball at the 1999 FIFA Youth Championship, becoming along with Landon Donovan the point men for the next generation of American soccer. By the time he and Donovan were 20 they were starring for the U.S. team in the World Cup; by the time they were 28, Donovan was the greatest player in American soccer history and Beasley, slowed by injury, was hanging on after knocking around various clubs in Europe -- mostly with diminishing returns.

Then came Klinsmann. And  the sunlight found him again.

 It had always been there, of course, even that day sitting at his brother's elbow. Everyone in the room with lick of soccer sense knew he was going to be special -- "Keep on eye on DaMarcus," they all said -- and everyone was right.

Although perhaps no one could have envisioned exactly how they would wind up being right, least of all DaMarcus himself.

If he came back to Fort Wayne last summer as something of a conquering hero, it was a hero who had conquered himself as much as anything. His place at the American soccer table was not quite the place he probably imagined when he was 19 years old and, along with Donovan, the Next Big Thing in American soccer. But he did find his place -- and it was as rich and meaningful and fulfilling as he ever could have hoped.

"Representing my country has been the greatest thing I've done in my career," Beasley wrote Monday in his Instagram announcement.  "Every time I've pulled on OUR colors I tried to represent myself, my family and my country with the utmost respect ... One thing I hope you all will say about me is that I was a good teammate and ALWAYS left everything on the field when I played."

They will say more than that, of course. They will say, first of all, that he was as adaptable a player as any who ever pulled on a national jersey. They will say he more than fulfilled Klinsmann's faith in him in that regard. And they will say that, along with others, he put Fort Wayne, Indiana, on the map as a soccer town.

Once upon a time he was just a kid sitting in the shadow of someone else's sunlight moment.

Now he's the 32-year-old man who, in the autumn of his career, found his own incandescent moment,  to the delight of not just a  packed room at South Side but packed bars all over his hometown.

"Beez! Beez! Beez!" they howled every time he appeared on the big-screen TVs last summer -- a salute to a quiet young man who had done the impossible: filled up bars in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for, of all things, soccer.

How much brighter does it get than that?


1 comment:

  1. Ben: I still remember my son having to defend Jamar when SS came to East Noble in EN's first year of soccer. It was brutal. But, I did speak to their father and congratulate him on his son. Little did I know the little one standing with him would be such a star. It was great to see him in the World Cup. John English