The always venerable Wikipedia defines an expatriate as “a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country or culture other than that of the person’s upbringing.” In other words, they’re strangers in a strange land. University of Kentucky fans have always identified themselves as members of “Big Blue Nation,” and in many cases, the BBN really CAN be found almost anywhere your travels take you. With that in mind, the series “The Ex-Pats of Big Blue Nation” will profile those Kentucky fans who have moved away from the Bluegrass State for whatever reason, asking how they’ve managed to maintain their devotion and fanhood despite living in areas where every exhibition game isn’t televised or where no one in the neighborhood understands the significance of the date April 2, 2012. Today’s edition is a unique tale, brought to you by two friends who lived in Tokyo. Read on and enjoy hearing about life as a UK fan outside of Kentucky.
What? KSR never reuses photos!
Let’s start with the basics. Please state your name, where you’re from, and current location for the official record. No need for exact addresses, I don’t want to get you in trouble on the Internet.
Albrecht Stahmer, grew up in Louisville. I’m currently located in Singapore but spent about 10 years in Tokyo and a year in Hong Kong prior to that. Before moving abroad, I lived in Miami.
Brad Sackmann. Originally from Florida, but moved to Lexington just before junior high. I now live in Tampa after spending seven years in Tokyo.
How did you get from Point A (Kentucky) to Point B (where you are now)?
Albrecht: Originally, I went to Hong Kong with two other members of BBN, Brett Nelson and J.T. Ice, to experience the handover from Great Britain to China back in 1997. We wound up finding jobs and staying. After that, work took me back to Miami and then to Tokyo and now Singapore. Brett also wound up in Tokyo for work and we were joined by another BBN citizen, Brad Sackmann (and, no, Brad and Billy Clyde are not related).
Brad: I went back to UK from 2001-2004, after my first stint from 1989-94, and soon after left for Tokyo for what I thought was going to be a 1-2 year adventure, but I wound up living there for nearly seven years until the earthquake and radiation chased me off with my family in tow.
What team’s fans dominate your area? (College or professional)
Albrecht: In Tokyo, the only local equivalent would be the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants, the New York Yankees of Japan so to speak, whose fans dominate in terms of numbers. But with regards to passion, the Hanshin Tigers from the Osaka area are far and away the most devoted fans in Japan. They’ve only won one title, but their fans are nuts. They stand and cheer throughout the entire game, which is pretty impressive for a baseball game. Granted, they are heavily aided by voluminous amounts of adult beverages–kinda like going to the Derby infield every game. Here in Singapore, it’s all about the European soccer teams.
Brad: Here it’s the Tampa Bay Rays, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, UF, FSU, USF.
Was it a hard adjustment going from living where everyone knows every detail about UK sports, to where people may conceivably think UK and Louisville are the same team?
Albrecht: I got more than a few congratulatory emails after UofL won the title this year so I had to politely explain that the Cards are UK’s archenemy. Luckily, for most of my stay abroad I’ve had a friend or two, like Brad, with whom I could enjoy my UK fandom. In times where I didn’t have a local UK connection, I ran up massive phone bills talking to my BBN peeps back in the U.S. Fortunately, I found Skype back in 2005.
Brad: My time in Japan was quite interesting with two of my best friends and frat brothers, Albrecht and Brett, living there at the same time and we all worked together at times, so we were able to be really obnoxious in our fandom and people seemed more intrigued at our passion than anything else. My Japanese friends and colleagues were very curious why I loved college basketball, but had no interest in the NBA.
How many Kentucky fans would you say are in your general vicinity? Is there a local UK alumni group or bar?
Albrecht: No alumni groups or UK bars in Tokyo or Singapore, but the three of us–Brad, Brett and myself–referred to ourselves as the charter members of the Greater Tokyo UK Alumni/Maker’s Mark Drinking/Radiation Survivors Club. We periodically ran into a random UK fan, but none that were here for the long haul that shared our passion for UK sports. On the other hand, as much as it pains me to admit this, I did befriend a Tennessee Volunteer in Tokyo–a former basketball player to boot. Despite his affinity for wearing ugly shades of orange, he’s a good guy and respects UK (probably from all the ass-whuppins he experienced as a player) and even reads KSR. Although I did lose a lunch bet to him every year for six years over the UK-UT football game. He thinks he lucked out that I moved to Singapore before the legend of Matt Roark was born, but I’ll get back to Tokyo and collect my hard-earned lunch. You hear that, Mike Coy?!
Brad: We had the UK Alumni Tokyo chapter with three members, me, Albrecht and Brett, though I know there were a few more as I connected with a couple through Facebook. All games were watched at my place, or occasionally on my iPhone at work and now that I live in Tampa there is a significant and active group here.
How do you show off your fandom while living away from Kentucky?
Albrecht: My entire wardrobe consists of business wear or UK swag–caps, t-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, socks, and anything else that comes with a UK logo on it. For big games, I rock my UK tie at work. I’ve got four sisters who keep me well stocked with UK gear in the form of birthday and Xmas gifts. I’ve also got framed copies of the ‘Sports Illustrated’ issues commemorating the ’96, ’98 and ’12 titles prominently displayed in my apartment.
Brad: UK swag. I have numerous shirts, sweatshirts, etc. I wear my UK tie to work before every big game or after a big win. I also deck my son, Ashton, out in UK wear.
What’s the hardest thing about being a fan outside of the geographic BBN? The best thing?
Albrecht: The hardest thing is having limited contact with other BBN members to dissect every detail of the previous day’s game. On the other hand, it’s gratifying to finally gain converts to UK fanhood and naturalize them into BBN. I take great pride in the fact that there are some random UK fans dispersed across Asia cheering for the Big Blue thanks to my efforts.
Brad: Not being able to go to games in person, especially football.
What has been your favorite memory as a UK fan?
Albrecht: Tough to choose just one. My first ever game at Rupp was the Sweet 16 matchup between UK-UofL in 1984, which the Cats won on their way to the Final Four. That’s still a great memory for me. I was a freshman at UK and saw Pitino’s Bombinos beat LSU with Shaq and Chris Jackson 100-95 in a game that I still can’t believe we won. Todd Svoboda’s three to close out the ’93 Elite Eight blowout of FSU and send UK to its first Final Four since probation was awesome; I was at BW3 on Limestone and the place literally erupted. And watching the ’96 Cats dominate during their title run was a thing of basketball beauty–those guys were liable to drop 120 on any given night.
Brad: It wasn’t pleasant at the time, but I road-tripped with five frat brothers and our fraternity sweetheart to NOLA for the ‘93 final Four. One night as we partied on Bourbon Street my van was stolen. We actually thought it had been towed at first or that maybe we were too drunk to remember where we parked, but our non-drinking driver insisted we were in the right spot. After getting no help from the police, I called the local news to see if we could get some help and they did a story about us. One of the viewers called the news and said they found my van, so they sent a cab to take us to the van and do a follow up story. While we driving the cabbie said he heard about us on the radio, then pulled his gun out as we drove down the road near our van. He indicated he was clearly uncomfortable with our location and if we weren’t “the kids from the news” then he wouldn’t have even driven down this road. When we reached the end of the road, the news reporter/camera man was waiting for us with a police escort. The cabbie’s reports were confirmed. We found the van completely stripped and left in a swampy area. They interviewed us as the sun was setting, then we heard gun shots off in the distance, so the cop said the fun was over and we had to leave. As we were running hunched over for fear of gun shots we were getting heckled from across the train tracks. We had thought we were going to be able to drive the van home, but it was worthless and since none of us were 25 we could not rent a car. The news reporter offered to help us again on the third night. They drove us out to the airport and walked with us into the car rental agency to interview the manager and find out why they wouldn’t help us get home. I guess the fear of negative publicity was all it took because the manager said if they agreed to turn off the camera he would get us a couple of cars to get us home. It really sucked at the time, as we were missing exams (I almost failed a class because the professor wouldn’t allow me to make it up) and running out of money, but I have had a reasonable amount of fun retelling that story over the years and there is actually a copy of the news reports floating around. Maybe one of my friends will read this and post a link. I hope they track me down and send me a copy.
What do you do for games?
Albrecht: With Slingbox and a DVR, I can watch games pretty much whenever I want–live or delayed. However, before the explosion of broadband internet access and digital content, watching UK games took serious planning and logistics. Back in the late ‘90s, Brett and I had a team of BBN allies back in Kentucky who would take turns videotaping games and mailing them to us here in Asia via global priority mail. We’d usually get three or four games at a time and then have a marathon viewing session. Although we already knew the final scores, we still loved watching the games. In 2001, we decided we’d forego reading anything about the games before receiving the tapes but that didn’t last long. My BBN purity pledge collapsed by game one that year when WKU upset UK in the season opener and it was the top story on every internet sports news site that day. I then realized that, even in Tokyo, it was impossible to ignore the Cats. In recent years, before moving to Tampa, Brad was really good at organizing viewing parties at his place in Tokyo (see photo).
Brad: In Japan I watched everything basically live on my Slingbox, so that meant having to set my alarm for 2:00 a.m. sometimes to catch a game and I almost never missed a game in either sport. Now I just pay $200 a month so I have every channel on the planet!
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done to follow a game live?
Albrecht: What some folks might consider crazy, I consider normal in terms of following the Cats. As soon as the football and basketball schedules come out, I put them in my calendar and try to schedule around those dates. The most ridiculous thing I’ve done was re-routing my travel schedule so that I could watch the 2011 football opener against WKU. Instead of flying directly from Tokyo to Singapore, I took a flight with a six-hour layover in Shanghai so I could watch the game live. I went to the SkyMiles Lounge in the airport, logged on the wireless network and watched the game on my laptop through Slingbox. Had I known how ugly that game were going to be, I may have re-thought that plan. For the ’98 Elite Eight game versus Duke, I called my parents from Hong Kong and they put the phone next to the TV so I could listen to the last five minutes of the game live. That turned out to be an expensive phone call, but well worth it!
Brad: I was in boot camp for the ‘96 title run and I had no access to any media, but I had a shipmate who had worked in an office with a radio and he would send me written updates hand delivered by a messenger during the games. He was a Virgina Tech grad, so I appreciated his understanding of my fanaticism.
How do you keep up with UK news without the local media readily accessible?
Albrecht: Back in the day, it was ‘The Cats Pause’. I had a subscription that my family would forward to me in Hong Kong. I’d get it two weeks late, but I devoured every page twice. Finding a hotel or bookstore that sold an international edition of the ‘USA Today’ was also a search I undertook routinely after UK games looking for stats and summaries. By the early 2000s, ubiquitous internet access made it easier to follow the Cats. Now I visit KSR multiple times daily; check your daily hits from Singapore–that’s me.
Brad: I live in SEC country, though they don’t realize UK football exists and they don’t care anything about basketball, so mostly I read KSR.
If I embark on a cross-country road trip with my friends, a la Britney Spears in Crossroads, do you have a UK-themed room I can stay in?
Albrecht: It’s one helluva swim here to Singapore, but you’re more than welcome if you make it. Everything is smaller here in Asia, especially apartments. Hence, no guest room, but my humble abode is sprinkled throughout with reminders of my BBN heritage, including a framed photo on Brad, Brett and myself on KSR.
Brad: You are more than welcome if you don’t mind my three-year old knocking at your door at all hours.
Since becoming an ex-pat, have you returned to Kentucky to watch the team play or seen the team play live in a different area? Any stories there?
Albrecht: My worst UK memory is flying back to the States and having to witness the Bluegrass Miracle. I was scheduled to fly from Tokyo to Louisville via Denver but there was some severe weather that caused the flight to detour to Chicago. Instead of arriving in Louisville on Friday night, I wasn’t able to make it until Saturday morning. Since I arrived in Chicago past midnight and my flight was at 6:00am the next morning, I decided to skip a hotel and sample the Chicago nightlife til my morning flight. I was already worse for wear when my step-father and friends picked me up at the Louisville airport the next morning and we drove straight to Lexington for the game. I rallied and was at the point of jubilation, hugging my friends and high-fiving random fans in our end zone section as Marcus Randall moved under center. My step-dad, a long-suffering football season ticketholder, looked at our premature celebration and cautioned, “Boys, it’s not over yet.” And shortly after those words exited his mouth, Marcus Randall’s heave came towards our end zone, over every UK player and into the hands of Devery Henderson. As my friends and I looked at each other in disbelief and awkwardly laughed at what we had just witnessed, I looked over at my step-dad as he pulled out a cigarette, lit it and mumbled “Go, Cats.” At least he didn’t fly 24+ hours and 7000 miles to witness that crap. The last I remember of the night was Brent Lettieri gathering all of our ticket stubs and setting fire to them at Lynagh’s Pub.
Brad: I was at the Duke game in Atlanta. I watched from a luxury box with a few friends and have no stories suitable for print.
How do the locals respond to your fandom?
Albrecht: Some fans get it, especially if they themselves are superfans of one of their teams. I’ve got some expat Bostonian friends who are hardcore members of Red Sox Nation so they get it. Other teams with massively devoted fan bases, like the aforementioned Hanshin Tigers or soccer clubs like Manchester United or Chelsea tend to get it, even if they don’t understand basketball. What most people don’t get is the fact that BBN fans are supporting a university athletics program as opposed to a professional sports franchise. Nonetheless, they respect the passion and enthusiasm.
Brad: The Japanese respected my passion, but couldn’t seem to understand why I would watch college sports because there, college sports are held in less regard than high school sports. In Tampa, if I am bragging about basketball they don’t seem to care because it’s not football, and if I am bragging about football (like our new-found recruiting prowess) then they don’t believe me. I always thought Steve Spurrier was such a jerk and because he went out of his way to insult us, but that is how everyone is here. They barely even acknowledge we have a team.
What advice do you have for anyone who may be considering a move from Kentucky who is concerned about missing out on following UK?
Albrecht: With Slingbox and an internet connection, you don’t actually have to miss any of the games at all as long as you can adjust your schedule. The hard part is the absence of camaraderie when watching the games. On the other hand, it’s fun to rep for BBN when you’re the only person in a sports bar cheering wildly for a game no one else is remotely interested in watching. A few years ago, I was in Washington DC and didn’t have time to drive all the way down to Grevey’s to watch an early season match-up between UK-Hartford, so I went to a small local bar in Adams Morgan. The Cats were up 40+ late in the second half when the bartender asked if he could turn the channel as the game was well in hand. I replied absolutely not as the Cats had a chance to break 100 and John Wall was threatening the single-game school assist record. Amazed that I was equally passionate about the end of the 40-point blowout as I was at the opening tip, he watched the rest of the game with me and cheered heartily when the Cats broke the century mark and even more so when Wall broke the assist record. Another citizen naturalized into BBN!
Brad: Get a Slingbox. They now have them with a DVR function, so you don’t have to get up at 2:00 a.m. to watch a game.
Any general stories that the readers of KSR would be interested to hear about living as a BBN ex-pat?
Albrecht: Avoid Kentucky swag with just the UK logo on it as you will inevitably be asked if you’re British. And if you happen to have a copy of the ’92-93 season highlights VHS tape, the “disturbance” in the stands that Cawood Ledford references in the UK-St. John’s game at Madison Square Garden was us and a handful of other loyal BBNers and KSR readers. Lastly, if any of those St. John’s fans happen to read this, I apologize. Who knew there was a holding cell in the basement of MSG? Go figure.
Brad: Be careful at the O-dome in Gainesville. Some woman spit on me because she thought I was cheering too loud. Other than that, I’d say wear your fandom proudly because I have met so many great UK fans over the years in some far flung places and had the best time connecting over our mutual fanaticism. Also, I was with Albrecht in New York for the altercation with first the St.John’s fans, then the Manhattan U fans, and I can attest that in both of these cases alcohol and overzealous fandom had no discernible effect on the situation.