It can only be described as surreal: Mighty Barcelona, its players dressed in traffic-cone-orange training jerseys, jogging through New York's historic Central Park. A photo op, to be sure, and a uniquely New York moment.
Barcelona is in New York for a preseason friendly with the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday night at Giants Stadium. Reports claim 50,000 fans are expected for the game, which is roughly five times what the Red Bulls get for league home matches.
But since this is Barcelona, a preseason tour is not only about building team chemistry and getting match fit. It's about marketing and public relations. On Monday afternoon, coach Pep Guardiola held a press conference at the St. Regis.
"We started well, but it's a very long, long road ahead of us," he said about the tour, referring to the club's 5-2 win over Chivas de Guadalajara in Chicago on Sunday. "We're ready to face it and it's important to start on the right foot."
After the press conference, Guardiola met his players in the North Meadow of Central Park. They found a patch of grass in the outfield of an unused softball diamond. On other nearby diamonds, games were taking place, the softballers oblivous to the passel of multimillion-dollar soccer players running nearby.
At one point, the players ran through another field, and the umpire shouted, "Get the hell off the field! We're playing a game here!" Welcome to New York.
Thierry Henry, Rafael Marquez, Victor Valdes, Aleksandr Hleb, Xavi, Samuel Eto'o. The only player missing was the new No. 10, Lionel Messi, who is famously in China with the Argentine Olympic team.
They appeared loose and in shape, joking as they went through the paces doing fitness sprints for about a half-hour. Brazilian wing back Dani Alves seemed to laugh every other minute, and play to the small group of fans who lined the fences outside the field.
Afterward, the team posed for photos with the security detail, members of the New York Police Department's soccer club, who volunteered to protect the players during the outing. They gave the players NYPD T-shirts, and the day was done.
The orange-clad team walked back to their bus. Just as they drove away, the crack of a softball bat hitting a ball rang out somewhere in the park. Things had quickly returned to normal in the park.