Friday, March 24, 2006

The World Baseball Classic

This week hasn't been good as far as me writing. Starting Monday I will be back in full force, with daily updates. Today I want to close out my trip to California with a little something about the World Baseball Classic. For those of you that don't know, it is an international baseball tournament, and this year was the first year it was held. I was there for the semifinals as well as the finals, so with a first-hand I go.

The World Baseball Classic. It started March 3rd around the world in places like Puerto Rico and Hong Kong, and finished up March 20th in San Diego. I don't feel the need to describe the format or rules. In fact, the only thing that matters to this story is what teams made it; and which team did not. The teams in the finals were the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Japan, and Korea. The United States team did not make it to the semifinals, even though they had numerous chances...more on that later. The semifinals took place on Saturday, with the tournament finishing up Monday night at 6pm. My friends and I bought tickets to all three games. Our seats were up in right field, but for $25 per game what do you expect?

Saturday was supposed to be a full day of baseball for us, but it didn't end up that way. We watched Cuba beat the Dominican 3-1 in the first game, which felt like it went on forever. The Dominican was the favorite going into the tournament, but their fearsome lineup didn't do much in the semis. I was fully expecting David Ortiz to tie it when he came up in the 8th, but he just missed his pitch and popped up. The second game was at night, but in between we went to Rock Bottom, which is a brewery/restaurant that we have in Boston as well. When we emerged from the bar shortly before first pitch, it was pouring rain. Our seats were situated so that if it was raining, we would be the first to we decided to skip the game. We took cover under an overhang, where we heard a live band playing Creedence Clearwater Revival. I wanted to go, but was outvoted and we returned to the hotel.

Saturday at Petco Park left much to be desired. The game we saw was slow, and we missed the second game. Petco was great though; spacious, clean, $8 had the works. There is a great little diamond behind home plate, with some grass for people to watch from. During the Cuba-D.R. game, I took a tour of the place with one of my friends, and we ended up in a pocket of Dominican fans during their run scoring rally, so that was exciting. The championship game, however, was a different beast altogether. We started it out at Padres Pizza before the game, where my friend got two slices and a soda for $11. Ouch. When we got into the stadium, the vibe was definately different than it had been on Saturday. Right then I knew we were in for something special. The place was alive, and there were many Cuba and Japan flags being waved in the air.

Asian fans not only know baseball, they know how to support their team. I was shocked at how they were acting, chanting player names I could only dream of pronouncing. Unlike a major league game, the cheering wasn't confined to late inning rallys or home runs; these people didn't really stop cheering. The other thing is that they only cheered, no jeering. No "Fuck you Cuba" or "Cuba Sucks." Just good old fashion support for their team, which happened to be representing their country. Japanese and Cuban fans have one thing that I would say 10% of people in the U.S. have; National Pride. These people rose and fell on every pitch, going back and forth in a positive way. While Japan held the lead, Cuba never gave up, and by the top of the 9th the game had worked itself into a 6-5 classic. Yet Cuba could not hold on. The incredible Ichiro padded Japan's lead with an RBI single, and by the end of the top of the 9th, the score stood at 10-6. Japan finally had a hard earned victory, which led them to the championship in the innaugural World Baseball Classic.

One noticable aspect of the games was the brand of baseball being played. I have never seen a team of players so fundamentally sound in my life. Every player in that game played the right way, and it showed. The game wasn't who could hit the most HR's, which is what many games in the majors devolve into. No, there were bunts and steals, outfielders and catchers backing up throws, and the teams were constantly trying to manufacture runs. When was the last time you saw a MLB team attempt to bunt for a base hit in the midst of a rally? I definately have never seen so many attempts to bunt for a basehit in my life. Oh, and the Cuban outfielders have CANNON arms. Plays that shouldn't have been close ended up being real close. I was amazed. To watch a major league quality game devoid of big name players and bloated salaries really made the entire experience worthwhile. These players weren't playing for a paycheck (and a lot of them could use one,) they were playing for themselves, their families, and their countries.

The fans, to me, were the biggest part of being at the games. Even the American fans, of which I count myself as one, were interested the entire game and getting into the chants and cheering. It was hard not to get caught up in all of that. These people come from countries with their own histories and problems, but last weekend it was just about baseball and supporting their teams.

People in America don't understand what nationalism and patriotism feel like; they get the concept, but what in the last six years have we had to be proud of? Our baseball, hockey, and basketball teams have all been thoroughly destroyed by other countries in international tournaments. Hockey has always been a more international game, but the U.S. used to pride itself on its baseball and basketball dominance. Our government is fighting a war it started on false pretenses, and our President is one of the worst leaders this world has ever seen. The international opinion of the United States has plummeted in recent years, and with good reason; many aspects of our societs reflect why we are viewed in a negative light. Lets face it; entertainers in our country are grossly overpaid, and it has started to show in the quality of work. Box office sales continue a downward trend, while the actors and actresses in the movies continue to be paid hansomely. Many athletes work hard until they get that big pay day, then they don't feel the urgent need to succeed anymore. Players like Darius Miles, in the NBA, are paid based on potential, then don't feel the need to fulfill it. Cuban players? They play games for free, and aren't given much money by the government. But as one player was quoted as saying, "Baseball is our culture in Cuba." The culture in the United States? Money.

Many United States baseball players, the men who are good enough to make a difference and play for their country, chose to sit out rather to play in this tournament. I am not including those with significant injuries who need to rehab. I'm talking about the guys who could have played, but chose not to. "I'm not ready to play," isn't a good excuse when you have a 5 month offseason to prepare. When I first heard guys saying it was an honor to play for this country, I thought it was company-line bullshit. Now, after attending the games, I realize that those players meant what they said. That is the way Cuban and Japanese players feel all the time. Japanese and Cuban fans felt honored that their country was playing for the WBC crown; to win would bring glory to their country. If the United States had made it to the finals, it would have just been another game with a trophy awarded at the end.

I learned a lot from the WBC, and not just about baseball. I realized that my opinion of baseball outside this country couldn't have been more wrong. I found out just how good players from other countries are, even though they don't get paid like it. Finally, I realized that even though Americans think we are the best, that is not true. The winds of change are blowing, and America is standing downwind. The next time the WBC rolls around, I hope the American players have learned a lesson from this years event: Nobody is going to give us anything just because we are America. The time has passed since that word meant something. We must show up at the next tournament not just wanting to win, but needing to win. Baseball is America's past time, or at least it used to be. Having Cuba and Japan play for the championship should be insulting to Americans...until it is, here's to both teams for showing this guy what baseball, and national pride, is all about.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Padres Pizza SUCKS ASS

5:53 PM  

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