In My Opinion

Linda Robertson: Joy of baseball alive in World Baseball Classic

 

lrobertson@MiamiHerald.com

If you attended any of the six World Baseball Classic games at Marlins Park, you might still be experiencing a persistent drumming in your ears.

If you missed the WBC’s stop in Miami, your hearing is likely to be fine for the rest of baseball season at Marlins Park.

Because on Saturday, it was as loud as it gets inside the stadium, and that was with the roof open.

The Dominican Republic’s 2-0 victory over Puerto Rico was amplified by a joyous atmosphere that will be difficult to duplicate during the semifinals and championship in San Francisco. Deride the WBC as a meaningless exhibition if you will, but it sure was fun to see the ballpark in Little Havana rocked by South Florida’s Latin American fans.

Total attendance in Miami was 154,624, with 25,846 watching Dominican pitchers hold Puerto Rico to three hits Saturday. Carlos Santana’s home run in the fifth inning and Francisco Pena’s RBI single in the eighth were enough to move the DR to Monday’s semifinal against the Netherlands. Loser Puerto Rico gets to play the jet-lag special Sunday against two-time defending champ Japan at AT&T Park.

The crowds here were rowdy and rhythmically talented. They played guiras, bongos, tamboras, claves, cowbells. They blew whistles and plastic horns. They rarely kept their rear ends seated or static.

A guy sang into a plantain. People wore giant green coqui heads. Pedro Martinez waved from behind home plate. One fan got so carried away he sprinted into center field and did a pelvic thrust at security guards before surrendering.

There was dancing in the stands, dancing in the dugouts. Short-lived Marlin Jose Reyes was his team’s unofficial cheerleader.

There was lots and lots of red, white and blue — just not the kind found on the Stars and Stripes. The United States was eliminated Friday and for the third edition of the WBC will not play for the title.

Frenzied flag-waving confirmed nothing replaces pride in home.

The Marlins will have some exciting nights in 2013, but even the most dedicated fighting Fish fan keeps something in reserve given the franchise’s boom-and-bust history and the current mistrust of ownership. Better jaded than burned.

Love of country

Fans cheering teams representing their countries felt only unconditional love. They were celebrating their heritage and baseball’s role in it.

Delightful spring weather combined with energetic crowds and close games made the WBC’s Miami five-day visit a hit. Total attendance for 36 games played in Japan, Taiwan, San Juan, Phoenix and Miami is 788,299.

And what of the WBC’s fate in 2017? It’s a young event searching for an identity on the sports calendar. It doesn’t deserve to be called classic. At least not yet.

But it does serve a purpose for a sport that has been cut out of the Olympics because the International Olympic Committee determined it was not international enough (same verdict for softball).

American pro sports are constantly seeking new markets in efforts to “grow” their games. The NBA has made a huge push in China, the NFL in Europe. Leagues will go to Greenland if they think they can sell jerseys there.

american dilemma

U.S. players are damned if they do participate, damned if they don’t. David Wright, nicknamed Captain America, left spring training to join the U.S. squad, injured a rib and was chastised by New York media for not putting the Mets first on his priority list.

Others, especially America’s ace pitchers, were criticized for taking a pass to protect their arms. Tommy Lasorda has never bought that reasoning, saying “we got the best players in the world and they should play — they could just as easily get hurt in spring training.”

A lukewarm U.S. attitude is not atypical of that segment of the population that is proudly provincial and wouldn’t be caught dead learning another language.

“The World Series is what counts, so who cares?” they’d say, which sounds close to an excuse considering that the United States was defeated here by the Dominicans, so dominant in Major League Baseball, and Puerto Rico, led by 38-year-old journeyman junkball pitcher Nelson Figueroa, who is nicknamed “rubber-arm daddy.”

The WBC is not meaningless to all Americans. Manager Joe Torre was emotional after being eliminated.

“This has been one of the most memorable experiences of my career,” said Torre, a four-time World Series winner. “Much more than I expected.”

He defended U.S. fans.

“There’s passion on both sides,” he said. “I think people exhibit passion a little bit differently. It doesn’t mean they want it any less or somebody wants it more because they show it.”

Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips said he was honored and awed.

“Just the passion from all the teams we played, man, it was beautiful,” he said. “I didn’t know how big baseball was in other countries. And when you see them play it’s like, wow, that’s why I love playing this game. You see how everybody’s passion is totally different than in our country.”

Milwaukee left fielder and former University of Miami star Ryan Braun said the “playoff-type atmosphere … far surpasses anything we experience in the regular season.”

The WBC final four has a global lineup. But Dominican manager Tony Pena and Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez pointed out that three of the teams are from the Caribbean. Nine players and the manager of the Dutch team are from Curacao or Aruba.

Pena and Rodriguez are hoping for a rematch in the final. After baseball’s two-week whirlwind tour of the world, they would like to see the trophy land close to home.

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