How perfect that the World Baseball Classic’s only first-round games in the United States are happening at Marlins Park. This event is so Miami.
It beams us to the rest of the world so accurately and with splendor, and I mean beyond the tourism/postcard aspect we saw Saturday night with the ballpark roof open, fresh breeze wafting in from the ocean and the downtown skyline majestic as a Goodyear blimp and a full moon floated overhead.
This international event speaks our language(s), reflecting the multi-ethnic, multi-national flavor that defines us. While much of the rest of the country recoils from diversity and retreats to jingoism — or I should say as our new government does — Miami remains steadfastly a savory, year-round gumbo of personalities and backgrounds.
Team USA played the Dominican Republic in the WBC’s signature game Saturday night, the only one to sell out (it did so quickly), and it was hard to know by sight or sound which was the home team. I take that back. We could have been in Santo Domingo. Dominican flags were held from cars crawling across the Miami River bridge approaching the park, and D.R. T-shirts inside the stadium seemed to outnumber U.S. jerseys by 10-to-1.
That’s OK. Passion is passion. This event is huge in the Dominican, which won the last WBC in 2013, while most of sporting America right now is far more obsessed with NCAA Selection Sunday and how their brackets might fare.
America invented baseball. Doesn’t mean we love it most fiercely. But it took supporters of both teams to make Saturday’s attendance of 37,446 the largest baseball crowd in the six-year history of the place as the United States blew a 5-0 lead and lost 7-5. The U.S. team is now in a must-win situation on Sunday night against Canada if it hopes to advance.
We make room for everybody here. Sports leads and spreads light in a way that makes you wish society might follow.
This ballpark is in an area called Little Havana. You needn’t go far to taste Jamaican curried goat, hear spoken the patois of Haiti, or sample Peruvian ceviche. There are entire swaths of Miami where English is hardly spoken. It’s all right. I say baseball, you say beisbol, and we all hate the umpire. I mean, how different can we be?
On Saturday night, Dominican fans cheered a first-inning strikeout of Team USA’s Adam Jones as if it were the final out in a World Series Game 7. The sound was sonic, numbing. U.S. (and Marlins) fans countered with a roar of their own as Christian Yelich doubled to right field. I’m not sure a I had heard (or felt) such high-pitch passion at a South Florida sports event since the last time the Heat hosted an NBA Finals game.
The ballpark concourses filled with celebrating Dominicans before the game, a carnival of whistles and horns and sporadic, erupting chats of “Ole’!”
During the game there was The Wave undulating around the park. Of course there was. All that joy gotta go someplace.
Before the game I met a “house divided” couple. Ken Oliver, a South Florida attorney, wore Team USA colors and his friend, Josie Pichardo, those of the Dominican team. By arrangement I texted them during the game to get a sense of the atmosphere in the middle of it. They sat in Section 206, among far more fans who agreed with Josie’s team preference. I asked what it was like down there.
“Banging drums!” Oliver texted back.
Edison Cruz, 28, of Miami, had arrived with a handful of buddies — all wearing Dominican shirts.
“It is because baseball is our true national pastime,” he said. “In American there are all sports to love.”
Team USA and the Dominican both are favored to be the two teams of four in this Pool C to advance to the WBC’s next round, each fielding lineups filled with major-league stars. How good were these batting orders Saturday? The Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton, a threat to lead the majors in home runs, hit seventh for the United States.
There is a reason Miami attracts global sporting events like the WBC. It isn’t just our weather. It’s our welcome. It’s all the colors in our quilt. If sport truly is an international language, we are fluent.
It is why this same ballpark was reconfigured recently into a racetrack for a major annual auto race involving stars from NASCAR, Formula One and IndyCar — an international event choosing Miami for its first-ever U.S. appearance.
This week it was announced two of the most famous, celebrated club teams in global soccer, Real Madrid and Barcelona, would bring their El Clasico rivalry to Hard Rock Stadium this July. The place will be filled in a way the Dolphins rarely manage.
So Saturday it was Team USA and the Dominican Republic filling Marlins Park with passion and fans.
Who won? You didn’t need a scoreboard to tell you.