Lots of U.S. baseball fans probably don’t know which team won the World Baseball Classic, which wrapped up on Tuesday night.
Baseball fans in the Dominican Republic do know. Some 50,000 of them gathered to watch the championship game on giant televisions in and around Estadio Quisqueya in Santo Domingo. The game itself was played in San Francisco – the one that’s in California.
Anyway, the team from the Dominican Republic bounced the team from Puerto Rico, 3-0, to conclude an 8-0 run through the tournament and become the World Champions of Baseball.
There might be some disagreement about that distinction among the general managers of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams. They are the ones who saddled Joe Torre, the manager of the U.S. team, with various restrictions regarding how often his players could work out.
It does not dismay me that the team from the U.S. didn’t win this time around anymore than it dismayed me when Japan won the first two editions of the World Baseball Classic. But it is instructive to note the different ways in which different teams approached the WBC. As Tom Verducci, covering the tournament for Sports Illustrated, wrote about the Dominican team, “Nobody complained about training harder or earlier to be ready for the WBC, as the Americans have done. Nobody wrote it off as an exhibition, the way Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels did.”
Like at least some of the players on the U.S. team and the general managers employing them, lots of U.S. baseball fans have been less than enthusiastic about the World Baseball Classic. I don’t suggest that there’s any shame in that. There are a lot of basketball games to be handicapped at this time of year.
Still, it’s too bad. The players on the team from Puerto Rico talked about performing well enough to revive baseball on the island, where volleyball, basketball, and video games have apparently chipped away at the popularity of the game once personified by Roberto Clemente. After the tournament, some of those players said they felt they had succeeded.
The players on the team from the Dominican Republic not only won, they had fun doing it. They sang in the dugout. They waved a rally plantain. The designated keeper of the plantain was Fernando Rodney, who must have relinquished the fruit to somebody in the dugout when he was on the mound for the last out of the tournament… unless he’d somehow secreted the plantain about his person.
Joe Torre tried to defend his players by suggesting that they were as passionate as anybody about the WBC. “I think people exhibit the passion a little bit different,” he said.
Too bad. The players wearing the U.S.A.’s colors might have more fun in the tournament if they’d let their passion show, assuming it was there.