Sloppy yet sharp Cuba downs the Dominican Republic

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Just a few thoughts about my afternoon at Petco Park watching Cuba vs.
the Dominican Republic in the semi-finals of the World Baseball Classic.

Cuba seemed speedy, unbelievably astute in their baserunning and intensity on the basepaths, yet amateurish in their defense.

The Dominican Republic seemed ponderous and much less-than agile, most
of the team seeming to swing for the fences during each at-bat, trying
to be the hero.  It all started out badly with a pitcher with a
Hideo Nomo-esque movement who seemed to bewilder the Dominican players,
and things never got better. The only run the DR scored was the result
of a bloopy terrible overthrow to first by the Cuban second baseman.

A friend at the game remarked, upon seeing Bartolo Colon versus one
Cuban batter, “it seems that the Cuban team doesn’t get enough to eat
while the Dominicans are well-fed.”

This seemed to be a theme after the game as well, when a senior
Dominican baseball official pointed out that the $100 million lineup
from the DR had just lost to a Cuban team that cost nothing.

In some ways, the DR has become all that is great and yet vulnerable
about the US in the sport of baseball, while Cuba and their win
represent one of the last feelings of amateur (although Cuba athletes
are professional in their own way) versus professional in the world
today.  With their sleight builds, enthusiasm and team spirit, it
almost seemed to be a college team facing the Dominican squad.

It is interesting to note the paucity of Major League Players in the
lineups of the teams headed to the WBC finals (with Japan now leading
6-0 in the 7th).  For a MLB-sponsored event, how strange that
there are only a handful, at most, players who actually play in MLB.

If that is what Bud Selig and his brain trust were looking to do, take baseball to a world stage, then there is success!

But at the same time, this tournament has also exposed the weaknesses
of the MLB bloated lineups in the face of risk-taking aggressive teams
who have different styles.

The sight of four foreign flags (Japanese, Korean, Cuban and Dominican) flying over left field at Petco was unique.

I think that the WBC is a winner and look forward to the next one.

It will be a fun night on Monday to see Cuba and Japan face off.  I look forward to being there.

The Republic of Baseball

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Over the past five years I have been privileged to have been part of a
great project involving the Dominican Republic, baseball and
film.  Two members of the Board of Directors of the Sports for Development Foundation,
the not-for-profit that I founded, Daniel Manatt and Robert Ruck, have
led the charge, along with Jose Mota, Christa Alou and Bret Granato, to
produce a documentary film titled The Republic of Baseball: Dominican Giants of the American Game, which is set to premiere this Sunday at 6:00 PM at the San Diego Latin Film Festival. 

As a production of the Sports for Development Foundation and Manatt
Media LLC, this film details the experiences of the first
generation of Dominican players to play in the major leagues in the
United States.  It is a story that might surprise some viewers
when the state of today’s game is examined in comparison.  When
Felipe Alou and his brothers Jesus and Matty, Ozzie Virgil and Manny
Mota broke into the game, racism in the form of Jim Crow laws was at
every turn.  Lumped in with black players, the Dominican players
who today are the respected, elder statesmen of the game were a half a century
ago misunderstood and insulted by the public and their fellow
players.  Their first years in the big leagues were a trial by
fire, and this film makes all of us viewers understand their story in
ways never told before.

The difficulties that these first Dominican players faced 50 years ago
are not totally gone.  Clubhouses in baseball are still mostly
divided by language and sometimes by color, and for even the most
talented Dominicans who arrive in the US, there are tremendous hurdles
of culture, language and ignorance to break down.

But this premiere in the midst of the final games of the first ever World Baseball Classic
should be seen as a shining tribute to those players who paved the
way.  As the film gets more and more exposure, I hope that it
helps more Americans understand the history of the Dominican Republic,
that country’s deep ties and passion for baseball, and the strength and
dignity of its first ambassadors in major league baseball.

World Baseball Classic gets better and better

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I was glad to see Eric Neels’ piece on ESPN.com about the momentum the WBC seems to be gaining.
I agree.  It is hard not to get sucked in if you are a baseball fan.
Right now Puerto Rico is ahead of the Dominican Republic 7-1 in the
8th.  Cuba beat Venezuela today 7-1.  The US beat Japan 4-3
in the bottom in the ninth with a disputed call.
This is good stuff.
The only problem is the disconnect between how seriously the non-US
public takes this kind of tournament versus fans in the US.  For a
country where baseball is supposedly up there with apple pie and
motherhood, and a great baseball showdown has been teed up for the US
public to see every day for a couple of weeks, it is amazing how few
people I seem to talk to, who on any other normal baseball season day
would get rabid about the umpire’s call on a sixth pitch in the 3rd
inning on a minor league game, are not paying attention to the WBC.
I hope that there are indeed US fans somewhere who watching this first
WBC.  Because what they will see is that there are a number of
places in the world where baseball, and national pride, are taken very
seriously.

But if not, baseball will still live on, and very strongly, in the
northern Latin American countries and Eastern Asia.  It is ironic
that a tournament organized by a US-based sports league might end up
doing a better job stoking the fire of fans in Korea, Puerto Rico,
Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Japan, Venezuela and Cuba than in its
own country.

Which is certainly good for baseball globally.  But as in all
things global these days, there is a strange, glassy eyed,
non-interactive and pathetic glaze to the average US citizen’s view of
the world.  Apathy is too much in vogue these days, and there is
certainly a chasm between what people think and what people do. 
There are too many parallels between the extent to which US citizens
oppose the Iraq war and do not say anything, and how much they love
baseball, yet are not interested in how their baseball squad does on
the world stage.

I said this in an earlier post, but kudos to Bud Selig to have pulled
the World Baseball Classic off.  This has the potential to be a
great tradition for years to come.

It would be nice if the US public came along for the ride, and really got into it.

La subida del resto del mundo del b

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Sovereignty at the WBC

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How strangely inconsistent the question of sovereignty is dealt with
at the World Baseball Classic and other international sporting events.
While the American announcers in the first round of the WBC made such a
point of never saying that Taiwan was playing in this tournament, but
rather “Chinese Taipei,” in clear deference to the government in
mainland China, the announcers of the Puerto Rico-Netherlands matchup
last night referred to the “nation of Puerto Rico.”

So while great pains are being made to treat Taiwan as a Chinese
province in official commentary (complete with graphics and uniforms
that say “Chinese Taipei”, which actually was very confusing to figure
out who this team was at first), the question of Puerto Rico and its
own status is treated cavalierly and imprecisely.

There are a lot of sensitivies in Puerto Rico about its relationship
with the US, especially with regard to whether it should be the 51st
state or not. But at this point, few voices, except those on ESPN2,
seem to be pushing for outright independence. But how much of the
American public thinks that Puerto Rico is a separate country?

Sometimes sports is a good reflection of the real world, and other times it provides a real funhouse mirror of geo-politics.

The World Baseball Classic – A Must Watch

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I just cannot understand why there seem to be so many naysayers about the just-begun World Baseball Classic
Since the first pitch last Saturday night, I have caught bits and
pieces of about five or six games, and I find it fascinating on a
number of levels.  The most American of sports has taken hold in a
lot of places in the world where it now has a very unique and
distinctive flavor, and the US Major Leagues depends on the influx of
foreign talent to keep it going.  How could any true fan of
baseball not like to
see an extra few weeks of baseball in March that features a truly
impressive range of players who get to show their home colors? 
Sure there a lot of unknowns, but isn’t it
great that someone named Van Dirk Clooster (who just reached first base
in the 6th inning in the Netherlands vs. Puerto Rico first round
matchup) is sharing the stage with  teammate Andruw Jones and
facing a slew of Puerto Rican major leaguers?  Certainly seeing
Bernie Williams in his Puerto Rico uniform, with Ivan Rodriguez on
deck, is worth watching, not to mention the true murderers’ row in
Dominican uniforms yesterday (which was a real slugfest — a symptom of
pitchers who aren’t quite ready for this?).  Sure it is easy to
nitpick about this and that and problems with the timing and taking
away from spring training (like those are interesting games…). 
But I have to think that nationality trumps a player’s MLB team loyalty
any day.

At the very least, some fans who watch may finally be able to
distinguish between Puerto Ricans, Venezuelans and Dominicans. 
And there must be some value in seeing one’s favorite players suit up
in the uniform of a country, rather than an MLB team.

I haven’t agreed too much with many of Bud Selig’s decisions over the
past few years, but he deserves a lot of credit for having the vision
and the perseverance (in the face of a lot skepticism) for pulling this
off.

Certainly as someone who fell in love with Latin baseball the first
time I went to Quisqueya Stadium in Santo Domingo, it was fantastic to
see that kind of passion in the stands in Orlando yesterday when the
Dominican Republic played Venezuela.

My big worry now is that if the US fails to make it out of the
first
round (after today’s loss to Canada), that all interest among an
already insular and non-international US baseball public will go away,
and the finals in San Diego will be playing to empty stands.  I
guess it depends what happens, and if the US were to lose, who would
advance in its stead.  If indeed it is Canada who continues to
advance, attention in the US is sure to drop off, and unfortunately a
stadium full of rabid Canadian baseball fans doesn’t seem too
likely.  On the other hand, if the Latin and Asian teams dominate,
and the
semis and finals are full of Dominicans, Japanese, Koreans, Puerto
Ricans, Cubans or Venezuelans, it will be a lot of fun.  And it
will mean so much to the players of those teams to have knocked off the
US.  But in a game where money matters, if TV sets in the US
aren’t glued to what is going on, the future of this event seems in
doubt.

I’m definitely rooting for the US versus the Dominican Republic in the
finals, as it will be a showdown between the two largest contingencies
of great players in the world.  But the possibility of some other
matchup could be pretty fantastic as well.  As long as none of the
other non-Latin or Asian teams make up the finals.  Nobody wants to see Canada in there.

But in any case, this WBC is a good thing, and definitely worth watching.

Omar Minaya’s Plan for “Los Mets”

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The cover story
of this week’s New York magazine, written by Chris Smith, focuses on
the offseason of the New York Mets, and in particular, on the changes
that general manager Omar Minaya is bringing to the club, as evidenced
by the high profile signings of Pedro Martinez and Carlos
Beltran.  I was particularly struck by Minaya’s team-building
strategy:

“More intriguing, though, is that
Minaya envisions a new model for
building a team that’s neither purely intuitive nor coldly rooted in
on-base-percentage calculations. The Mets will still draft dozens of
players, but they’ll increasingly deploy Minaya as a recruiter, almost
in the mold of a college coach, particularly in Latin America. There,
the amateur players aren’t subject to the major-league draft, so teams
with big money and connections have a sizable advantage.  This
winter is a vivid example of how the approach can pay off at the
bottom and top of the ladder: Minaya’s signing of Martinez attracted
that 16-year-old Dominican shortstop who showed up at the Mets Academy
because Pedro now wore blue and orange. And it also gave the Mets
credibility with Carlos Beltran.”

It will be very itnteresting to see how this plays out over time, in a
number of ways.  Certainly it is a contrast to the Moneyball
philosophy that just brought the Red Sox their first World Series title
in a long time.   But another angle is that if “Los Mets” can
indeed begin to create a buzz in Latin America that
they are “the team” where Latinos can feel most comfortable, this will
give Arte Moreno, the owner of the Anaheim Angels, a run for his
money.  Since Moreno had purchased the Angels there has been a lot
of speculation that he was capitalizing on his own cache as a Latino
owner to attract high-priced Latino stars like Vladimir Guerrero.

Besides giving lessons in how to get deals done in the DR and Puerto
Rico, hopeully these clubs will go one step further, and use their
Latino stars not only as recruiting tools, but also as positive role
models for up-and-coming players like the 16-year-old that Smith
describes in his article.  Right now, the 16-year-olds might show
up in droves for the chance to make Pedro Martinez-type money. 
But it would help even more if collectively, the Martinezes and the
Beltrans, with the overt assistance of their teams, could show the kids
following in their footsteps that it is important to be a good citizen
too.

Little known bright spots in the shadow of a steroids-filled week

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Last Thursday the President of the Dominican Republic, Leonel
Fernandez, hosted a luncheon at the presidential palace for Dominican
baseball players.  Among those in attendance were
Julio
Lugo, Neifi Perez, Aramis
Ramirez, Jose Offerman, Ronnie Belliard, Albert Pujols, Julio Santana,
Odalis Perez, D’angelo Jimenez, Juan Carlos Cruz, Alfredo Griffin and
George Bell.  What distinguished this event from similar lunches
in previous years that were hosted by President Fernandez’s
predecessor, Hipolito Mejia, is that the President made the players’
contribution to their country the centerpiece message.  Fernandez
exhorted the players to “be ambassadors of their country and to provide
leadership on important issues the DR faces.”  This coming year
could bring some interesting developments in this regard.

In a related vein, tomorrow The Wall Street Journal is running on its
front page, center column an article describing how Vladimir Guerrero
of the Anaheim Angels has made an impact in his hometown of Don
Gregorio (a factory, a modern supermarket, a hardware store, all with
associated jobs) with a personal investment of about $100.000. 
Hopefully this will
call attention to some of the good works that players undertake at
home.  Surely baseball could use some good news these days, in the
aftermath of the publication of Jose Canseco’s book on steriods.

There is both good and bad happening on the level of the individual players.

The same can not really be said on the macro level. The players’s union and
Major League Baseball 
to get a forceful message about the dangers of steroids out
there.  It is way too little and way too late but certainly better
than the lame denial after denial that has been coming out of the MLB
sound machine.



$200,000 raised by Boston Red Sox for Dominican flood relief

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What started as a request by Red Sox DH/first baseman David Ortiz to his teammates to put money in a shoebox in the clubhouse to be put towards relief efforts for the recent disastrous floods in the western Dominican Republic, turned into a much larger campaign to raise funds to send to the DR.  Red Sox owner John Henry himself chipped in $100,000 to go along with the $31,000 given by Red Sox fans between May 31 and June 14.  This latter figure was also matched by both the Red Sox Foundation and the Red Sox players, and corporate donations put the total over $200,000, along with 1,000 pairs of shorts and 1,200 t-shirts.


At the beginning of the disaster in late May, there were numerous stories out of the DR of problems in the distribution of aid, and chaos in the humanitarian relief efforts.  Hopefully this magnanimous effort by the fans, players, team and companies in Boston will be put to good use.

The Cuban baseball exodus continues, mostly unnoticed

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ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark mentions as a footnote to his “Rumblings and Grumblings” piece today that “


Four more Cuban players have defected in the last month — a list topped by the best young Cuban position player in years, 20-year-old first baseman Kendry Morales. But teams we’ve surveyed are a little unsure about the other three. So their agent, Bill Rego, has lined up a July 6-7 showcase for them in Torreon, Mexico.


Catcher-DH Barabaro Canizares — who once hit cleanup behind Morales for the Industriales team in Havana — is the biggest name. The others are first baseman Mitchel Abreu and pitcher Yosandy Ibanez. “

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