Last Excuse for Having Countries

1

Don’t
know if any of the rest of you gives a damn, but the Dowbrigade has
been really enjoying the World
Baseball Classic
now being played
out on diamonds in the America’s and Asia. It is sports at its best –
thrilling competition destined to settle long-standing arguments, and
spawn generations more.

Baseball is a strange sport from the git go, all starting and stopping
and endless untimed situations, and as homegrown export of
American culture it
has taken root in Latin America, Asia, Australia, South Africa, and other
pockets of American influence or empire.

One of the unique idiosyncrasies of baseball, and part of what make
it so American, is its fascination and infusion with statistics, which
in turn make it possible
to compare players, not only from team to team, but from one level to
the next. For fans, obsessed with baseball and with time on their hands
during the long northern winter, these statistics
allowed them to transcend time and space, and to compare athletes from
different eras and different continents.

Back in our baseball youth, everyone knew they played in Japan. We had
heard of the great Sadaharu Oh being compared to the incomparable Babe
Ruth,
and
argued
about how
many
homers he would hit in the American League (not as many as in Japan).
We heard the stories about Fidel Castro terrifying out for the New York
Yankees as a
pitcher,
and getting rejected. We even heard
that
sometimes, in the late inning, on hot Havana nights, Fidel would slop
into left field for the Havana Sugar Kings of the AAA International League,
which also featured our hometown Rochester Red Wings and three teams
from Canada.

As Latinos flooded into the majors we debated and compared Dominicans,
Mexicans and Puerto Ricans. We would argue about whether Latin players
could hit home runs.  They
were so small and wiry. We argued whether a Japanese all-star team could
take the US All-star team (No Way). We fantasized about a true World
Baseball championship.

Now we finally have one. It is great baseball and in the best spirit
of international sport. In a familiar storyline lately, the Americans
are
on the verge of elimination in the first round.  Why do get the
feeling that the cult of individuality is bearing its bitter fruit in
the performance of US national teams in team sports it used to dominate?

But there are plenty of other story lines to follow, and despite the
notable drop-outs (Manny, Pedro) the far majority of the best players
in the world will take the field, with a smattering of minor leaguers
and recently retired stars. Do the upstart Canadians, who surprised the
US, really have a chance to beat the Latinos? Can Venezuela repeat their
victory in the Caribbean World Series? Will the Italians score even
one run?
Can
Roger Clemens pull one more big win out of his cap, perhaps his last
one ever? Will Vladimir Guerrero, who skipped the initial round after
three of his cousins were killed in an automobile accident in his native
Dominican Republic, be back now that the DR has qualified for the next
round.

The 800-lb gorilla in all this is Cuba. Cuba has been playing baseball
for a long time.  The first organized league outside of the United
States was started in Cuba in 1878.  There have been Cubans in the
major leagues since 1911. But US players have not faced Cuban players across
a diamond in almost 50 years, and the only Cuban players American fans
have seen are defectors like Luis Tiant, Orlando Hernandez and
Jose Contreras.

So it’s a big deal. If they pass the first round the Cuban’s have to
travel to San Diego and all hell is going to break loose. How many will
defect?
The Las Vegas over/under is at 7. The New York Times is already profiling
likely prospects to jump the wire. Agents are circling like sharks.

So for some great baseball with a dash of international intrigue,
check out the World Baseball Classic. Orders of magnitude better than
that watered-down pap being doled out in preseason Florida.

Events like this are about the only decent excuse to even have old-fashioned
countries anymore…

1 Comment

  1. Penis enlargement

    January 9, 2007 @ 10:26 am

    1

    Great site, will bookmark this one.