Monday, March 9, 2009

Watched: The World Baseball Classic

I have never thought much of the World Baseball Classic. It seems contrived, as anything without history will, I suppose. For me, the interest in the first tournament, three years ago, revolved mainly around how it would affect the players once the MLB season started, especially pitchers. I didn't feel very different about it this time around. I enjoy baseball of any sort, so it would be fun to watch some of the best in the world competing, but I felt very little interest in the outcome.

Then I turned on the games this past Saturday. I had missed the majority of the Domincan Republic vs. the Netherlands, but when I started watching, the Netherlands were winning 3-2 in the eighth. This would be an incomprehensible upset. I found myself getting sucked into the game very quickly and rooting for the underdogs. In the ninth, Wily Tavarez walked and was moved to second on a groundout. Then, with one out and down by one, he attempted a steal of third. This was a terrible idea. Tavarez is one of the fastest players in baseball and steals a lot of bases, but the edge that his team would get from him being on third is nowhere near worth the risk of getting caught. As it turns out, the Netherlands catcher, Kenley Jansen, fired a perfect throw to third to get the second out of the inning. It was a fantastic play that deflated the Dominican Republic and reminded me of why I love baseball. When the Netherlands got the final out to record their huge upset victory, they celebrated like children and so did I.

In the second game, the United States faced Canada. The U.S. team seems much more determined this time around and it showed as they muscled up and scored six runs on three homers through the first six innings. But then something curious happened: Canada kept the pressure on the U.S. and got to within one run in the ninth inning. I have to admit that my patriotism was tested as a part of me would have liked to see the underdogs pull it out. But it wasn't to be. The U.S. closed the door and won 6-5.

I was surprised at the playoff atmosphere of both games (not all have been like that, as Sunday saw some double digit victories). The teams all seem to be taking the games seriously* and some good baseball has resulted. I'm not ready to say that I'm converted, but I will definitely be watching a little more intently for the rest of the tournament.

*The Dominican Republic, however, seems intent on not putting its best players on the field. They have both Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez and one is sitting at all times. I understand that you don't want David Ortiz playing first base, so he's got to DH; and Miguel Tejada is playing third and Robinson Cano is playing second. But Hanley Ramirez couldn't play leftfield during the tournament instead of Nelson Cruz? Or centerfield instead of Wily Tavarez? I'm sure he wouldn't be great in the outfield, but the improvement to your lineup over the alternatives would have to make up for his defensive liabilities. In fact, wouldn't playing him at first base (or Tejada at first base and Ramirez at third) instead of the Tatis/Aybar combo give you a better team? Their lineup is stacked no matter what, but Ramirez and Reyes are two of the top ten offensive players in all of baseball, it doesn't make a lot of sense to sit one of them.