Wednesday, March 08, 2006

WBC 4 Eva!

El Commandante enjoys baseball
and not losing members of his national team to defection

I have a fun new ritual for the next few weeks: from 1:00 PM until quitting time it’s World Baseball Classic time. This afternoon featured a four and a half hour battle between Panama and Cuba at the stadium in San Juan, with Cuba trying to win their first WBC game and Panama trying to avoid elimination after losing last night to Puerto Rico. Even though analysts (and by analysts, I mean everyone – ESPN rightly referred to Cuba as the Yankees of the Rest of the World) expected Cuba to walk all over Panama, the game turned into an eleven inning duel. Fantastic pitching that fell apart just when the game seemed in hand, incredible diving plays in the field, goofy running mistakes, seven hit batsmen, home runs that quickly turned the tide…it was a hard-fought contest and although Panama ended up losing eight to six, it was one of the best games I’ve ever watched. My appreciation for this tournament increases daily.

Meanwhile, over in Arizona, Team USA (who I’ve come, somewhat unfairly, to think of as Team Yankee) just suffered an embarrassing loss to Our Neighbors to the North. I’m a bit ambivalent about this situation; my nationalist sympathies aren’t as high as they might be and truth be told, it would probably be better for the tournament and for baseball across the world if the United States didn’t win this time around. Besides, the US faces South Africa tomorrow and I don’t think anyone’s betting against the Americans. Plus, it prolongs the drama, which is a Good Thing.

Things are going very well for those WBC players from the Red Sox: The Cap’n hit his second-ever grand slam to greet a new pitcher as a part of a six run fifth inning and Adam Stern…wow. Over the past two days, Stern is five for seven, with a walk, a double, six runs and two RBI. He’s also got two incredible catches: a sliding snow cone that saved an extra-base hit and, even more psychologically damaging, a full speed, slamming-into-the-padding-on-the-centerfield-wall catch on a ball hit by Chase Utley that seemed destined to leave the park. If this guy is the guy who comes in when they need a late-game replacement for Trot Nixon’s legs, I’m very ok with it.