Monday, March 23, 2009

Foreign Fan

I woke up this morning and saw that Team USA lost to Japan last night.


My brother is always annoyed at my choice of team in international sporting tournaments. In the World Cup or the Euro Cup, I never root for the US, and rarely the Czech Republic (our Dad is Czech), usually favoring France or Italy or, in the last few years, the Dutch team. In baseball, the Dominican Republic has always been a very attractive choice for me.

I think he understands the situation a little better now that he's spent a year in Ecuador and supports their soccer/football, but he still doesn't understand why I never root for Team USA.

The answer is relatively simple: they're boring.

Why would I root for US baseball when I already root for an American baseball team 6 months out of the year?

I love my Boston Red Sox, granted, and I love the players. But the style of play just isn't exciting on the international field.

When the World Baseball Classic came around in 2006, I was astounded at the final game. Japan vs. Cuba - a totally different kind of ball game than I was used to seeing. Each team had very distinct strategies, and each played their own special brand of baseball.

Moreover, if the point of the WBC is to spread the game of baseball, it wouldn't do to have the US clobber the little guys all the time. That is not good motivation for the countries with the up-and-coming baseball programs.

So I'm kind of excited that the US didn't make it to the finals, and it will be Japan vs. Korea. Japan actually has a Sox player on their team (Daisuke Matsuzaka), and there weren't any left on Team USA. Japan and Korea have a big rivalry, and the game should be thrilling.

Monday, March 16, 2009

On the Bright (Orange) Side...

When your team loses, it never looks good - no matter which way you look at it.

But it doesn't have to look bad.

Here's what I have to say about the Dutch national team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic: They played really well.

You've heard it all by now - they were the "Darlings" of the Classic, the underdogs, the team everyone expected to lose every game they played - even after they had proven themselves with two wins against the superpower Dominican Republic and a close loss to Puerto Rico.

Even in Sunday's game, I couldn't believe how quick the announcers were to dismiss the Netherlands. For example, "Japan is scouting whoever they might play next, and in this case it would be the US". In only the 5th inning. And this, just after they had credited the Dutch team with never giving up.

The Brian Roberts story didn’t help – it’s a very dubious situation. The rules surrounding last-minute roster changes such as these are apparently very vague. What it all boils down to is when the second-round pool actually started: when the Netherlands played Venezuela on Saturday, or when the US played Puerto Rico seven hours later. Either way, I think that it is inexcusable that Netherlands manager Rod Delmonico was not informed of the change until the last minute.

I won’t try to displace the blame - the Netherlands lost, fair and square. The pitching, which had been their strength all along, really fell apart. These guys like Rick van den Hurk, Juan Carlos Sulbaran, and to a lesser extent Dennis Bergman and Leon Boyd, who had given stellar clutch performances throughout the first round, were totally inconsistent. Van den Hurk and Sulbaran had a combined 6 runs (4 of them earned).

But the Dutch offense really pulled it together. The Netherlands matched the US in hits with 12 – a huge feat for a team who had been pretty weak offensively, and beat the Dominican Republic in their first game on only three hits (with the help of a few errors).

And besides the fact that they played so well in Round 1 and shocked the baseball world by advancing to Round 2, there’s a second element of pride to their success: They never gave up. Even against the US, when they were down 8-0, they played the full nine innings and went out there swinging, right down to the last out. No matter how well or badly the US does from here on out, I will take considerable comfort in the fact that Team Nederland gave the powerful Puerto Ricans a run for their money, twice, and was never mercy-ruled into a shortened loss.

That’s more than Team USA can say.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Broadcasting Bloopers, part 2

Unbelievable. Since the last game, they've managed to mess up even the pronunciation of Schoop's name, making him sound like an ice cream serving. So much for the broadcasting I was so impressed by in the first Pool.

Broadcasting Bloopers

The broadcast of a baseball game can, at times, be very annoying. I've written about this before. Sometimes the announcers share fascinating bits of information and talk about very interesting aspects of the game. Other times, they say ridiculous, boring, or totally outlandish things that drive the viewers (or maybe it's just me?) crazy.

So far, in the World Baseball Classic, I've been rather impressed with the announcers of the Dutch games. I mean, there have been some exaggerations - for example, an announcer saying that Eugene Kingsale or Sidney de Jong is a household name in the Netherlands. Most of the Dutch people I've met don't even know that the Dutch play professional baseball, let alone thenames of these players.

Really, though, I've learned a lot about the Dutch professional baseball league - the Hoofdklasse - from the commentary, the training camps in the Netherlands and the MLB organizations that have interests in the Netherlands Antilles, and about the multi-national backgrounds of various players and coaches on the national team (including as it does players from the Netherlands, the Netherlands Antilles, and people like Leon Boyd, who has dual Canadian-Dutch citizenship). I've even been impressed with the pronunciation of Dutch names.

Until Saturday's game against Venezuela. The announcers changed, and so did the quality - it sank, just a little. Previously, they had pronounced "Jansen" - and indeed, most Dutch names - the Dutch way. (In this case, "Yahnsun"). But on Saturday they went with what sounded like "Jantzen". The only exception was Sharlon Schoop, whose name has been pronounced more or less accurately, as "scope" - about as good as one can expect from an American broadcast, as the [ch] sound (the phoneme /x/, a voiceless velar fricative, for any fellow linguists out there) doesn't really exist in the English language.

But the highlight of this reel of broadcasting bloopers?

That came when one of the announcers referred to the Netherlands as a central European country.

The Netherlands has a sea coast. The Netherlands is in Western Europe, in both the geographical and socio-economical senses of the term. Do a quick google search for "central Europe", and you'll find a few images of maps, none of which include the Netherlands. Even the wikipedia article on the subject doesn't mention the Netherlands, except in one rather unrelated parenthetical note about a hundred-year-old military conquest.

Get with the program, guys. There are tons of people compiling background information for you. Maybe, since it's the World Baseball Classic, you should ask for a world map, too.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Guilty Conscience?

I'm up in Vancouver this week, so watching bits of WBC from yet another vantage--Canada's already out, so apparently now their attention rests on the Dutch team.

Maybe this article, in today's The Globe and Mail will ease Grace's mind and heart a bit. It's about Leon Boyd, a pitcher on the Dutch team, who has dual Canadian and Dutch citizenship. And about going to Seattle at age 14 to see his childhood idol pitch. Guess who!

Apparently the Dutch passed on Boyd initially (he got his passport in 2005) and so he got his first breaks with the Hoboken Pioneers (Belgium)--perhaps a team Grace and Francesca saw last summer--before moving on to Dutch teams in 2007 (unclear which team).

Don't you love the way baseball always has a story?

Guilty Conscience

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my conflicting interest in two of the teams that would be competing in the World Baseball Classic. Realistically, I didn't think it would be a big deal. The Dominican Republic is extremely talented and powerful; the Netherlands is an underdog - and before the Classic began even that seemed like a bit of an overstatement.

In game 1, I rooted for the Netherlands, knowing that even if they lost I would be happy in the DR win, or amused by the upset. But amusement was hardly the feeling; it was a mix of shock, excitement and awe.

And then Oranje did it again in the second game against Puerto Rico - barely losing at the last minute, but holding the lead most of the game and staying competitive all the way through.

So last night, in the elimination game between the NL and the DR, I had no idea who to root for. I have strong emotional attachments to both countries, and very dear friends in both. I understand both of these countries and their people - not as a native, perhaps, but as much more than a mere tourist. There was no way it could end well.

During the game I found myself rooting for whoever was pitching. I was rooting for Jimenez to set the new strikeout record, and he did. I was rooting for Pedro to pitch really well and keep the Netherlands off the bases. But whenever the Dominicans got a hit, it felt like they were the opponents. And it was the same way with the Netherlands - I wanted Stuifbergen to get out of the jam in the 4th inning but I was pleased to see them getting blanked by the DR for so many innings.

And it continued that way, until, in the 8th inning or so, with Jimenez and Pedro in the dugout, and Big Papi taken out for a defensive replacement, I realized I not only wanted the Dutch pitchers to hold the Dominicans at bay, but I wanted the batters to get on base and start producing runs.

I was veering towards the Netherlands.

The stress and intensity of the extra innings and that unbelievable Hollywood ending sealed the deal for me, and by the end I was for the Dutch, through and through. They deserved it; they weren't the ones falling apart in the end with sloppy pitching and fielding. No, that was the Dominicans.

Fast forward to this morning, when I wake up and look around my room and notice the oppressive presence of a large map of the Dominican Republic on one wall, the national flag on another. Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz glare at me from their glossy photos above the door. And on the wall next to my bed, a 1996 baseball card of the young and talented Pedro Martinez, still on the Expos, reminds me how indebted I feel to him.

I'm so thrilled for the Netherlands, and I shiver when I think of the game or watch the highlights reel online. But when I look up at the Dominican flag, or a song that expresses the atmosphere of the DR comes on my iPod's shuffle, I can't help feeling just a wee bit guilty and ungrateful.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Baseball Heart

This morning I logged on to find that my sister has written countless posts about the World baseball classic and everything else baseball, when I have one single post at the bottom of the page from last October. Actually it's probably not even on the page anymore.

There are many things I could blame this on, but I won't try, because I know baseball is my first priority. And it's not that I haven't thought abaout baseball, becasue I have. I just haven't got around to writing about it. So, here goes...

It's MARCH!!!!!! My first big reminder of baseball season was a couple of weeks ago when I turned on the TV and found that TiVo had 3 episodes of NEW baseball tonights (This was before we lost cable and I've had to turn to slow and choppy MLB.TV connections)!!! And now I find it everywhere. My school's baseball team has practices every day now, and sometimes I get to sit after school and score a practice game, either in sun or snow (Portland can never make up its mind!).

And then there's the World Baseball Classic. My team this year was Italy. A slightly unusual choice I guess, but I just got accepted to go on exchange to Italy for my junior year. And I was pleasantly surprised by their first game! Sure, they lost to Venezuela, and it was an ugly score, but they were so much better than I expected, especially the defense.... And the Italy team reminded me of why I love baseball so much. The best part about watching baseball, for me, is seeing people like Jacoby, DPed, and Papi. They look like playing baseball makes them happy, and it's the same for the Italian players. They are full of baseball heart! The worst thing is to watch baseball players who look bored... maybe that's why so man people seem to think baseball is boring nowadays?

Seeing the baseball heart on the Italian team makes me even more excited for opening day!!!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Late Night Heartache

It's 3 a.m and I just watched the most amazing game: Netherlands vs. Puerto Rico, Pool D of the World Baseball Classic.

In just two games, the Netherlands are beginning to remind me of the Red Sox of old - the team that always built us up just to let us down.

Tonight's game was really an incredible one. Both teams played very well, until the Dutch pitching broke down and walked 3 guys in the 8th inning - who all eventually scored to take the 1-0 lead the Netherlands had held since the 2nd inning.

Actually, aside from starting pitcher Rick van den Hurk, none of the Dutch pitchers did as well as they did in their first game against the Dominican Republic. 19-year-old Juan Carlos Sulbaran came in and struck out Ivan Rodriguez on three straight pitches to end the 6th, but that was where the good stuff ended.

I'm glad I stayed up to watch the game, even though it's 3 a.m. and I have class in less than 6 hours. But I don't think I'll sleep very well.

No, I'll probably be tossing and turning, knowing that this time tomorrow night I will not be happy with whichever team advances. See, if you like both teams that are playing, it's impossible to just be happy for whichever team wins. I always end up feeling bummed about the team that lost. I wanted the Dominican Republic to go all the way, but I was so excited for a huge Dutch upset.

I guess I'll have to take on a split mentality: One half that can focus on seeing the glass as half-full, and another that can continuously repeat to herself, "Wait till next year..."

Sunday, March 8, 2009

"Upset" is an Understatement

Yes, this is what I call passion, too, Mr. Ponson.

I am so happy that baseball is back. It's like a time machine. Seeing Pedro on the mound sends me back to 1999 when I first got into the Red Sox and baseball. Seeing the Netherlands come up and beat the mighty Dominicans is the perfect way to think of the future of baseball. During tonight's DR game, the announcers said the Canada-US game was like an MLB game. Which is exactly what I don't want, at least not in the Classic. This is when we get to see the different styles, all of the different approaches to the game.

And I'm getting that out of Pool D.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


I'm watching my first baseball game of 2009, and it's Japan vs. Korea in the World Baseball Classic. And it's amazing - only two batters and already Japan has two on and none out and the sight of Ichiro coming up to the plate literally made me shiver.

God I love this game.

I've decided to root for Japan in this matchup, because Ichiro is exciting and the Red Sox' Daisuke Matsuzaka, and I think all of those Japanese Game Shows I watched last night with my houstemates are a good omen.

Oh yeah, look at that! Another single and Ichiro scores from second.

This game will hopefully fulfill my good baseball quota before I watch the Netherlands take on the Dominican Republic tonight. I think I'll root for the Netherlands, but I don't actually believe that they have a chance...