If you haven’t watched any of the 2013 World Baseball Classic yet, I suggest you tune in for these last five days. Only Japan, the Netherlands, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and the United States remain in the tournament out of the 16 teams that began play 2 weeks ago. Surprisingly, the US is in a loser-out battle tomorrow night against Puerto Rico for a chance to make the final round.
The WBC has given Twins fans a chance to see more players than any other MLB organization in representation with 13. Earlier in the week, it got really interesting as Glen Perkins (US) pitched to Justin Morneau (Canada), with Joe Mauer (US) behind the plate calling the shots. Morneau lined a single into right field for the individual bragging rights, but the United States ultimately won the game and the Canadians are no longer in the tournament.
Canada did have some excitement in their game against Mexico last week, however, which involved another former Twin Rene Tosoni. If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend clicking here. It will definitely be worth your minute and 18 seconds – I promise. Notice how our big first baseman hangs out in the back as the two teams duke it out. Thanks Justin – you’re too important to the Twins to get involved in a nice big scrum.
Twins pitcher Samuel Deduno started tonight for the Dominican Republic, and for a guy that probably won’t even make the MLB rotation for one of the worst pitching staffs in baseball, he was on fire tonight. Deduno held a powerful US lineup to just one run in four innings, striking out seven American hitters. Of course he reached his pitch limit (85) in just four innings, but an All-Star laden lineup mustered only a run against Deduno.
If you would have asked me a month ago what I thought about the World Baseball Classic, I would have given you every reason why it shouldn’t exist. It interrupts Spring Training. There’s too much of a risk of players getting hurt that mean too much to their MLB clubs. Some of the best players from each country (see: Justin Verlander) aren’t even playing. A few of the rosters include players who only qualify for that country because their great-uncle’s cousin went on vacation there once (see: Italy).
After watching quite a few of the games now, let me tell you that baseball needs this event. Tonight I saw a roster full of Dominicans run out onto the field to mob Nelson Cruz after scoring – wait for it – the go-ahead run. Not a walk-off score, but the go-ahead score. What really made this over-the-top exciting for the Dominicans was the pitch before Erick Aybar knocked in the go-ahead run. With a 1-1 count, Craig Kimbrel threw a backdoor slider that missed the plate literally by a foot. The ump called strike two to the dismay of the entire Dominican dugout. With the infield in, one out, and a runner on third (Nelson Cruz) with the game tied 1-1, Aybar laced the next pitch to right field for a single and the celebration was on. The Dominican Republic scored again in the 9th and Fernando Rodney pitched a 1-2-3 bottom of the 9th to beat the US and seal a spot in the final round.
The pride that some (not all) of these countries have for their national teams has been a breath of fresh air. Canadian fans fought with Mexican fans as the players brawled on the field that day. Young Dominican kids celebrated in the seats behind the dugout as their national heroes brought home the victory against the US. Just beating the US tonight was cause for a team celebration on the field as Dominican manager Tony Pena hugged his players out on the infield.
The World Baseball Classic is a big deal. It isn’t the World Cup of soccer, and it may never be, but I can imagine some of the rivalries brewing as some of these smaller countries (the Dominican Republic has about 1/4 of the population of California alone) pull of the upset against baseball giants like the US. Fans rally around the great players from their countries, and inspire young kids to set their sights on that same dream. With the sport of baseball no longer part of the Olympics, the WBC hopefully will grow into an event where every player will want to be involved. There are flaws, and the timing may never be perfect. However, once the games start, there isn’t too many things in sports more entertaining that athletes competing for their countries.
Follow Twins Rubes on Twitter @twinsrubes.