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February 8, 2007

Caribbean Series

Day Six

by Derek Jacques

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It's been a wild ride, twelve games over six days, and with the 18-inning barnburner that led off the tournament, that's close to 120 innings of baseball. Getting to the park early, leaving late after the postgame press conferences, getting back to the temporary headquarters to finish writing and file, then going right back to the ballpark after a bit of sleep and doing the whole thing all over again. I have a newfound respect for the work of all those beat writers out there who do this every day. As the tournament comes to a close, I feel tired, but it's a good kind of tired. I know I'm lucky to have been here, lucky to write about such a great game, and lucky that there are so many incredible people from all over the world who have the same passion for baseball that I do.

Now that I'm telling you how lucky and blessed I am, I guess it's as good a time as any to tell you that I didn't cover the Caribbean Series in person in Carolina on Wednesday, but rather from San Juan. The reasons are too boring to share, but on the theory that if given lemons, make lemonade, I took the opportunity to take in some of the televised options for watching the Caribbean Series.

First, briefly, there was the afternoon game, which I wasn't able to catch in its entirety. I tuned into this one using MLB.tv, which had been the topic of a lot of reader e-mail after I asked how the English language broadcasters were doing on Unfiltered. The consensus seemed to be that the father/son team of Victor and Cookie Rojas were all right, and the other team of Felix DeJesus and Eddy Perez were...um, not. Perhaps the most emphatic email I got about the DeJesus/Perez pairing came from reader S.T.:

I watched the rain delay and part of the top of the first inning of the Venezuela vs. Mexico game on Sunday and couldn't take it any more. The play-by-play guy (De Jesus) sounded as if he was watching his first ever baseball game and he and Eduardo Perez kept referring to players' batting averages based on TWO! Games. I've heard high school kids do better jobs than that guy. Oh, by the way, he twice mispronounced Roberto Clemente's name. It came out Roberte Clemento.

I didn't go back and re-watch Venezuela/Mexico on MLB.tv, so I can't attest to S.T.'s specific complaints, but given what I heard from them on Wednesday afternoon's broadcast, I'd say he's not far out of line. When I think about TV broadcast teams, there are three elements that I tend to grade them on. The first one is technical: Do they have good voices? Do they get names right, and accurately identify who's on the field? Are they smooth and confident when they speak? The second element is content, which is much simpler: Are they adding value to the broadcast? Are they entertaining me? Am I learning more about the game than I would if I just watched the video with the sound off? The final element is chemistry-which I don't necessarily believe in as an element of a winning baseball team, but which is crucial to the broadcast experience. Do the broadcasters sound like they're communicating with each other, as well as their audience? Do the play-by-play and color guys fulfill and balance their responsibilities in the booth?

Eddie Perez isn't a good technical broadcaster-his voice is kind of grating and his flow isn't smooth. We often let technical concerns slide for color commentators, particularly the ones who used to play the game, since their main responsibility is content, providing anecdotes and insights that add something to the broadcast. Perez fails in this area, too: most of his commentary was obvious, and he had a bad habit of simply narrating replays rather than commenting on the action. He also didn't have much of a vocabulary-at one point, I could've sworn he identified three straight guys as "Mexico's best hitter" (he was one for three-the correct answer was Luis Garcia). He just didn't seem to have much to say.

DeJesus has a better voice than Perez, but that's not exactly high praise. He pronounced every name correctly while I was watching, but he didn't sound terribly confident with his play-by-play, and the flow of his commentary was uneven. I don't know his history in broadcasting, but he sounded like he was new to doing play-by-play and maybe could improve with more experience.

Based on an admittedly small sample of their work, and the strong opinions of the readers, I think whoever put these two together did a disservice to the event and a disservice to the broadcasters themselves. After five straight days of broadcasting games together, DeJesus and Perez had no chemistry at all. Each seemed surprised when the other spoke, and the whole thing felt as awkward as a bad first date. If either of these guys had a more experienced partner, you could've had a decent broadcast. Instead, it was painful.

As for the game itself, it was good to see Mexico finally win one. It was hardly a perfect effort-there were a couple of miscues, one of them costly-but the Mexican team steadily improved from their horrifying first three games, and they stopped a streak that would have seen Mexico shut out in two straight Caribbean Series. One of the things that I missed out on by not being at the ballpark was Lorenzo Bundy's press conference. Bundy, Hermosillo's manager, had the unenviable task of being Mexico's representative to the press after each of their losses. Bundy knows enough Spanish to get by, and did each of these pressers in Spanish, and if I was a less good-hearted person, I would have started a betting pool on how many times he said the word "mal" (which means badly). It seemed the answer to every question Bundy was asked involved some variation on, "Mal. Muy, muy, mal." It would have been nice, after all the depressing conferences Bundy gave, to finally see him have reason to smile.

Getting to the nightcap grudge match between the Dominicans and Puerto Ricans, I'm able to watch this one with both my laptop and a regular-sized television at the temporary HQ in San Juan. The plan was to have the DirecTV-enabled set on the Spanish language broadcast of the game, but get the audio from MLB.tv's feed.

You see, I love los dos Rojas. Son Victor has a true major-league announcing voice, simultaneously very polished and natural. His father, Cookie, speaks with a pronounced Cuban accent but is very understandable. Everything he says is spoken with the complete confidence and authority of someone who's spent his life in baseball, and is familiar with the Caribbean players and leagues. The best part is that Rojas father and son have great chemistry. They don't step on each other's feet, they have great rhythm on the give-and-take, and they pick up on each other's conversational threads. You can imagine that if they weren't broadcasting the game, they'd be having a similar conversation amongst themselves while watching the game at home.

Speaking of talking amongst themselves, the MLB.tv feed isn't interrupted by commercials, so between innings you're hearing father and son chat with each other, and with unidentified third parties in the broadcast booth, on an open mike. It's cool-and true to what I've seen in the press box all week-that after an inning, they're still talking about baseball (after the bottom of the third, Cookie saying "Why wouldn't you send him? Why wouldn't you send him?"), laughing about the Dominicans' Eagle mascot, and talking about the cheerleaders. In the top of the third inning, Cookie was talking about Anderson Hernandez, and between half-innings, you can hear Victor quietly remind him (in Spanish) that Hernandez had been injured, not benched, when he lost his Major League spot with the Mets last season. In the fourth, when Jose Fernandez is called out on strikes, during the break Victor breaks into a dead-on Keith Olbermann impression, "Note to self: swing the bat!" It's great.

As much as I love the Rojas & Rojas show, and would be overjoyed if they took over primary broadcasting duties from Buck and McCarver on FOX, by the fifth inning I'd given up on getting my audio from the computer. As many readers pointed out, technically MLB.tv's performance is no match for television on cable, satellite, or even using a rabbit-eared antenna.

I've found that MLB.tv works okay, but with lots of little annoyances. On my brand new laptop, I can't reliably watch the game and have Gamecast running at the same time. Both must use the same port or something, because when they're both on the video turns into a slideshow, and Gamecast drops in and out unexpectedly. Since I think that Gamecast is the best thing since sliced bread, this is a big problem for me.

The other thing is that on Wednesday night MLB.tv seemed to alternate problems with the audio and video feeds, so the picture will be nice, but the audio will hiccup, and then the video will blank out but the audio keeps going. On my computer, things would get back in sync if I just paused the video for a second and then hit play. That was not a permanent solution, however, and I found myself hitting the button 10-15 times per inning, while trying to keep game notes. Very annoying.

Also, MLB.tv operates on a delay somewhere between 15-30 seconds behind the live images. My little pause/play trick delayed the MLB.tv stream even further, and at some point I was an entire commercial break behind. It was interesting to see plays three minutes before you hear the commentary; it's kind of like being on heavy painkillers. Finally, it was just too much. From this point, we'll go with bullet points on the final game of the 2007 Caribbean Series:

  • On BP Radio, Will Carroll asked me how it's possible that Jose Lima could be effective in Winter Ball. Watching on television has the benefit of giving you a more consistent view of what the pitcher's throwing. Lima's fastball was moving more than it has in a long time, particularly the tailing action that he used very effectively on the inside part of the plate against lefthanders. It also looks like he's throwing harder than he has in his last few major league stops. Cookie Rojas made the point that Lima might be an effective reliever in the Show at this stage in the game.

  • Another thing helping Lima was that this PR team just wasn't an offensive juggernaut. Who was the best hitter on this team? Maybe it's Armando Rios, or possibly Juan Gonzalez. If the top hitter on a major league team was Armando Rios, or a 2006 version of Juan Gonzalez, do you think you'd have a good lineup? Me neither.

  • In the seventh, there's no score and the Dominicans load the bases with two outs. Bernie Castro is the batter, and manager Felix Fermin lets him hit. Yep, Castro isn't a terribly good hitter (PECOTA predicts a .218 EqA for him in 2007) but what to the Dominicans have on the bench? Tony Pena Jr. (.210 PECOTA EqA), Pablo Ozuna (.234), and backup catcher Luke Carlin (no PECOTA, but .218 lifetime EqA in the minors). Given that Castro had the platoon advantage on Fernando Cabrera, the decision not to use Ozuna there is defensible.

  • In the bottom of the seventh, Miguel Tejada made a great, running barehand play to end the inning. Given the dead-eyed way Tejada has sometimes played ball with Baltimore over the last couple of years, it's amazing to be reminded of the energy and enthusiasm he can show on the field. It's also pretty cool that all tournament long, the Dominican team comes out of the dugout not only to congratulate players when they score, but to congratulate a player on a big defensive play. Sure, they've already won the tournament, but this is the enthusiasm they had from game one.

  • Speaking of enthusiasm, Jose Lima's a lunatic-and I mean that in the nicest way possible. Striking out Luis Matos in the eighth means that Lima does a little dance move, and starts shouting, whether at Matos or himself or imaginary elves, no one can quite be sure. Getting out of the inning, as with any inning when a baserunner's been on, involves a large number of chest thumps on his way to the dugout.

  • In the top of the ninth, Tony Batista connects with the first extra-base hit of the game, a double into the left-center gap. That bit about the first extra-base hit is the first bit of actual useful information I've gotten from the DirecTV Spanish announcers over the last four innings, which isn't a criticism, really. They've just kind of faded into the background, which means at least they're not annoying me.

  • "Lima Time" is finally up in the ninth, when Armando Rios draws a walk, as well as a fair amount of conversation from Lima, who yells at him, jokes with him, and then sticks out his tongue at him. Then Lima tries to pick Rios off. Then there's more talking. Juan Gonzalez isn't hearing any of Lima's jabbering, he just singles to left, and Felix Fermin comes out to go get his eccentric veteran out of the game.

  • Arnold Munoz comes into the game, which was pretty much a throw-in-the-towel move. He'd been the weak link in the Dominican bullpen, not that it'd really hurt them until now, when he allowed the game-winning single to Javier Valentin.

So that's the Caribbean Series. No team ended winless or undefeated. Next year's tourney will be in the Dominican Republic. Looking beyond this tournament, I'd say that some players helped themselves. Lima's eight shutout innings on Wednesday were likely to rouse the curiosity of a few hard-up major league suitors, Luis Garcia might get a look for his strong hitting with the Mexicans, and Tony Batista's MVP-winning performance could be enough to con a major league team into giving him a shot-despite the home runs, his bat looked slow to me. It's only a few days to pitchers and catchers, so we'll see soon enough who's able to leverage their performance here into a major league job.

Derek Jacques is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. You can reach Derek by clicking here or click here to see Derek's other articles.

Derek Jacques is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Derek's other articles. You can contact Derek by clicking here

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