I’m not the storyteller that Joe Sheehan is, so my World Baseball Classic column will come in the form of bullet points.
- The WBC is a success. It’s hard to look out at 30,000 people over two cold but dramatic games, cheering their hearts out, acting like the best of soccer crowds and not see that. Anaheim put on a heck of a show and I was lucky enough to be at the center of it on Sunday.
On the other hand, Team USA isn’t a success. They’re loaded with stars, yet they lack something, right down to Buck Martinez and the absence of creative matchups. The Korean manager, In Sik Kim, was channeling the best impulses of Tony La Russa; his every move–reliever, sac bunt, defensive positioning–worked exactly as planned. While there are plenty of players who could have helped this team, I’m not sure that any of them would have made a difference. This isn’t America’s best.
- As we made our way to the press box, Brad Wochomurka and I were struck by one fact: it was cold. I hadn’t even packed a jacket, knowing that it’s always sunny and 70 in the O.C. Not only did I not see Mischa Barton, that show lied about the weather–when the wind blew, it was bitterly cold.
- Angels Stadium–I’m not sure if it’s in Anaheim or listed as Los Angeles–is a great stadium. I hadn’t been there for years and the updates work pretty well. The stadium has good sight lines and a nice presentation. You can’t look right or left without seeing an Angels logo or, more likely, the face of one of their players. In any trade discussion, Bill Stoneman must involve a calculation for the cost of removing and replacing that player’s image around the ballpark.
- Standing on the field before the game, the passion was apparent not only in the eyes of the fans, but also in the eyes of the players. They looked intense, focused, and even before a seemingly “gimme” game against the Koreans, the U.S. team appeared to realize there were no easy outs in this tournament. The jerseys in the stands were as varied as I’ve ever seen–U.S.A., Dominican Republic, Japan, Korea, and more than a few Angels jerseys dotted the crowd.
- On Sunday night, the crowd itself was the biggest story. A Korea-Mexico crowd that was 10,000 larger than the U.S.-Japan game surprised many in the press. Some assertions that the tickets were sold in anticipation of the U.S. being the Pool B winner and thereby playing the later game seemed unlikely given the huge, passionate sections of Mexican and Korean fans. The flags really seem to add something to the game. That crowd anticipated and relished big plays, politely yet passionately cheering great plays like Mario Valenzuela’s running catch in deep left.
The opposite was the case for Monday’s U.S.-Korea matchup. The crowd was visibly and sonically smaller. The U.S. appears to be the worst draw of the tourney. The next Classic should hold a major portion of the play overseas, perhaps in Japan. It may also be time for the All-Star game to take a page from the NHL and implement a U.S. vs World format. Then again, how would we decide home field advantage in the World Series?
- The game today between Venezuela and the Dominican Republic is a loser-go-home game. One writer joked that they will need extra security for the game. Another suggested they install a metal detector in each dugout. Anyone who saw David Ortiz‘s angry bat flip after his monstrous Monday home run knows who would win that fight.
- Dontrelle Willis has changed his complicated motion yet again. Not only is he throwing across his body, but he isn’t raising his leg as much. He’s also cocking his arm while it’s positioned above his head. After his two poor performances in the Classic, we have to wonder if Willis has much left for the Marlins. “Without a solid Willis at the top of their rotation, the Marlins may not win 40,” Brad said.
Seung Yeop Lee didn’t like the new motion, absolutely crushing one pitch and making Scott Boras’ pre-game prophecy that Lee could hit 30 homers in the majors look smart. Lee signed a one-year deal with the Yomiuri Giants after playing for Bobby Valentine’s Chibe Lotte team last year. Expect Lee to be one of the more sought-after free agents at the Winter Meetings in Orlando.
- I sat for that game with Seung Youn Woo of the Korea Daily, a passionate fan who hates the “no cheering” rule in the pressbox as much as I do. (We’re working, I know.) I asked him why Korea had the blocky “K” on their hat, perhaps the worst looking hat in all of baseball. “If we had it in Korean,” he said, “only Koreans could read it. We’re playing in front of the whole world. English is fine.”
The Korean team has a few players that the American fan would know–Jae Seo pitched well, and Hee Seop Choi still has a few statheads hoping he gets another shot. They also have six Lees in a nine-man lineup, sure to confuse scorekeepers. I asked, with all the similar names, if the players had taken to using nicknames. Seung told me yes: “Seung Yeop Lee is ‘Lion King,’ because he was best player on the Samsung Lions. Jong Beom Lee is called ‘Son of Wind.'” He couldn’t explain why.
- There was controversy in the U.S. game, with an unusual appeal play turning the game around. Replays showed that the final call was probably wrong. It took Kevin Kennedy of XM Radio five minutes to explain the mechanics of it. He did tell me that John McLaren, the third base coach, had alerted manager Buck Martinez that the home plate umpire had made some sort of motion indicating he thought the player had left early. McLaren told Martinez, Martinez came out and got the call, making his unusual managerial moves moot. Watching Sadaharu Oh argue through an interpreter was even odder than it sounds.
- The press box hates Alex Rodriguez. I won’t name names, but many were openly rooting against him. “This game is officially big-time,” one well-known writer said. “A-Rod is choking.” The same writer did call his game-winning hit accurately.
- When the U.S. elected to intentionally walk Ichiro Suzuki, the Japanese section down the first base line chanted “shame, shame, shame” in Japanese. Giants fans could learn something from them.
- As Brad and I stood mere feet away while Mark Teixeira and Matt Holliday put balls into the rocks, we also noticed a player we didn’t recognize. Ken Rosenthal didn’t recognize him either, at least at first, making me feel better since Ken knows everyone. We were able to figure out it was Chase Utley, who had grown his hair out a bit since last season. It still amazes me that a player like Utley, arguably a star in today’s game, could be anonymous even wearing a USA jersey. If he passed me on the street, I still probably wouldn’t notice.
- Derek Jeter gets a lot of hits that just get by the shortstop. In other words, Jeter hits it where he knows he himself couldn’t reach it.
- Ken Griffey Jr. is looking more and more like his dad as he ages. I’m sure he doesn’t mind that so much, but part of the package this year is a lot more weight around the midsection. No one will accuse Junior of juicing, as his chemicals of choice this off-season look more like Twinkies and In-N-Out double-doubles. Then again, he got his weight behind a towering pull shot off Min Han Son, last year’s Korean League MVP.
The World Baseball Classic has to be considered a success so far. The event is well into the black and appears to be bringing fans out to the ballparks, along with the all important dollars, pesos, yens, wons, bolivars, and euros.
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