For various reasons, I have not been able to write about the World Baseball Classic 2009 the way I did in 2006.
But, with the first round over but for one slot in the next round to be determined tonight (and a couple of games only about Round-2 seeding), this has been a thriller so far.
Who knew that The Netherlands1 would have the best pitching and just enough offense to beat twice–and thus eliminate–a Dominican team loaded with all-star talent? They even held a Puerto Rican team, also loaded with top talent, scoreless till late in a game eventually won by also-advancing Puerto Rico. (Maybe the Dutch pitching coach can add this to a Hall of Fame resume that continues, for unfathomable reasons, to fail to impress the Hall electorate.)
And Australia? We don’t usually think of our friends down under when we think of baseball powerhouses (though the number of Australian players signed by MLB organizations in recent years seems to be sharply up). Yet tonight they have a chance to advance if they can beat Mexico a second time. That seems like a tall order, but given that they not only beat, but dismantled, the Mexican team earlier in the week, who can rule it out? Their team looks good, if not exactly deep. They even gave the Cubans a hard time last night (though Cuba got a clutch 3-run homer and thus assured itself of moving on to the next round).
Even Italy2 pulled off an upset, beating Canada (though not advancing). And Chinese Beijing won its first WBC game, and has some players who look like they might have a shot on this side of the Pacific.
The world of baseball is looking good. And the final Netherlands-DR game and last night’s Cuba-Australia game were as tense and exciting as anything I could hope for over the coming regular MLB season. Too bad that, after this tournament ends, we have to wait four years for the next one.
1. Many of the Dutch players are from the Netherlands Antilles (Aruba and Curacao–don’t they play baseball on Bonaire?), and a few are Americans with perhaps somewhat tenuous connections to their family’s European roots. Yet several are directly from the European country whose name the team bears. Regarding that pitching, remember these names: Tom Stuifbergen, Alexander Smit, Rob Cordemas, Dennis Neuman, Diegomar Markwell and Leon Boyd. (And not to be forgotten: Sidney Ponson.)
2. While still featuring several Italian-Americans (e.g. Nick Punto) and even a Venezuelan (the country name means Little Venice, after all!), there seem to be more Italian-born players who actually play in Italy’s professional leagues than at WBC ’06.