World Baseball Classic – Day 2
Konbanwa. Well, two games down and thirty-seven to go. If the quality and intensity of the first game today continues over the rest of the World Baseball Classic, Jack Curry will have to answer his own question posed in today’s New York Times — that this is a real competition and not just a "series of hyped exhibitions." It is a shame that the Korean third baseman and slugger D.J. Kim dislocated his shoulder in the first game, but he did it diving into first base — not a maneuver often seen even during the regular season, let alone during an exhibition or Spring Training game. The play of the middle infield for both teams in the game between Korea and Taipei was terrific and I counted at least five diving stops during the game, not bad for the first game of the first-ever tournament. While as we expected on a Friday morning the crowd was small, the cheering sections from the two countries were organized and loud throughout the game.
Clearly the stars of Game 1 were the Major League pitchers Jae Seo (Los Angeles Dodgers), Byung Hyun Kim (Colorado) and the veteran Chan Ho Park (San Diego) for Korea who effectively shut down Taipei for the entire game. Dodger prospect Ching-Lung Hu kept Taipei’s hopes alive in the ninth inning but a great diving stop (again) by the Korean shortstop ended the game with the tying runs on base.
A real sense of what this event is all about, and one I wish we had videotaped for posterity, occurred in the umpires’ room before the game. The manager of each team, the umpires and the Baseball Classic Technical Committee members on hand gathered to go over the rules of the tournament and the ground rules for the game. Sandy Alderson, the Chair of the Technical Committee, led the meeting. There was a Chinese interpreter for the Taipei manager, a Korean interpreter for the Korean manager, a Japanese interpreter for the Japanese umpires and Marty Springstead, the umpire supervisor, translated Sandy for the U.S. umpires (just kidding!). A 15-minute meeting stretched for over a half hour and at times sounded like a bad shortwave radio when everyone got going at once. It certainly gave all of us the sense that this was truly a global event and that the common language was baseball. The rule on trips to the mound, which differs from country to country, took the most time, but once the game started, everything seemed to work out and there were no rule controversies.
Game 2 was a different story. China was clearly outmatched — not surprising given that Japan has had a hundred-year head start on China in its love of baseball. China managed to hold the game to 2-2 after four innings thanks to the heroics of catcher Wei Wang, who gunned out a runner at second in the third and hit a two-run homer in the fourth, but you could sense that the floodgates would open at some point, and the Japanese team did not disappoint.
For me, the most interesting part of the second game came before it started. While Japan took infield practice before the game, the Chinese team sat in their dugout in rapt attention. When Ichiro made a throw from medium right field on a line to home to end the fielding drill, the crowd gave him an ovation. Manager Jim Lefevbre turned to his players and commented "That’s what we call a Major League arm."
Tommy Lasorda is here as the Official Ambassador at Large for the entire event. Tommy is revered wherever he goes. You can’t get into an elevator with Tommy because everyone getting on or off wants to talk to him or get an autograph and he obliges everyone. Mr. Hu Jianguo, the President of the Chinese Baseball Federation, said that when Tommy visited China he was mobbed everywhere he went. Apparently even the Yellow River runs Dodger Blue. Tommy threw out the first pitch tonight and while it was a little short of 60′ 6", he got a nice ovation from the crowd anyway.
It was also great to see Peter O’Malley, the former Dodger owner who still has lots of friends on this side of the world. Peter acted on his global vision for the game years ago to the Dodgers’ great advantage. He signed the first player out of the Japanese professional leagues, Hideo Nomo, the first Korean, Chan Ho Park, and of course, created a legend north and south of the border with the great Fernando Valenzuela from Mexico. There were times when the Dodgers could have held their own World Baseball Classic.
I’ll try to respond to some of the critical comments that have been posted as we go along and will try not to sound defensive. First, this event is not about the money. After expenses and prize money (which goes to the baseball federations of the winning countries primarily for grass roots development), there will be little left over. It is about expanding the game. There are now 122 countries with baseball federations, triple what there were 20 years ago. China is largely an untapped market (despite how well Taiwan always did in the Little League World Series). We have solid exposure and acceptance in Latin America, and are solid in Asia but not so good in Europe. Italy and the Netherlands being in this event are a start. We hope to play some regular season games in the next couple of years in Europe. The World Baseball Classic games are being televised in over 200 countries in multiple languages and are available worldwide on mlb.com. All the games are being broadcast in English and Spanish on XM radio. We could get no better exposure or excitement to jump-start the 2006 season.
Tommorow: Why not November?