While Chuck Armstrong, president of the Seattle Mariners, traveled all the way to Japan to watch Ichiro perform for the advancing Japan team last week, the star from the Seattle roster so far in Round 1 has without a doubt been here in Orlando. Adrian Beltre hit his third home run in two games, leading the Dominican to its berth in Round 2 with an 8-3 victory over Italy, which finished its Round 1 eliminated at 1-3. Beltre shows signs of returning to 2004 form where he whacked 48 home runs and batted .334 for the Dodgers before slipping to 19 home runs and .255 last year in his first season with the Mariners. In the second game tonight, Venezuela also advanced, beating a tough Australia team with knuckleballer and secret weapon 35-year-old Phil Brassington, who did not play at all last year but who gave the winning team fits for four innings. Pretty tough to pick which country — Venezuela or the Dominican Republic — has the most enthusiastic fans. We’ll wait until San Juan to decide, where we have the four teams advancing everyone eagerly awaited. The big Puerto Rico/Cuba showdown tomorrow night may give a preview of next week’s coming attractions.
In Phoenix, the tiebreaker suspense was broken early when Mexico threw a four-spot at Canada in the first inning after two were out. If the U.S. beats South Africa tomorrow, they advance, sending Canada home despite its thrilling victory over the U.S. yesterday.
Tiebreakers are tricky things, but necessary in a tournament of this type. Ron Blum of the Associated Press reminded me of a very controversial tiebreaker, when West Germany and Austria advanced out of the first round of the 1982 World Cup. Algeria had upset West Germany and West Germany beat Austria 1-0 in the final game of the round robin, allowing those two teams to qualify at Algeria’s expense. All three had gone 2-1, but based on the 1-0 score, the two European teams advanced. Observors believed that the 1-0 score was not accidental and investigations ensued.
Ratings continue to grow. The U.S./Canada game on ESPN2 surpassed the game the day before and is now the highest-rated show on ESPN2 this year, giving the Classic the first- and second-place shows. As a measuring stick, the games thus far have outrated the regular-season NBA games on ESPN and ESPN2 this year by a significant margin. No doubt interest in the novice event is growing and hopefully the matchups in Round 2 will only enhance your interest.
Before we head on to Round 2 over the weekend, a few answers to some of the questions that have been posed in the postings.
- Seedings in Round 2. The home teams for each game and each round are decided by draw. Each round starts off from scratch. You can only be the home team in two of the three games at most. That is why Japan is the home team in its return matchup with Korea next week, even though Korea advanced as the No. 1 seed.
- Exhibition games in Arizona. Because they had the week in Arizona and wanted to stay sharp, the two Asia pool teams have played exhibition games. Japan wanted to play three; the other three possible qualifiers only wanted to play two. So while we listed on the schedule Asia Pool Team 1 and Asia Pool Team 2, they were designations, not meant to imply winner or runner-up. As long as Japan advanced, it was going to play three games, including one interesting matchup with Seattle. If Japan did not advance, we were going to have to scramble on the third game and try to persuade one of the teams to play an extra game.
- I just flat goofed on Vic Power. Power was, of course, a Puerto Rican, born in Arecibo in 1927 and died last November at 78 years old in Bayamon. I enjoyed his flashy fielding as a kid and really enjoyed his excerpts in the terrific Dan Klores’ movie last year "Viva Baseball," about the struggles of early Latin players in the Major Leagues. I remember Power stealing home twice in one game in 1958, but did not realize until I looked up my mistake that he only stole three bases that entire seaon. Several fair-skinned Cubans played in the Major Leagues through the first 40 years of the last century, of course, but Power was one of the first black Latino players to play in the Majors, making his debut in 1954 with the Philadelphia Athletics. Sorry about the birthplace mistake.
- A recent inquiry was why we played the Dominican Republic/Venezuela game in a stadium holding only just over 10,000 people. Fair question. In hindsight, we probably could have sold twice the number of tickets. But this was a new event, we had no idea if people would travel for Round 1, and we had to consider the likely attendance of the other games in the round robin. Next time we will perhaps consider a split use, like we did in Phoenix this week. On the other hand, the ballpark at Disney’s Wide World of Sports is one of the best Spring Training stadiums in all of baseball.
I have to miss the Orlando finale tomorrow between Australia and the Dominican Republic, but we’ll see you in San Juan. Keep watching, listening and subscribing.