Another perfect weather day here in San Juan. The only rain was between games, and since the first game did not start until 3 p.m., you could get in a whole day of work or beach or sun before going to the ballpark.
As suggested last night, the four teams in this bracket are now each 1-1, which sets up an intriguing set of two one-game playoffs over the next two nights. The winning team in tomorrow’s game between the Dominican Republic and Venezuela and the winning team between Cuba and Puerto Rico on Thursday are on their way to San Diego on Saturday to face each other in one of the semifinal games. It also means that one team will advance from each of the Orlando and San Juan pools from Round 1. There, the Dominicans beat Veneuzuela in the first game of the round-robin and Puerto Rico beat Cuba in the last game of Round 1 in a game that did not matter since both teams were advancing. It should be two great games.
In the first game today, the Cubans started as if they were going to pick up where they left off, but they squandered a golden opportunity in the first inning. Meanwhile, the Dominicans also started slowly, going out in order the first two innings. But gradually, the Dominicans dominated both at the plate and on the mound.
The political protestors today got more innovative. First, there was a hired plane that flew around the outside of the stadium for about 15 minutes trailing an anti-Castro banner that was much more aggressive than last night’s T-shirt protest. Frankly, no one in the crowd of over 14,000 seemed to pay any attention to it. Then a row of fans behind home plate took off their shirts to expose T-shirts underneath with the same negative slogan. The security people stepped in and the event was over in a matter of moments. Interestingly, many in the largely local crowd stood up and shouted "Get out" in Spanish to the protestors.
All of the capacity crowd, the noise, the thunder sticks, the music and the magic did not work for the Puerto Rican bats tonight as they were shut out by Venezuela. Carlos Zambrano looked to be in midseason form, throwing 96 mph fastballs and striking out five in his stint. Puerto Rico had its chances, particularly in the seventh inning where local favorite (actually I guess they are all local favorites) Ivan Rodriquez made the final out, leaving the tying runs at the time on base.
A response to a few of the postings:
1. Several fans have looked ahead and seen that the semifinals are the winner of each Round 2 vs. their respective runner-up, rather than cross over winner of Pool 1 vs. runner-up of Pool 2 and vice-versa. They complain that if the two best teams in the tournament come out of one flight, they should meet again only in the finals. I think the complaint is valid. We did it this way because while we believed the tournament would be a success, and that people would watch, we wanted to maximize regional interest in the semifinals for television. The popularity of the event seemingly ensured, I think the cross-over semifinals is the right way to go.
2. Umpires. A few posters have complained about U.S. umpires working U.S. games. Remember, Major Leaguers comprise the bulk of many of the Latin and Canadian rosters, so it was not just a U.S. issue. Given that over half of the total players in the event came from Major League 40-man rosters, given that we were using the Major League Rulebook, and again given that this was a first-time event, we were comfortable using the experienced U.S. umpires in that environment. In fact, the teams in the Asian pool specifically requested U.S. umpires for Round 1 in Tokyo. As we move forward with future versions of the tournament, I am sure we can incorporate more international umpires.
As an aside, while I do not know whether the call in the Japan/U.S. game last night was correct, I am absolutely certain Bob Davidson made the call he believed was correct at the time, without any regard whatsoever for the participants. Bob is a veteran Major League umpire who I am sure instinctively made the call he felt was correct. It is just unfair to question his integrity in any way.
When I was growing up in Connecticut, my father often got assigned to referee the New England High School Hockey Tournament in Providence each spring as one of the two referees assigned from Connecticut. He used to dread getting assigned a Connecticut team in a game, not because he was concerned he would be accused of favoring that team but because he was concerned that subconsciously he would not make a close call for the Connecticut team. He was always relieved when the games ended without a controversy.
3. Some press reported today that overall attendance may be "short of projections." Actually, based on presales we thought we could get close to 800,000. With over 70 percent of the games played, we will probably end up close to 750,000, the only difference being the three "day" games (i.e. non-Japan) in Round 1 in Japan, which each drew only 5,000 in the 50,000-seat Tokyo dome, well short of the promoter’s projections. The other first-round venues and second-round sales have met or exceeded our projections, which also belies the contention that fans around the world care more about the Classic than U.S. fans. Frankly, I think the only skeptics are/were the U.S. media, and many of them have come around.
See you tomorrow.