Saturday, March 11, 2017

World Baseball Classic - Game 1 - USA vs Colombia

A quick blog posting on my Experiences at the World Baseball Classic, Pool C, in Miami, Florida.
USA vs. Colombia.  Final Score: 3 to 2 - USA Wins.
The Game
Based on the scores I’d seen posted in previous WBC games, I figured we were in for an offensive oriented affair.  My expectation was strengthened when they announced one of the rule changes to MLB play: Pitchers are on a strict 65 pitch limit.  They can only go over that count to finish an at-bat.  I thought that once the starters were done for the day at least, the batters would get a chance to feed on the relievers.  
That didn’t quite happen.  The starting pitchers, Jose Quintana for Colombia and Chris Archer were masterful in their openings.  Archer pitched perfect baseball for his four innings before being pulled after the fourth, having thrown only 41 pitches.  Pulling him before his limit I believe saves him to return for another appearance, as pitchers that hit the maximum are forced to rest a certain number of days.  Quintana almost as good, allowing only a single man to walk before giving up a single in the fifth. Quintana did get some inspired help from his centerfielder, Tito Polo, who robbed Team USA batters of four of five hits that would have been doubles and at least one run that would have scored had he not made another of his diving catches.  
In the news this morning, it was mentioned that Archer and Quintana combined for the longest stretch of run-less baseball in the history of the WBC.  Well played.
After the starters left, things got more interesting as both bullpens struggled to hold the opposing batters in check.  Whenever I checked the scoreboard, it seemed to show the pitcher on the mound throwing as many balls as strikes, if not more.  This seemed to be more true for the USA relievers, one of whom gave up the first runs of the game by giving up three doubles in a row to Colombia.  Team USA had to work harder to get runners in scoring position, and was only able to tie the game when a third strike got past the Colombian catcher.  Nolan Arenado, hesitated a second before sprinting to first.  He barely beat the throw to be safe, and the running came home from third to score.  
The game stayed tied, despite an opportunity for Colombia when a Team USA reliever walked two men in a row with one out, until the bottom of the 10th when Adam Jones, with men on second and third, smacked a hit into shallow left-center, scoring the runner from third.  
This was a great game to watch.  It started as a tense pitchers duel and turned into a twisting turning affair where it felt like any hit, or blown throw, might decide the game.  From the fifth inning forward, I had to get up out of my seat and pace back and forth along the concourse to blow off steam and tension and continue watching.  
The Experience
The game was very fast paced.  That’s what happens when you have two pitchers efficiently dealing with one side of batters after another.  We reached nine innings before three hours, and only got a little ways past the three-hour mark because of extra innings.  
Besides the 65 pitch limit, WBC apparently uses the DH, Designated Hitter rule.  This was another reason why I figured on seeing more offense.  Another rule change they announced at the top of the 10th which I didn’t get to see,, if a game is tied at the end of the 10th inning, starting with the 11th inning, the hitting team gets to start with men on first and second base.  A baseball version of sudden-death.  We didn’t get to see that happen, but it’s an interesting idea.  
The Fans
When I first went to Japan in 2007, one of things I wanted to do was see a baseball.  Not just because I’m a fan of the sport, but because I had started studying Japanese the year before, I thought the game would prove to be something of a Rosetta Stone for me.  I knew the game and could follow along despite being able to speak only basic “survival level” Japanese at the time, and would be able to gain insight into their culture by how they played and watched the game.  
The World Baseball Classic is the first international sports festival I’ve attended.  And despite not coming with the specific intent of gaining insight into Colombian culture through baseball, I did notice somethings about how the fans participated in the event.  
Basically, they are like the Japanese, only different.
The difference amounted to that of discretion.  The Japanese will chant and make noise for their team when they are up to bat.  When their team is on defense, Japanese support turns into something you might see and hear at a golf tournament, polite applause and nods at the good play just made.
The Colombians don’t make the distinction between when their team is at the plate or in the field.  They make noise.  A lot of it.  It seems like they only quiet down to take a breath before banging their drums and tooting their horns.  And their is none of the organized chants the Japanese love to memorize and sing together.  The only thing I clearly recognized was, “Colombi, Colombi, Colombi!” when their team was threatening, or was trying to squelch a threat.  It sounds similar to what I’ve heard when international soccer games are aired on TV.  American fan participation tends to be more sedate for the most part, spiking when some big hit happens, or at a dramatic situation when everyone stands up to see what’s going to happen.  Only then will they join together in a ritual chant, like “Let’s Go, Dodgers!”
Colombian fans, just like the Japanese fans I’ve watched games with, also seem to be a very polite crowd.  At the game I was surrounded by people wearing Colombia colors.  A few Americans were around me at the beginning, but left soon after, presumably to find more red, white and blue seating that open closer to the action.  
I noticed that these fans made a concerted effort to engage me in a positive fashion depending on what was happening on the field.  If Team USA made a great defensive play, they would turn to me, give me a thumbs up and say, “Your guys are good.”  When their side made made a big play, like when Tito robbed Team USA of a run, after cheering they would turn to me and shrug.  “Lucky catch,” they said once.  “Next time, your guys, they gonna get it, for sure.”  
For my part, I did what I could to return the sportsmanlike attitude, answering questions about what was written up on the scoreboard, and explaining what I knew about the rule changes for the tournament.  
At the end, after Team USA won, they looked at each other and shrugged that “oh, well…” shrug every sports fan knows.  As they walked past me to leave, they each extended their hand to shake mine or offer a fist bump.
“Good game.”  “Good job.”  “Congratulations.”  It was almost like I had arranged all this for them.  But as the only representative of my country on that row, I shook their hands, bumped their fists and agreed it was a very good game.  

I didn’t thank them for coming, like I’d actually hosted the game for them.  That would have been weird.  


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