Monday, March 27, 2017

World Baseball Classic - Semi-Final - Japan vs USA

Japan vs. USA.  Final Score: 2 to 1 - USA Wins. 
Last week, the World Baseball Classic tournament came to an end.  I wasn’t able to attend the second round games in San Diego do to extenuating circumstances from life and work.  Team USA lost to Puerto Rico in San Diego, but was able to beat the Dominican Republic, enacting some revenge for the 7-5 loss I witnessed in Miami and move on to the Semi-final round in Los Angeles at Dodgers Stadium.  
As the runner-up in their pool, they would play the winner of the other pool of teams.  That would be Japan.  A Japan vs. USA match-up was what I wanted to see in the final, but it was coming in the semi-final instead.  Knowing that I would only be able to see one game in the Semi-final/Final round, I decided to go to this game.  It was the match-up I most wanted to see and there’d be no guarantee the USA would be in the final.  
So I got the tickets, took off early from work, and accompanied by a Japanese member of my language group, went to the Ravine.  
The Game
It was tense.  And I’m not just talking about the game.  
The weather forecast was for rain.  We’ve had more than our usual fare of rain this year in the Los Angeles area.  It was ironic that, right after I bought the tickets for the game on Tuesday I saw the weather forecast indicating that, after several bright and sunny days, rain was 60% likely on Tuesday and Wednesday, the scheduled days for the Semi-final games and the Final.  
Dodgers stadium has had only 17 rainouts since opening in 1962.  That is the fewest of any open-air stadium in the MLB.  I decided to look up the stadium’s rainout policy, something I’d never thought to do before.  It told me that, if a gain is rained out then tickets purchased for it could be used for the date it was rescheduled for.  If the game wasn’t rescheduled, then they could be exchanged for a ticket for another game of equal or lesser value.  
The last rainout at Dodgers Stadium was on April 17, 2000 against the Houston Astros.  Would I be dealing with the first rainout in seventeen years?  I DID have to deal with heavy traffic caused by the rain, which increased my tension.  I fought through it.  Did what I could to keep my cool, picked up my companion for the game in Little Tokyo and headed to the stadium.  
When I was buying my parking ticket, I asked the lady in the booth if there was any worry about the game being canceled.  The heavy part of the storm had stopped, but it was still wet and drizzly.  
“Nah…”  The woman said it was such confident certainty that my spirit was brightened like the sun that couldn’t be seen behind the clouds.  “They’ll play.”  
And the game did go on, though I’d never seen Dodgers Stadium quite like that.  It was cold and wet.  A fog hung over the top of the stadium, clouding the lights.  Our seats were just underneath the level above us.  If I leaned forward, which I often do during important moments, water dripped down the back of my neck.  My pant legs from the knees down got quite damp from being just out from under the overhang of the higher deck seats.  
But it didn’t put a damper on the excitement of the crowd.  A good number of people turned out, split about evenly between fans of Team USA and those of Team Japan.  I figure that a lot of the Japan supporters were Japanese ex-pats living in the Los Angeles area.  It was not uncommon to see one sporting a Los Angeles Dodgers cap, while wearing a Team Japan jersey.  As the game continued, the sound kept shifting back and forth between what would be typical for a game in Japan, and what I was used to hearing going to see games in the U.S.  There was a small, but loud group in the left field bleachers supporting Team Japan with the typical horns, drums and chants for each batter that stepped up to the plate.  Their chants were picked up by the fans surrounding us.  
“Ka-tobase!  Ka-tobase!”  I’d heard this chant numerous time attending games in Japan.  I know what it means now.  “Make it Fly!  Make it Fly!”  
The tension of whether or not the game would be played was replaced by the drama and tension of who would win.  Both teams played their own version of short ball.  The first Japanese batter stepping up to the plate with a runner on first tried to bunt him forward.  The Americans were playing hit and run and trying to steal when they could.  Between just about each inning, the field crew came out to lay fresh clay down on the base path, making it look like someone had laid a giant bandaid over a sunburned scar.  
It was a situation when any hit, any dropped ball, could make the difference.  And that proved true for the usually mistake free Japanese.  A grounder that got through the infielder in the fourth.  This allowed the batter, Christian Yelich, to reach second.  Andrew McCutchen later drove him home for Team USA’s first run.  A solo shot by Ryosuke Kikuchi tied the game in the sixth.  Team USA was able to regain its one run lead in the eighth by banging out a series of hits that brought Brandon Crawford home from third.  What should have been a double-play ball turned out to be too late at first, allowing the winning run to score.  This sent Team USA into the final game, where they won the first WBC championship for the country by beating Puerto Rico, another revenge game, 8-0.
The Experience
The weather may have been damp and gloomy, but the spirit of the crowd was not.  As one newspaper writer put it, it had something of a high school atmosphere, with everyone having a great time supporting their team.  
And more impressive than that, was how friendly the crowd was.  It was pretty evenly matched, with the fans of Team USA and Team Japan evenly numbered.  The moment one side started chanting, “Ni-pon, Ni-pon!” the other side would retort, “USA!  USA!”  
But in between the chants and the cheers, and the calls from both sides telling the umps where their judgement was lacking, everyone was having fun together.  I saw Team USA fans giving Team Japan high fives for good plays by their team on the field, and Team Japan fans asking to take photographs with the Team USA fans sitting in their rows.  It was an intense game that both sides wanted their team to win.  But it was also a collection of baseball fans, enjoying the game they love being well-played in conditions that were less than ideal.  It could be said that the conditions heightened the drama.  But it was the fans that elevated this to one of the most intensely fun games I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch.  
It has bothered me since the inception of the WBC that the United States, the country where baseball was born, had not won a championship.  Time after time, Team USA would field a team with a lineup consisting of the best sluggers we had to offer.  Our best finish was in 2013, when we ended up in fourth place.  
This year, we brought together a team of quality position players that could hit and play defense, and added a pitching rotation that could shut opposing batters down.  And this time, we won.  This pleases me greatly.  But the experience of watching games where the crowd was so into it each time, from literally around the world, made me even happier.  
This is something I definitely want to see happen again and again.  

Play Ball!


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