Sunday, March 29, 2009

The legend of Ichiro

PRELUDE: YouTube was blocked in China these last few days, otherwise I would've gotten this up sooner.

Recently I've had a chance to re-watch the critical moments of the WBC final between Korea and Japan, and I have to say: like watching soccer on Univision, watching a Japanese broadcast of baseball really adds to the experience, even if you don't know what anyone's saying. Although you could probably guess, after the camera pans out from its besotted slow sweep of Ichiro's face, that the guys in the booth are screaming something to the effect of, "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!"

The seven-and-a-half-minute version of that video is here.

With Ichiro standing on first, a color commentator on a Chinese (probably Taiwan) broadcast said, "Hero. Really nothing else to say. Hero," while the play-by-play man raced over his words to describe what just happened.

And this is the bottom of the 9th, in Chinese:

Finally, the American version (the highlights, anyway).

Friday, March 27, 2009

In the full spirit of spring

Lee Hoffer, writing in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, about the Astros and their 19-game spring training winless streak:

They will probably win more than 6% of their games—that would be 10—come the regular season, we'll give him that. But this stretch of sustained failure does give pause. It challenges the whole idea of spring training as just seven weeks of enforced camaraderie, a competition-free zone, no consequences whatsoever. It's just not likely, not from what we know of sports, that a team can lose that many games in a row and have it simply not matter.


Ourselves, we're kind of hoping the Astros do go on to the World Series, if only to satisfy the fantasy that somewhere (either in Arizona or Florida, of course) and sometime (just early spring) there are grown men playing baseball just for the fun of it, without penalty or sanction. It's a pleasant idea, isn't it? The games will count way too much, soon enough.

Still, we'd like to point out the Royals are third from the top among American League teams.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

World Baseball Classic final: awesome

LOS ANGELES -- If you could hear yourself think at Dodger Stadium Monday -- and such an ordinary task became a downright challenge amid the 54,846 flag-waving, drum-beating, thunderstick-whacking, whistle-blowing, aisle-dancing zealots as Japan battled Korea in a final straight out of 1960s Americana -- what you understood was that the World Baseball Classic grew bigger and better in its second incarnation. An acquired taste for smug Americans, the party goes on in 2013 whether America wants to resist it or not, not unlike the soccer World Cup.
--Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated

On one side you have the naysayers, including many Major League Baseball general managers and inane national columnists like Gene Wojciechowski who have mastered the art of thinking small.

On the other you have the people who know and like baseball, including the actual participants.

It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who's read this blog whose side I'm on. My two cents:

Why is there even a debate?

The term "provincialist" has been used as a popular put-down for non-supporters, but I don't think we need to resort to name-calling. I've implied it before but I'll make it clear now: for Americans who can't see or understand the allure of the WBC and its impact on international baseball -- not to be confused with "international tournaments"; I'm talking about professional baseball leagues in Japan, Korea, Cuba, etc., and baseball fans in countries around the world -- I say, Too bad.

It's too bad you didn't think it worth your time to watch baseball players slide so hard into second they'd crack their helmets in the front and the back.

It's too bad you don't like rivalries, especially ones seeped so deep in world history it'd be fair to call last night's game one of those "transcendent" sporting events.

It's too bad you don't like watching ninth-inning rallies, and stars shine at just the right moments, and managers second-guessed, and celebrations worthy of a parade.

It's just too bad.

I don't need to rehash the arguments for the WBC, such as how injuries can happen in spring training, players can use preparation for the WBC as an excuse to not be lazy in January, etc., nor do I want to copy and paste large portions of Verducci's column about the WBC's impact in other countries (please just read it; I will say he mentioned the Royals: "The interest was not confined to the Pacific Rim. The 39 WBC games drew an average of 20,549 fans per game -- making the WBC, on average, a better draw than three major league franchises: the Royals, Pirates and Marlins. The WBC drew seven crowds in excess of 40,000 -- more than the Marlins, Nationals, Royals, Indians, White Sox and Athletics combined in 486 games last year").

I'll just leave it at this: watch this video and tell me you wouldn't have wanted to be in L.A., or whether there was a time Jon Miller and Joe Morgan ever sounded so good.

As for last words, ESPN's Eric Neel can have them:

I didn't see a game so much as a happening, an event in which every moment, from the plays made in the field to the explosive cheers in the stands, felt charged with intense desire and fierce competition.

I hope you saw it too. I hope, like me, what you saw made you think the lingering questions about whether the WBC is here to say seem silly. I hope, like me, what you saw made your worrying and wondering about what happened to Team USA and about why they have failed to win this tournament twice now seem entirely beside the point.

I hope you saw Japan 5, Korea 3 for what it was: A great night of baseball, a great night for baseball.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A quick question

So, we understand the excitement around the semifinals and finals of the World Baseball Classic -- by the way, congratulations to Korea for advancing -- and that for fans of non-American teams this tournament is providing an outlet for expressing national pride, but on a scale of 1 to 10, if you were sitting in this section in the video below between all the thunderstix and had to listen to air horns go off next to your ear for three-plus hours, how annoyed would you be?

Again -- congratulations to South Korea for advancing to the WBC finals.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sidney Ponson is just the piece the Royals need...

...To attract Jerry Crasnick's attention, writing in ESPN:

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- On the heels of the Bruce Chen signing, Tug Hulett's demotion to Triple-A Omaha and the birth of Jose Guillen's son Derek, the Kansas City Royals mixed in another intriguing transaction this week. They picked up Sidney Ponson, World Baseball Classic stalwart, nemesis of Aruban judges and a guy who was released by Texas last June for conduct unbecoming a teammate.

About the importance of a strong bullpen, this is more or less right on:

Both the front office and manager Trey Hillman also subscribe to the notion that nothing crushes a team's spirit more than blown leads in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.

"I just read a comment by [Diamondbacks manager] Bob Melvin last week and I agree with it wholeheartedly," Hillman said. "He talked about how terrible you feel when you lose a game out of the bullpen. When you have a lead and end up losing the game, it cuts twice."

A recommended read. You won't find a longer article in a national publication/website about the Kansas City Royals bullpen.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Oh. My. God

"I'm not going to ask [fans] to be happy, because I know how it feels. And I'm a winner, but I don't like to go home losing. And I lost today. Only God knows -- only God knows why we lost."
--Pedro Martinez, after the Netherlands eliminated the
Dominican Republic
from the World Baseball Classic

Maybe the Dominican Major Leaguers and its manager should've gone easier on those "we're way better than them" quotes after their first loss to the Dutch, eh?

Netherlands 2, D.R. 1, 11 inn.

ESPN's Jorge Arangue Jr.:

Late in the game, after each successive inning in which the impossible really did happen, Netherlands first baseman Randall Simon paced around the area near his position and pleaded with his dead mother for a miracle. Simon's team had fought the powerful Dominican Republic team to a draw in Tuesday's elimination game, making it the night of the improbable, so who was to say she would not listen?

"If you're here with me," Simon said to her, "talk to the Lord, because these guys really deserve it."

SI's Tom Verducci:

Major League Baseball can work all of its machinations to pump up interest in the tournament, such as marketing and broadcasting. But there is nothing more powerful to sell the tournament than the unscripted magnificence of the game itself, never more so than when what we regard as the meek overtake the mighty. The Dominicans, because of the country's abiding love for baseball, will bear grief and shame for the defeat.

But for the Dutch, and for those who saw the WBC as a means to grow the game, victory is eternal. Van Gogh. Escher. DeKooning. And now make way for a new Dutch master: DeCaster.

Your video:

POSTSCRIPT: From the above-linked Verducci article, a blurb too good to not post here:

Venezuelan fans match their passion with inventiveness. At-bats by Chavez were occasions to announce their disapproval of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez: "Endy, si! Chavez, no!"

And speaking of heads of state, Fidel Castro is blogging on the WBC. No, really. The Cuban president, writing under Reflections by Comrade Fidel, apparently is down with sabermetric principals that regard giving up an out with a sacrifice bunt as poor strategy. He took Japan to task for bunting in the eighth inning of a one-run game against Korea. ("an error whichever elemental way it is analyzed"). He also rapped his own team for "carelessness" on the basepaths (in a blowout win over South Africa, no less), lamented not winning the game by the mercy rule, and wrote he wants Cuba to beat Japan in the finals. Harsh stuff. Does the guy think he's some dictator, or what?

Monday, March 9, 2009

World Baseball Classic

I just want to point out how absolutely ecstatic the Japanese fans in the sold-out Tokyo Dome are at seeing Ichiro hit singles.

Lest you need another reminder, they love him there.

God I miss this.

Meanwhile, in China, no one noticed the national team bowed out of the tournament with a pretty bad loss to South Korea. It's not the Olympics any more...

But, hey, at least they beat Chinese Taipei (again).