I just finished watching Japan play Korea on the brand new MLB Network for a spot in the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic. Korea won 4-1, upsetting the 2006 champs. Japan will play Cuba for the final spot in the semis. This one wasn't an elimination game, but I am still overwhelmed by how awesome this event is, and how many bright spots there are for baseball these days on the world map.
Earlier, I watched with my father as the United States came back from a 5-3 ninth inning deficit to eliminate Puerto Rico. Kevin Youkilis, Brian Roberts, and Derek Jeter manned two thirds of the infield and batted during the decisive frame. Inter-divisional rivalry flew out the window when David Wright's blooper fell in and scored the tying and winning runs. The Americans ran on the field in joy, piled on Wright and behaved like elated Little Leaguers. This tournament embodies all of the most beautiful parts of the game.
As an AL East blogger, I should probably be writing about Jon Lester's contract, or condemning the Classic for [mildly] injuring Chipper Jones, Dustin Pedroia and Ryan Braun. But the Classic simply means more. As a Yankee fan, I should be thanking the baseball Gods for keeping C.C. Sabathia, Joba Chamberlain, Chien-Ming Wang and A.J. Burnett away from the competition.
But baseball is an international sport. And I hold a deep pride that I am from the country that invented it (although I may hold a deeper pride in being from the mile-square New York border town of Hoboken, New Jersey, where the first game was played). As a baseball fan, I want to see my country's best compete against the world's best. The kid in me wants to see C.C. take the ball in the finals or semifinals, and hand the ball over to Joba in the seventh or the eighth. And I am sure that the kids in Jeter, Roberts and Youkilis feel the same way.
Cole Hamels should be in Miami. Brandon Webb and Danny Haren should be in Miami. Rich Harden should be in Miami. Tim Lincecum should be in Miami. Lester should be in Miami. Grady Sizemore should be playing center field. And they should be facing Carlos Zambrano and Johan Santana when they play Venezuela in the pool championship game tomorrow.
As a Yankee fan, I hate Kevin Youkilis. From the visceral depths of my humanity. But as an American, I cheered my head off when he homered against the Commonwealth. And when he fought out an RBI walk during the comeback rally. And I know that somewhere in Boston, a Red Sox fan felt the same way I did when a ball kicked off Jeter's glove in the top of the inning, allowing Puerto Rico's insurance run to score. And when the long fly ball he hit in the ninth was caught.
This is, pardon my heresy, bigger than the Major League season. For soccer fans, when their team wins the league championship, they go bonkers. But when their country wins the World Cup, they lose their minds, party and riot for a week. That is what I want the World Baseball Classic to be [except for the acts of violence]. It is that for some of the other nations of the world. The Latin American players seem to mostly get what they are representing [with the possible exception of the star-studded Dominican Republic]. The Netherlands definitely did. The Asian teams do, too. But in order for that to happen in the U.S., we need our best guys to go play for us. Club teams be damned. There will be the occasional injury, but that didn't stop our players from fighting in World War II, where the risks were considerably higher. We need to get our pride back.
This is for our place in the baseball world. Here America has a chance to show the world what we can do on the diamond. And I challenge anyone to tell me that watching the U.S. rise from the ashes like a hackneyed metaphoric fiery bird of Middle Eastern lore was not just as exhilarating as a game seven in the playoffs. The U.S. team didn't seem to notice the difference in the middle of the mob.
These colors may not run, but Jimmy Rollins, Roberts, Shane Victorino and Jeter sure did when it was time to tackle Wright and scream.