With the WBC semi-finals happening over the weekend (and in my absence) 95% of the baseball world has come back to normal. The finalists, who do battle tonight, feature only one team with major leaguers, and only one star player--yes, it's the just-as-predicted-by-everyone Japan-Cuba final!
Yep. Teams from the USA, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela featured players with payrolls near or over $100 million. I don't know how much Japan's players make--there are some big ticket items in that bunch--but Cuba, whose National Team's combined salaries possibly wouldn't match the major league minimum for a single player, is in the final, while all those teams sit and watch.
Seriously, Japan wasn't favored, missing their biggest national star (Yank leftfielder Hideki Matsui), and predicted to be competing against the U.S. in the semis. That didn't happen due to the surprise performance of Korea, and the U.S.'s surprising lackluster performance (more on that in the next post).
No one gave Cuba much of a chance, despite their general domination of international baseball tourneys over the last thirty or so years. Two things made me somewhat scared of this team coming in. First, the logical issue, was that the Cuban team was coming off of its regular season, and therefore had the advantage of being in midseason form when they came to the WBC. Second, somewhat less logical, was a picture of the Cubans that they ran in the New York Times. The picture featured the team not-quite posed for the camera, as they practiced for the WBC in Cuba. There were no smiles in that shot. The look in the eyes of many of the players was hard, almost malevolent, Hungry. This is a team for which the WBC wasn't a meaningless exhibition, or an inconvenience along the way to their regular season. These guys wanted to win. Had to win.
Will they? We'll see tonight.