Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Wild Baseball Classic

The first Western Hemisphere day of the WBC featured the following:
  • The rematch of the Dominican Republic/Venezuela grudge match, this one won by D.R., 11-5. The Dominicans got off to an early lead against Johan Santana thanks to some early thunder by David Ortiz. Big Papi hit two homers, and was matched by Adrian Beltre--probably the guy who was happiest when A-Rod wound up on the U.S. roster.
  • Team USA playing a close-looking match against Mexico, winning 2-0. According to Brother Joe, who was in attendance, the U.S. pitcher's dominance was more profound than it will look in the box score. Derreck Lee and Chipper Jones supplied all the offense the home team needed.
  • A pitcher's duel between Puerto Rico and Panama, which P.R. won, 2-1. The go-ahead run was driven in by lead-off man/DH Bernie Williams, scoring Alex Cintron.
  • And the wildest game of the day, the Canada/South Africa matchup. South Africa, one of the much-derided teams allegedly brought in to pad out the tournament, took a lead into the ninthlame-duck reliever Paul Quantrill. If they could have held the lead, this would have been a shocking victory for the South Africans, who don't have a single major leaguer (or, apparently, even any former major leaguers) on their roster, against a team with a fair amount of major league talent.

I think it's fair to say that many of the folks who were tearing down the WBC kind of forgot that live baseball that means something is pretty cool, regardless of strange rules, pitch counts, and depleted rosters. I'm dying because--since two of the games happened while I was at work, and another was on ESPN Deportes and not carried on my cable system, I missed it all. At least I caught part of this afternoon's Spring Training game against the Twins, which the Yanks won, 5-0.


On the sadder side of things, Kirby Puckett passed away. Personally, I feel bad because recently, I wrote some negative things about Kirby in the context of Albert Belle. It's a shame to be left with such an awful final impression of a great player like Puckett. In his prime, Kirby was a slasher with great hops, a threat on offense and defense. From all outward appearance he enjoyed playing the game, truly and deeply. For all of that, he was one of the most admired players of my youth.

I wish I didn't know all the stuff that came later. One of the things I enjoy about the kind of work I do for Baseball Prospectus is the fact that I don't have to meet the athletes. I've always been apprehensive of meeting athletes, artists or other celebrities whose work I really like, because I want to be able to enjoy the work for itself. I don't want the fact that so-and-so was rude when I went to get an autograph interfere with my enjoyment of his home runs, and I don't want to be thinking about a guy's extramarital affairs while I'm watching him pitch a shutout. I'd rather enjoy the game than "know" for certain that the player's a great guy or a jerk.

The possible enjoyment I could derive from meeting Don Mattingly, or Martin Scorcese, or Prince is outweighed by the chance that after meeting them, I might no longer be able to enjoy Donnie Baseball's coiled snake batting stance, or Raging Bull, or Purple Rain. Not being able to enjoy those things is a price that's too high for me to pay. Sure, that's a kind of cowardice, but so far, it's a kind of cowardice I can live with.

I wish I could say that losing Kirby Puckett was painful. I see the way that Batgirl is taking this, and, in a strange way, I envy her emotion. I know that once upon a time I would have been floored by Puckett's extremely untimely death. I would have been able to wax poetic about how we don't see players like Kirby anymore--not his style of play, not his joy on the field, or even simply the shape of his body. All the personal revelations robbed me of that, and they've left me dry-eyed.

So all I can do is to give my condolences to Mike R (the first Twins fan I ever met) and to Batgirl, and to Aaron Gleeman, and John Sickels, and to all those other people whose lives were genuinely touched--for the better--by this man. You have my sympathies.

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