Have you ever attended a world championship game?
I never have, so when the World Baseball Classic came to San Francisco for the semifinals and final, I checked the prices (bleachers seats cost almost 1/8th what scalpers got for World Series tickets) and realized that I could afford a ticket to the title game. I had hoped that the USA would become one of the finalists, but alas, America just doesn’t take the event as seriously as it should–translation, it doesn’t take the event as seriously as do Japan, the Dominican Republic, and other nations. Come to think of it, this tournament should be at least a half-century old by now, but better late than ever; it will be interesting to see if it will succeed in the long run.
I know why they scheduled the last games for the Giants ballpark; as I have written in “The Giants Ballpark & The Architecture of Fun,” San Franciscans love to come here for a party. Despite the rain, over 37,000 fans, the overwhelming majority of whom consisted of Giants fans out for a good time, came to the title game despite the promise, nay, the guarantee of rain that night. We’ve adapted to bad weather playoff games.
The finals matched the traditional powerhouse of the Dominican Republic with a classic bunch of upset-minded underdogs from Puerto Rico who stunned Japan in the semis. Each team boasted at least one Giants’ player, Santiago Casilla for D.R. and Angel Pagan for P.R. The Giants fans upheld their reputation as some of the most knowledgeable in the sport, booing for every player who player who plays for a National League West team or the New York Yankees.
Speaking of fans, Giants fans have earned a reputation for good-natured party-hearty behavior second to none in the majors (unless the Dodgers are in town). It astonishes me to write this, but we can learn from the fans of D.R. and P.R., some of the best and most passionate fans out there. It’s the music. Drums, tambourines, congas, trumpets, guitars–I even saw a trombone! And cowbells. Lots and lots of cowbells. Those fans have a baseball fever, and the prescription is more cowbell!
The game itself posed a curious fascination for yours truly, because “Domenicana” played the game exactly, I mean exactly, the same way as the Giants do in their home park. Very good starting pitching, excellent fielding, just enough hitting, and most important of all, a corps of relief pitchers who (like Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo & Co.) show slightly less than 2/3rds the mercy of a pod of Orcas on a seal. Frankly, many Giants victories can become a little boring: only a one or two run lead, and yet you know, you just know that the opponents don’t have a prayer of scoring. In the top of the 7th, Puerto Rico put men on first and second with none out–hey, no problem for D.R. Send out a guy named Strop, collect two strikeouts and an easy foul out. No problem. Just like the Giants. That’s when I knew the game was over.
The Domenican Republic has long enjoyed a reputation as a baseball-playing country that can compete with the US on equal terms despite its size. In fact, the D.R. actually won two World Series in the early Nineties, cleverly disguised as the Toronto Blue Jays (a very clever disguise). You don’t have to take my word on this; just check the roster. But they had stumbled badly in previous Classics, and they were obsessed with not letting this game slip away.
The Domenican relievers combined pitched the equivalent of almost three consecutive shutouts during the tournament. They were that good. In the eighth, San Francisco fans got a neat little treat: Casilla pitching in relief vs. Pagan. Casilla walked Pagan on five pitches, and many people speculated that was a gesture of friendship to his teammate. Then Casilla mowed down the rest of the Puerto Ricans.
The Domenican Republic patched together enough single, walks and doubles to win the title by a 3-0 score. As I left the bleachers to go home, I spotted a Domenican couple in their 60s, wearing D.R. flags like capes. They hugged each other, perhaps a little tighter than they usually do, and they cried, perhaps a little harder than they usually do. I have a feeling Domenicana doesn’t win a whole lot of world championships, and this couple had actually seen their team do it. A nice final memory of a good evening, despite the rain.
Vonn Scott Bair