Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Post-WBC Reflections

It is a blur, but it was a blast. The semi-finals and finals in San Diego of the World Baseball Classic were a blend of cultural and national pride for the countries that made it -- Cuba, Dominican Republic, Korea and China. Flags, banners, signs, horns, face painting -- all the fans from the various corners of the globe shared their passions. Bands of traveling minstrels paraded around the stadium, drumming, cheering and revving up the crowd. I loved the fact that all the Latin American countries banded together in one traveling minstrel group at the finals, encouraging Cuba to win for all Latinos. The band from the Las Vegas show, "Havana Nights", drove down for the finals, and treated the crowds to continuous drumming and cheering for Cuba. They were about 3 rows behind us, so it was hard not to join in their enthusiasm.
Lots of cameras of all types (and camera phones galore) flashed whenever Ichiro batted; the fans loved Big Papi and Albert Pujols; the umpires got more than their share of boos (which they deserved.) The Cuban players kept throwing something out of the dugout, but we don't know what. Even the sedate Japanese team was so excited in the ninth inning that the umpires had to ask them to step back into the dugout.
It was hard not think about what politically was at stake for the Cuban players -- what would they get for winning, or maybe, what would they lose for losing? The South Korean President waived the mandatory two years of military service for 11 of the Korean players, so national pride and politics were at play, even if understated. After the game, a speeding police car followed by a van of men in beige suits made us wonder if one of the Cuban players decided not to go back.
I scored the last Cuba hat in the Padres gift shop after they said they were out, when I found one tucked inside another hat. Odd to be able to buy something that says Cuba, as well as see their flag flying with the American flag.
In the long run, what I remember most is the opening ceremony for the final game. A giant globe was in the center of the field, with the San Diego Symphony performing an original piece composed just for the event with a few lines of each national anthem. As the music played, flags in groups of the WBC rounds were raised. It was weird to see the Cuban and Japanese flags displayed front and center, since they are two countries with negative feelings about the US. Then fireworks exploded around the field, followed by a shower of strings of ribbon in the colors of the WBC logo. Needless to say, I brought home one of each, to drape around the house when we want to relive the memories. It was so many memories that it was overwhelming. The closing, award ceremony had fireworks as well, and the Cuban team went out on the field to congratulate the winners before receiving their silver medals personally from MLB Commissioner.
One forlorn fan had his Team USA jersey on and held a sign: "I am here for my country; where is my team?" That's how we felt about it too. Also would be curious, in about six months, to see a followup on how many of the various international players have ended up on MLB teams. We are looking forward to the next World Baseball Classic. Until then, only 4 days until our next spring training game.