The third World Baseball Classic is now history, and congratulations to the Dominican Republic on the victory. The WBC has gotten better each time, I believe, and it has become an excellent showcase for the game on a worldwide basis, especially since baseball was removed as an Olympic event following the 2008 Games in Beijing.
Japan’s J SPORTS broadcaster televised all 47 games of the 2013 WBC and it was just so much fun to watch many of them from the various venues including Taiwan, Fukuoka, Tokyo, Puerto Rico, Miami, Phoenix and San Francisco. Announcers Gary Thorne and Rick Sutcliffe, calling play-by-play on later-round WBC games from the U.S., commented about how the event has served to bring together the best talent from around the globe where baseball is played and present it to audiences at the ball parks and on television.
I have to admit I was glued to the TV for many of the games but especially the semifinal when Team Samurai Japan absorbed that heart-breaking loss to the eventual runnerup, Puerto Rico. If I had to leave the room or go out for a few minutes to run an errand, I made sure I had the game on the radio in the car or in my ear with a pocket radio, so as not to miss a play. That is something normally reserved only for the World Series, Japan Series or the Super Bowl.
Drawn by the outstanding players on teams such as Samurai Japan, Team Cuba, the Netherlands and Chinese Taipei, scouts from at least 25 of the 30 major league teams were in Japan to cover Pool A and Round 2 games at Fukuoka and Tokyo, respectively, and several MLB clubs had two or three top-level representatives in Japan.
They included former Chunichi Dragons (1998) pitcher Kevin Jarvis, now working for the San Diego Padres, and one-time Orix Braves and BlueWave pitching coach Jim Colborn, now on the staff of the Texas Rangers. The presence of so many MLB team representatives emphasized the importance of the event.
Playing in Japan was also a homecoming of sorts for several of the personnel on visiting teams, but none seemed to enjoy it more than Hensley Meulens, manager of the Netherlands team which helped eliminate Cuba at Tokyo Dome after knocking off South Korea in Taiwan.
Meulens, the former Chiba Lotte Marines and Yakult Swallows player (1994-96), proudly expressed his feelings about his team on Facebook every day and was not discouraged after losing a 16-4 game to Japan. The Netherlands also made the final four and, for my money, Meulens was the manager of the tournament after getting his team to the semifinals despite injuries to key players.
Memorable games included the Samurai’s dramatic come-from-behind, 4-3 extra-inning victory over Taiwan at Tokyo Dome on March 8 and the Netherlands’ 6-5 walk-off win to oust the Cubans in Tokyo on March 11.
Games in the U.S. also featured participants who played in Japan — or are still playing for Central and Pacific League teams. For example, Ryan Vogelsong was the losing pitcher against the Dominican Republic as Team USA bowed out in Miami on March 15. Now with the San Francisco Giants, Vogelsong pitched three seasons in Japan, hurling for the Hanshin Tigers and Orix Buffaloes, 2007-09.
In a game matching Italy against Puerto Rico, the respective starting pitchers were Alessandro Maestri (currently with Orix) and Gio Alvarado, who threw two seasons with the Hiroshima Carp and last year with the Yokohama BayStars. Also on the Puerto Rico staff was current Tokyo Yakult Swallows right-hander Orlando Roman.
In the finals playing for the Dutch team were Wladimir Balentien of the Swallows and Andruw Jones with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, and former Yomiuri Giants infielder Edgar Gonzalez played for Mexico along with his brother Adrian. Ex-Lotte, Yomiuri and Orix first baseman Lee Seung Yeop played for his native Korea.
Even 39-year-old Pedro Valdes, a player with the 2003 Japan Series champion Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, saw action as a pinch hitter for Puerto Rico in the championship game.
Current Yomiuri reliever Scott Mathieson played for his native Canada and said he enjoyed the action, including a brawl against the Mexican team of his former Tokyo teammate Gonzalez.
“At least we got the best of the fight,” said Mathieson, noting most of the Canadian players have experience playing —and fighting —on the ice hockey rinks.
The biggest disappointment, of course, was the fact Samurai Japan failed to win its third consecutive tournament, and the infamous base-running blunder that helped kill a potential rally in the bottom of the eighth inning of the semifinal against Puerto Rico was a bitter pill to swallow.
Fukuoka Softbank Hawks outfielder Seiichi Uchikawa, one of the runners involved in the costly and embarrassing mistake, seemed to take it the hardest.
Perhaps Japan’s inability to take home another WBC trophy, and especially the way in which the team lost this time, will be an inspiration to play again in four years and not threaten to sit out the next one.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com