Cuba-U.S. finale showcases baseball’s Olympic worth


Sadaharu Oh saw a great game on Saturday night. Too bad IOC president Jacques Rogge wasn’t there to watch it with him.

Baseball’s latest campaign to earn a return ticket to the Olympics culminated with an entertaining ending to the 5th World University Baseball Championship at Jingu Stadium, where Cuba beat the United States 4-3 in 10 innings.

Had Rogge been there, he might have seen the Olympic spirit in full bloom.

It’s hard to think the IOC chief wouldn’t have been impressed with the pair of home runs hits by American Andrew Maggi and Cuban Alfredo Despaigne in the eighth inning, with both shots dramatically altering the complexion of an already tense affair.

Rogge also would have been witness to the heroics of Cuban hurler Miguel Gonzalez, who struck out 14 and pitched into the 10th inning, as well as a valiant showing in defeat by U.S. starter Gerrit Cole, who threw seven shutout innings.

Not to mention the contribution of U.S. first baseman Nick Ramirez, who began the game at first base then moved to the pitcher’s mound — with the bases loaded and none out in the bottom of the ninth — where he was lights out when he absolutely needed to be.

And what embodies the Olympic ideals more than the sight of the Cuban team sprinting onto the field clutching their flag as Despaigne rounded the bases after a walk-off three run homer? How about that they did it to the raucous cheers of a few thousand Japanese supporters caught up in infectious revelry of the Cuban squad.

The argument against baseball has been that it’s not played in enough nations, which is to say it’s not played enough in Europe, which houses the braintrust of the IOC.

Baseball is already played widely in North America and Asia, and the sport continues to make inroads in Europe.

The IOC’s secondary qualm is that the rules are hard to understand. Which is a valid point until one considers, for instance, how many out there can make heads or tails of the judging system used in synchronized swimming.

Scenes like the one at Jingu Stadium on Saturday is what the Olympics are all about.

It’s just too bad the IOC powers that be weren’t around to see it.

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Japan’s professionals rule the baseball world, its younger players still have some catching up to do.

Japan beat the teams it was supposed to beat at the 5th World University Baseball Championship, but fell short against Cuba and the U.S.

“We need to put more emphasis on development,” manager Tamotsu Enomoto said. “Under the current system of Japanese college baseball, the players’ priority is to attend classes. But we also need to train more and I’m going to demand the Japanese college baseball federation have more training camps.”

The Japanese did excel on the mound however, with Tatsuya Oishi the standout on a pitching staff that saw a number of players raise eyebrows among pro scouts.

U.S. manager Bill Kinneberg was among those to sing Oishi’s praises after a solid performance. Used as a reliever, Oishi struck out 10 in four shutout innings.

“Our pitchers performed exactly as we expected,” Enomoto said. “We lost (Hirokazu) Sawamura to an injury before the tournament kicked off, but all eight pitchers, including (Kisho) Kagami (who replaced Sawamura), did their job. To sum it up, our pitching was perfect.”