Friendly rivalry brings out color in WBC final

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Rivalries are perhaps the superfine ingredient that works to spice up teams and athletes and make fans louder.

Think of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox in the major leagues, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens in the NFL, Real Madrid and Barcelona in soccer. Or in the old days the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. Or in the Olympics, matchups between the U.S. and Soviet Union always had their own special flavor.

And in the World Baseball Classic, games between Japan and South Korea have always created the most intense atmosphere because of the two nations’ past history (although there was no game between the two in this year’s tournament, as South Korea was eliminated in the first round).

All these matchups are special because of the teams’ unique emotions toward each other, and it makes each confrontation fascinating in each respective sport.

It may not be as famous as the aforementioned matchups, but the Dominicans and Puerto Ricans have one of the hottest rivalries in the Caribbean region.

“Yes, being so close geographically, definitely these teams have been meeting for a long time, not only in baseball, but other disciplines of sport, like basketball and all of that,” Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez said before Tuesday’s WBC final against the Dominican Republic at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

But there’s one thing that makes the Dominican Republic-Puerto Rico rivalry a little different: They don’t hate each other, and the relationship is in fact rather amicable.

“We have a lot of respect, not only for the Dominican Republic players, but also for the Dominican community, which is a huge one in Puerto Rico,” said Rodriguez. “We all know that they are all watching, not only the (Dominicans) in Puerto Rico, but the public in the Dominican Republic, and it’s very friendly.”

Legal immigration has increased from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico in the last few decades. It’s been said that there’s also been a lot of illegal immigration, too.

“It’s unbelievable,” the Dominican Republic’s Jose Reyes said after his pre-game batting practice. “This is something that’s been there for a long time between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. But today, we just come out and try to win this game. We don’t worry about the rivalry and stuff like that.”

Reyes, a Toronto Blue Jays shortstop, quickly rejected the idea of disliking the Puerto Rican squad when asked if hatred could work as a motivating factor for his Dominican team.

“I don’t think so,” Reyes said. “We are just so close, Dominica and Puerto Rico, you know. We got a lot of people living in Puerto Rico from Dominica, so that’s why there’s a rivalry.”

The championship game was the third time that the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico have played against each other at this WBC. The Dominicans edged Puerto Rico in both the first two (4-2, 2-0).

Rodriguez revealed that he and Dominican Republic manager Tony Pena talked at the beginning of the tourney and said they hoped to see each other in the final in northern California, making the title game an all-Caribbean matchup.

“We were looking forward to this day,” said the 52-year-old Rodriguez, whose Puerto Rican squad beat two-time WBC champ Japan in the semifinals on Sunday. “And back then they were saying, ‘Yeah, the Dominican Republic will be there, but Puerto Rico? That’s a long shot.’

“But we are here. So we’re enjoying the moment and we’re having fun.”