TAOYUAN, TAIWAN – The Dominican Republic was unbeaten and grabbed its first World Baseball Classic title two years ago.
The team had major league players during the WBC, but doesn’t have any at the ongoing Premier 12 tournament.
The Caribbean nation became the first team to be eliminated in the first round of the inaugural championship after its fourth consecutive defeat, an 8-6 loss to Venezuela on Saturday at Taoyuan International Stadium.
The Dominicans had lost to the United States 11-5, to South Korea 10-1 and to Japan 4-2 before Saturday’s contest.
“We didn’t play very good baseball,” Dominican Republic manager Miguel Tejada said after the game. “I mean, that’s why we are 0-4. We didn’t catch the ball well, we didn’t pitch well. And now we’ve been eliminated.”
Nevertheless, Tejada, a former major league star shortstop, looked at the opportunity positively for his young players.
“I think we’re learning. They are happy to be participating competing in another country,” said Tejada, the 2002 American League MVP while playing the Oakland Athletics. “I understand that it’s tough to lose. But there’s nothing we can do. We have to keep playing and enjoy and see what happens next year.”
Tejada also referred to the merit of the inaugural tournament, which has been created by the World Baseball Softball Confederation, as another global flagship baseball championship along with the WBC (the Major League Baseball runs the WBC).
“Yeah, I think it’s good for the sport,” said Tejada, who was a member of the Dominican Republic squad during all three editions of the WBC. “Because you can see another team winning, you can see other countries doing good. You don’t want the same team to keep winning.”
Playing for the Stars and Stripes: The Americans who were selected for the inaugural Premier 12 aren’t high-profile players. But by representing the Stars and Stripes, they are still expected to perform at a high level as the game’s mother nation.
Infielder Tyler Pastornicky, for one, feels that it’s an honor to don the U.S. jersey for this tourney.
“It’s awesome feelings, being able to put on the uniform that has the ‘USA’ across your chest,” Pastornicky said before Saturday’s game against Japan at Taoyuan International Stadium. “It’s a big honor. You want to come out and play well, representing the country and trying to make everybody back home happy.”
Pastornicky, a player in the Philadelphia Phillies minor league system, said that he’d never had travel this far to play baseball before, but it’s definitely worth it.
“It was a far trip,” he said, speaking about coming to Asia for the Premier 12, which is being co-hosted by Taiwan and Japan. “But it’s worth being here to play for the first Premier 12 tournament.
“It’s been pretty awesome and it’s been a first-class organization. It’s been fun to be part of.”
Asked if this international championship has been an eye-opening opportunity for many of the Americans, the 25-year-old Pastornicky quickly responded, saying, “For sure.”
“I don’t think any of us have been over here, to play against the other teams,” said Pastornicky, who played in 124 games for the Atlanta Braves between 2012 and 2014 (he appeared in 76 games in ’12).
“We have played against some of the countries before. But I’ve never gotten to play against Asian countries. Yeah, it’s different styles of baseball, and it’s fun.”
The American players, mostly minor leaguers, are guys who are desperate for opportunities to extend their careers. Through the rare chance to play in a global championship, Pastornicky started thinking about opportunities to play ball outside of North America, including Asia.
“Yeah, I’d definitely love to play over in Japan or Korea, wherever,” said Pastornicky, whose father was a third baseman for the Kansas City Royals. “I’d love to get that opportunity.”
Meanwhile, Pastornicky didn’t really have knowledge about the Samurai Japan squad, although he acknowledged that the Asian country would be a tough opponent to take on.
“I’ve heard some things about some of the players,” Pastornicky said. “We know they are a good baseball-playing country and how everything is good.”
Thick-skinned: Japan pitching phenom Shohei Otani had an outstanding performance in his team’s 5-0 win over South Korea on Sunday, throwing from his familiar spot on the Sapporo Dome mound.
That was the only Premier 12 game held at the ballpark, where he pitches in home games for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, and now he’s going to have to pitch in an away contest down the road, potentially in the quarterfinals in Taiwan.
But the 21-year-old right-hander denied the notion that environmental changes would affect his outings.
“It’s a little harder,” Otani said of the mound at Taoyuan International Stadium. “But every mound is different, and I don’t get stressed because of the circumstances.”
Otani said that he hasn’t really had a chance to walk around in Taiwan since the team arrived there on Monday.
“It’s always between the hotels and stadiums,” Otani said with a bitter smile. “The only thing I’ve felt is that there’s a lot of people at convenience stores.”
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