Maybe it was the crummy weather, the depressing state of the world
economy, the slew of late withdrawals or the increased workload for
those us in editorial, but as the World Baseball Classic drew nigh, I
grew increasingly disinterested as a fan. Though I’ll sound a
pessimistic malcontent to any higher-ups who may mistakenly stumbled
across this blog (how else would they arrive here other than by
mistake?) by enumerating my skeptical knocks against the Classic, I
assure them there is a measure of redemption here, one rife with all
the right things for a young man interested in his long-term career.
The Classic, to my constantly frigid, post-economic-apocalypse self was too flawed. Pitch counts, potential injuries, player ambivalence, A-Rod. Ugh, A-Rod. First he was to play for the Dominican Republic after taking the field for Team USA in 2006, then he brought his kids to workouts (the only player to do so), then he pulls out of the Classic altogether due a hip injury that curiously went unaddressed over the offseason and conveniently allows him to dodge steroids questions.
Then, on Saturday, during my production of a lovely 17-7 Royals beat down of the Tribe in Cactus League action, I threw on Team USA’s first game, against Team Canada. Maybe it was the unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon weather in early March (mid 60s) melting the remnants of the foot of snow dumped upon us a week ago, but I was ready for this game. Dare I say, I needed it. And, as baseball has been so apt to do in my relatively young life, the game had me transfixed, as I bemoaned Jake Peavy’s squeezing by the home-plate umpire, fretted over the Yanks’ (these are the only Yankees I’ll ever root for!) early inability to mount much against journeyman hurler Mike Johnson, and wondered whether David Wright would no longer be saddled with the dreaded “unclutch” stigma if he were to collect a go-ahead hit at some point in the Classic — all of this, of course, while relaying to Royals fans that the top of their team’s order (Coco Crisp, Willie Bloomquist and David DeJesus) had combined to go 7-for-7 with a gang of runs and RBIs. That may have been the longest sentence I’ve ever written. Don’t get me wrong, by the way: I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting back to producing games. But sometimes, these spring exhibitions get ug-lee.
However, I digress. My point is this: No, Team USA vs. Canada obviously wasn’t on par with Opening Day at Citi Field, or even an inconsequential regular-season game on a chilly night in early May, but it was baseball, with a fair measure of competitive spirit, and that sure as heck beats following an Indians non-roster invitee get his second at-bat in the top of the 8th of a Cactus League game on MLB.com’s live box score. When new Mets setup man J.J. Putz entered in the ninth for Team USA with a two-run lead and allowed it to shrivel down to a mere digit, I was envisioning midsummer, bullpen-induced agita — it’s part and parcel of living and dying with the Mets for as long as I have. But Putz induced a lazy fly ball from the dangerous Jason Bay, and may I add I’ve never been so relieved to see a can of corn fall safely into Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino’s glove.
The Canadian fans were certainly into it, and Team Canada’s roster boasted a lot more recognizable names than I would have thought, and by all means, it gave Team USA more than it wanted and then some, and easily could have won the game.
After watching Team USA trample Venezuela on Sunday night (I produced this uncharacteristically tidy spring affair earlier in the day), I’m ready to ride for the Yanks. Bring on Round Two at Dolphin Stadium.
I don’t mind telling you that I posted the following on a friend’s wall on Facebook:
In addition to the usual red, I am also bleeding white and blue for the duration of this tournament.
Allow me to be a company man here for a moment by virtue of not being one.
If Johan Santana pitches in the World Baseball Classic, I will be rather upset because the Mets need Johan to be healthy in the worst way. It will be better for baseball if Santana has a clean bill of health to help usher in Citi Field in its inaugural season.
In reality, I’m looking out for the best interest of the team for which I root, which has virtually no shot of winning its division without the services of one Mr. Santana — as if its two-years-running penchant for
collapse slumping at the wrong time weren’t enough to prevent that.
Lost in the aftermath of last season’s
collapse poorly timed, team-wide slump was one of the greatest pitching performances in Mets history in Game 161. Johan staved off the Mets’ inevitable elimination from playoff contention on that fateful, overcast day at Shea Stadium, shutting out the cocksure Marlins in rousing fashion.
Shea closed its doors for the last time the following day — with the Mets officially going home for the postseason — but in the coming weeks, we learned Johan had spun his masterpiece on a balky left knee, which eventually required surgery and rehabilition.
Which brings us to now. Team Venezuela surely wants its best native hurler on the mound in March, and Johan speaks as if he’d like to pitch for it, but he won’t do it if he’s not physically able to.
Just remember, Johan, it’s not Venezuela that signs those robust paychecks. The Citi Field faithful needs you this summer. No pressure, or anything.