Saturday was torture. I’d been up late on Friday night in a writers’ meeting, working out the scripts for the web series. Then up early on Saturday for the 7:00a call. I didn’t want to do it that early, but we had to break in time to make the trek all the way from Santa Monica to Dodger Stadium in time for the first pitch of Korea-Venezuela.
I’m not going to make some sort of stereotype about Korean drivers, but let’s just say traffic at Dodger Stadium that night was the worst I’ve ever seen it.
The game had a decidedly-strong home field feel for the Koreans. Dodger Stadium was awash in blue. Korea jerseys, hats, signs, flags. The flags. You know you own the crowd when you can send a ginormous flag around the stadium, confident that it will return to you unharmed. This is said flag right before it engulfed me:
The game was a surprise. Not necessarily the final score, 10-2, but the sheer lack of focus by the Venezuelan team. When you look around one team and see Ramon Hernandez, Miguel Cabrera, Jose Lopez, Marco Scutaro, Carlos Guillen, Melvin Mora, Bobby Abreu, Endy Chavez, and Magglio Ordonez… then you look around the other team and only recognize Shin-Soo Choo, you don’t expect the kind of blowout that we witnessed.
Late to bed after another writers’ meeting following the game and back at the set at 8:00a. Sunday’s shoot didn’t last quite as long. I took the actors outside for rehearsal as the gaffer and DP lit the set. Three minutes – I kid you not, three minutes – after the gaffer gave me the all clear, we had a fire. A bouncecard came loose from its C-Stand, fell onto a roll light, and burned. The damage turned out eventually to be minimal, but between cleaning up the fire damage itself and the residue from the fire extinguisher, we lost the entire day of shooting.
But everyone was okay.
Then it was back to my apartment to shoot our divisional predictions, which we’d intended to do on Friday, but Brian was late so we weren’t able. That pushed us right up against the USA-Japan game, so we headed out to Dodger Stadium for that game.
By this time, I was pretty fried. I was sitting amidst a good collection of fans from both teams. Oddly, the Japanese fans all seemed to have “thundersticks” that said GoToPuertoRico.com on them. It’s like being at a Cubs-Astros game in Minute Maid Park where all the Cubs fans have “Go Brewers!” thundersticks.
Oswalt looked electric in the first, but things quickly unraveled. Errors, combined with a seeming inability by Oswalt to throw strikes and challenge hitters, combined to let Japan sneak out to a 6-2 lead. A late-inning rally was stymied when Evan Longoria – in his first and only WBC at-bat – struck out with a runner on third.
So once again, the Japanese celebrated on our home turf. With a lineup that includes such household names as Hiroyuki Nakajima, Michihiro Ogasawara, and Atsunori Inaba.
In its way, the WBC has proven a microcosm of free agency vs. building from within. The USA and Venezuela used a collection of star players and failed. Korea used guys who knew the system; who bought into the team-first concept and largely had experience with one another. The Japanese did the same thing, with a few key stars like Ichiro and Dice-K.
In a seven-game series, the USA probably beats the overwhelming majority of these teams. We have depth as a country that others simply do not have. As a friend of mine pointed out, the actual World Baseball Classic is Major League Baseball, where the best players in the world duke it out over 162 games. But this World Baseball Classic, it’s a puzzle.
The USA fans were simply not as “into” the game as the fans of other teams were, and it may be representative of the way the players feel about it, as well. It’s hard to get excited over what amounts to being a Spring Training game. You’ve got a long season ahead of you and you don’t want to miss a chance at helping your team go to the World Series, so maybe you don’t take some risks here and there.
I don’t know what the answer is. A lot of people advocate changing the timing of the WBC. I have to admit, in 2006 I thought playing it in March, during Spring Training, was clunky. This time around, I tried to embrace it, but it does have some definite drawbacks. The Japanese team was together six weeks weeks before the USA team. They took infield practice before the game. The two teams that advanced were much more fundamentally sound, and played like a team. The Americans and Venezuelans played like All-Star teams. Trying to hit for power, and often failing. Making errors. Pressing.
Would a team of amateurs be a better fit for this tournament? I don’t know. The talent level on the other clubs is certainly very high. The good news is that the USA did make the semi-finals. And it was a very fun game to watch.
But now I find myself with tickets to a Korea-Japan game, imagining what could have been.