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International pastime (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday March 7, 2006 10:31PM; Updated: Wednesday March 8, 2006 4:11PM
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If this is the WBC, then, bring it on. Forget Winter Haven.

"When you live and breathe baseball, and baseball is all that you do," Javier said, putting into words what he said he couldn't, "and you have the best players in baseball, and you feel you can compete against anybody ... what can you say?"

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The scheduling of Tuesday's game, with these two teams, was no accident. The rabid fans, the history of baseball in the countries (dating to the late 1800s), the recent Caribbean Series between the two (won by the Venezuelans) all contributed to matching up the Dominicans and Venezuela in the first WBC game on American soil.

Tuesday's game featured perhaps the greatest lineups ever assembled for the two countries. Bartolo Colon, who won the AL Cy Young award last year with the Angels, started for the Dominican team against Venezuelan lefty Johan Santana, who won the Cy the year before with the Twins. There were names recognizable to even the most casual of American baseball fans. The Cardinals' Albert Pujols, the 2005 National League MVP, the Orioles' Miguel Tejada (the '02 winner in the American League) and Ortiz all started for the Dominican. Veteran Omar Vizquel of the Giants, the Phillies' Bobby Abreu and the Indians' Victor Martinez all suited up for Venezuela.

Try finding those names in one day in Winter Haven or Kissimmee or Dunedin.

"And we don't have Manny Ramirez, we don't have Vladimir [Guerrero], we don't have Pedro [Martinez]," Perez said, naming three Dominicans who dropped out of the tournament for various reasons. "It's a great team."

All the excitement led to some pretty good baseball, too, in a game won by the Dominicans, 11-5. Ortiz hit two homers and drove in three runs. Dominican third baseman Adrian Beltre of the Mariners hit two more and drove in five. Colon pitched three scoreless innings for the win. Venezuela third baseman Miguel Cabrera, of the Marlins, had a homer and barely missed another in a losing effort.

There was controversy. (Cabrera's shot in the seventh might have cleared the fence for a homer that would have tied the score, but it was ruled a double when it bounced back in play.) There were a few nifty defensive plays.

But, mostly, Tuesday's game showcased the fans.

"That's the way we do it," Venezuela's Santana said. "Today, we showed what Latin baseball is all about. We showed the passion we have about the game."

It's too early to tell whether the WBC will be a hit or not. Much of the tournament's success, at least in North America, will depend on how well American fans embrace it. But Tuesday was a start for the WBC, and a good one. Venezuela and the Dominican Republic -- and their fans, especially -- have set the standard for this tournament.

The question now is whether anyone else can reach it.


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