- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The star-studded U.S. team, for instance, lost half of its six games and could not get out of the second round of pool play. Most strikingly, after major league clubs had proudly supplied 180 players to WBC rosters, the championship game was decided between Japan, which had only two major leaguers (outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and pitcher Akinori Otsuka), and Cuba, which had none.
Never before had the baseball world seemed so small, not with the perceived talent gap between major leaguers and other international players having shrunk to near nothing. Cuba, for instance, reached the final by beating teams stocked with big leaguers from Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, the last a 3-1 win in which pitchers Yadel Marti and Pedro Luis Lazo toyed with the Dominicans.
"The message has already been given," Cuban outfielder Frederich Cepeda said after the semifinal win. "The good players are everywhere in the world. Baseball is baseball anywhere in the world. But we see baseball as such not because of the price of athletes but because of the heart with which they play."
The U.S. version of the game, which enriches pitchers and players mostly for their power, fell flat. Outside of a 17-0 pounding of a South African team that had 10 teenagers, the Americans batted .242, including .125 with runners in scoring position; stole one base; and scored six runs in five games without the benefit of a home run.
Teams such as Cuba, Japan and Korea, meanwhile, played with the versatility and fastidiousness that were hallmarks of the major leagues more than a generation ago. Korea's nimble fielders flawlessly handled all 173 balls put in play against them. Japan's pitchers struck out more than three times as many batters (60) as they walked (17 in eight games). Except for two doubles and two home runs, the Cuban team beat Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic with 25 singles.
It was oddly old-fashioned, too, to see in a major league park the game of pepper (in which a batter raps softly tossed balls back at one or more fielders) and infield (pregame fielding practice in which infielders and outfielders throw to bases), as Cuba and Japan did last Saturday at Petco Park in San Diego. Both drills virtually vanished from the major leagues many years ago.
"You see the value of their practice regimen when they take hundreds of ground balls a day," said U.S. manager Buck Martinez. "They swing a hundred times a day more than we do in North America. I think it is time to say, 'You know what? That's not a bad idea.'"