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MLB could learn from WBC's passion
America’s national pastime is rarely as entertaining, as passionate or as visually captivating as it was over the past three days — when, it should be noted, America was not involved.
There’s a lesson in that, if we choose to embrace it. The evidence was there for all to see Tuesday night, when the Dominican Republic blanked Puerto Rico 3-0 to complete the most dominant championship run in the brief history of the World Baseball Classic.
The Dominicans and Puerto Ricans didn’t give us a glimpse into baseball’s future. They showed us what the sport should be right now, with fervor that burned bright even on a cold, drizzly night at AT&T Park: Flags waved. Horns honked. Whistles blew. Jose Reyes dove into third with a triple, peered into his rollicking dugout and pumped his elbow three times — once for each base. Hanley Ramirez left after five innings because of a jammed right thumb and then emerged, wearing a splint, to wave a Dominican flag with his injured hand during the postgame celebration.
Before the game, Robinson Cano and Octavio Dotel of the Dominican Republic agreed with Puerto Rico’s Yadier Molina that the losing team would congratulate the winner on the field — a great and sportsmanlike gesture that should happen during the Major League Baseball playoffs but never does.
And so, even after a game in which Dominican starter Samuel Deduno and Puerto Rican center fielder Angel Pagan glared contemptuously at one another after a fifth-inning strikeout, Molina led his team out of the dugout.
Sure, they were disappointed. But this wasn’t a halfhearted handshake line, the kind you’d see after a suburban high-school game. The men hugged, bound by their Caribbean culture and intense love of the sport. Tim Brosnan, MLB’s executive vice president of business operations, stood on the field and admired the picture.
“These guys,” he said, “are great for baseball.”
He’s right. Now the question is whether baseball was paying attention.
We know Baseball was — uppercase B, the commissioner’s office. Brosnan described this year’s WBC as a “beautiful event” and “over-the-top success,” having generated enormous television ratings in Japan, Taiwan and Puerto Rico. He said Bud Selig is “one thousand percent” committed to holding the tournament again in 2017.
But baseball — lowercase b, the sport’s culture — could be another matter. Brosnan talked about how much he loved the “outward display” of emotion by the Dominican and Puerto Rican teams. Reyes was as entertaining while reacting to his many exciting plays as he was while actually performing them. However briefly, baseball acquired the Did you see that? quality more commonly associated with football and basketball. The kids like that stuff, you know.
“It’s very hard to keep this intensity level over the course of 162 games,” acknowledged Carlos Delgado, the former All-Star who served as a coach for the Puerto Rican team. “I’m not saying players do not play with passion during the season, but it’s hard to do this, day in and day out. There’s a different set of emotions. You’re playing for your country. You’re only playing six or seven games. The fans get into it. It’s a great event, a great competition.
“I don’t know what these guys are going to do (back) in spring training. They’ll be bored as hell, I’ll tell you that.”
And now that the tournament is over, baseball (sadly) will revert to its default settings: Home-run stylings, excessive celebrations, grand spectacles of individual expression all verboten. The Code, as enforced by managers and players, makes it so. Asked if he envisions a time when the WBC-style emotion would be commonplace in the sport, Brosnan said, “That’s not my call. It has to happen of its own volition, but I know the fans appreciate it. Clearly, it was a release for a lot of these players.”
In retrospect, the teams should have huddled before the tournament and decided that the winner would establish The Unwritten Rules for the upcoming season.
How much fun would that be?
“I hope it changes,” Dominican reliever Octavio Dotel said of MLB’s style of play. “I hope also the people in the United States understand the way we play our baseball in the Dominican Republic. This is the Caribbean Series for us. That’s why we played the game the way we (were) doing it.
“We were so excited. We love this game. We’ve got this game in our hearts. That’s why we cannot hold it in. We’ve got to let it go out. That’s why you see a lot of exciting moments, exciting times, on our team. It’s because we feel that. All those things are very, very emotional for us.”
Obviously, it works. The Dominican became the first team to go unbeaten (8-0) in WBC play, and the bragging rights are real. Yes, Team USA was without many of its best players. But the Dominican was, too — Albert Pujols, Jose Bautista, Adrian Beltre, David Ortiz and Johnny Cueto, to name several.
Asked if his homeland is the best baseball country in the world right now, Dotel said, “No question about it. I would say that’s clear. The Dominican Republic is unbelievable. We’ve got a lot of talent, a lot of good players in the Dominican. The opportunity we have, the opportunity all the organizations in the United States (give us) to come play baseball here, we really appreciate that.”
Some will disagree with Dotel’s assertion and argue that it’s impossible for one tournament to determine the world’s best team. The U.S. continues to produce roughly 70 percent of all players in the major leagues, but the WBC has demonstrated that other nations supply the most passion.
The Dominicans just staged a celebration of baseball at its finest, with pride and purpose and skill. Surely more than a few Presidentes were savored because the Dominicans won. The greater legacy will be how they did it.
I hope you watched. And I hope your favorite players did, too.
The Dominicans have rewritten the WBC record book. Now it’s time to overhaul The Code.