Doing anything vital tonight? Since the season hasn’t started, of course the answer is no. So assuming none of the rest of your life is calling, why not check out the WBC final on MLB Network?
I’ve been watching the tournament off and on this spring despite not trusting it during its first incarnation and deploring it during its second. They’ve had only two until now, which is what makes the occasional reference to “this is the first time Team Whichever has done this or that in the World Baseball Classic!” seem rather lacking in perspective. Christy Mathewson set records during the 1905 World Series that still stand, but they weren’t impressive because they had never been done in any World Series previously — it was only the second World Series.
The baseball’s not the problem with the WBC. The WBC never losing its self-consciousness is the problem. You can’t tune in a game without hearing the WBC’s mouthpieces tell you how the WBC is really coming along. It’s the Watched Pot Classic. The baseball is real enough, give or take a couple of weird rules instituted because it’s March (like with pitch counts), but the continual in-game hyping of the brand, the product and the merchandise harks back to nothing less than the made-for-TV XFL. That was the one-year football league from 2001 in which the whole point was convincing you that what you were watching was incredibly fantastic, not simply better than nothing. Perhaps the common denominator is the mind-numbing presence of voice-activated mannequin Matt Vasgersian as lead announcer. He’s Fran Healy, except without as much talent, wit or insight.
But don’t let the continued high-profile employment of a dolt like Vasgersian deter you (especially since Bob Costas will be calling the final). Don’t let any of your ready-made prejudices against the WBC discourage you. Don’t even blame the WBC for David Wright’s rib maladies. Like the Ambassador couldn’t have slept wrong in St. Lucie? Like a Met doesn’t get hurt just looking the wrong way anywhere?
It’s fun baseball, it’s spirited baseball, it’s baseball played by players who play with nationalistic zeal and fervor you’d rather see applied to sports than geopolitical conflict. The two teams that are left, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, have treated this tournament like they’re on a mission. They take this stuff pretty damn seriously (and their fans take it pretty damn loudly, as those beeping airhorns will attest). It’s not a grim endeavor, though. All these teams have lit up the screen with their zest for baseball and life, in roughly that order. Team USA, whoever was missing from it, was really into it, but they just couldn’t advance. They lost Captain America and they were helpless against the worldwide phenomenon known as Nelson Figueroa, our once-upon-a-time proto-Dickey. Figgie, who you’ll recall grew up in Brooklyn rooting for the Mets, pitched Puerto Rico into the semifinals at the expense of Team USA. And what Brooklyn kid doesn’t dream of sticking it to his own country?
(Figueroa, by the by, isn’t and looks nothing like Team Puerto Rico third baseman Andy Gonzalez, something the MLB Network’s sideline reporter Heidi Watney couldn’t figure out despite the presence of names on the backs of uniforms, as this most gruesome clip will attest.)
I only semi-understand how Puerto Rico, part of the USA, gets its own team and I only semi-understand why someone from the five boroughs of New York City gets a starring role on the team going up against the country New York is in and I’m only semi-invested in the overall outcome, but that’s OK. The WBC is worth a piece of my baseball attention. I loved watching Wright and Dickey play for the USA, I loved watching Reyes simultaneously play and cheer for the Dominican but now that we’re down to two, I think I’m loving Team Puerto Rico most of all. Partly for the Island of Lost Mets effect — Figueroa, Beltran, Jesus Feliciano, the wins-wherever-he-goes Angel Pagan — but more because it seems like it will give Puerto Rican baseball a boost. When the Mets turned Thunder Island into Blunder Island in 2010 as they traveled extra south to play the Marlins, we were informed that the state of the commonwealth’s once signature sport was in disarray. That saddened me. The land of Roberto Clemente? The land of Felix Millan? The land of Roberto Alomar? (OK, strike that last one.) Maybe the WBC was designed in part to sell caps and jerseys, but if its broader mission is to spread the baseball gospel internationally, then I’m all for the place where it’s going to do the most good.
Unless I look deep into Jose’s beard tonight and forget all that and root for the DR. Or I’m overwhelmed by yet another note that more WBC history is being made in this, the Classic’s third incarnation EVER, and I flip to WKRP In Cincinnati on Antenna TV instead.
Nah, I probably won’t do that. It’s baseball. It’s competitive. It’s at beautiful Phone Company Park in San Francisco. It’s without Matt Vasgersian. It’s with Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran. It’s a safe distance from David Wright’s torso. “Classic” may be overstating its case, but it’s got nothing beat by a mile.