If you can dig past the shiny new scandals plaguing baseball these days, you'll find the World Baseball Classic in full swing and your favorite Major Leaguers have Team USA right in the thick of it. The Americans just wrapped up first-round play in Toronto, escaping Pool C with victories over Canada and Venezuela, and a loss to...Venezuela. USA will now face off against Pool D winner Puerto Rico, as they join The Netherlands and Venezuela (Motto: "USA, We Are RIGHT BEHIND YOU") at Dolphin Stadium in Miami for Round 2.
With 14 current or former MLB All-Stars on the roster (including Derek Jeter, Dustin Pedroia, Chipper Jones, David Wright, Kevin Youkilis, and Shane Victorino) and virtually no weaknesses on the team, the boys in red, white, and blue should easily cruise to the finals. Of course, that's what spectators expected in the inaugural WBC, only to find an uninspired and over-confident USA knocked out in the second round. ''Everyone just keeps reminding each other this isn't '06 and whatever happened then was unacceptable,'' first baseman Adam Dunn of the Washington National told the Miami Herald.
Indeed. So far things are going fairly swimmingly for USA: manager Davey Johnson's group pitching rotation secured its advancement, no one's broken a nail, and even Red Sox and Yankees are getting along. What can go wrong?
Music, for one. Tragedy struck the opening round as patriotic staple "Born in the USA" was nowhere to be found in Toronto's Rogers Centre after players actually poo-pooed John Philips Sousa. Disaster was avoided when someone found a copy of Toby Keith's "The Angry American" (oh, Canada) and players were able to forge ahead in the spirit of international diplomacy: "The one that goes, 'Cause we'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way,''' said Kevin Youkilis, the first baseman for Team USA. "It got everyone going, so it was great.'' Imagine if they'd had to resort to the National Anthem...quelle horreur!
Danger also lurks in idle time. It is a horror to be young, fit, and wealthy with time to kill in a cosmopolitan international city, according to manager Davey Johnson, who mentioned ''some operational issues that need to be addressed'' because USA was forced to stay in Toronto after winning on Sunday in order to play a Wednesday game determining its seeding moving into Round 2. It really is inconvenient to rest for a couple days and aim as high as possible, and the suffering might prove to affect players mentally in the long run of the Classic. Of course, maybe it truly is terrible, because Venezuela clinched the high berth last night by beating the Americans 5-3 (to be fair, it appeared both managers just wanted to escape the non-crucial game without injuries). But that's not even the worst of it: should they make the finals, USA may actually have up to 9 days "off." Let the pickets begin!
If Team America and its stockpile of the world's top talent can overcome these challenges, there's certainly no reason to think we won't see them March 23, playing for the world title in Dodger Stadium.
First things first: Puerto Rico on Saturday night at 8pm.
Janie Campbell is a Florida native who believes in the pro-set and ballpark hot dogs. Her work has appeared in irreverent sports sites around the internet.