Regional play of the World Baseball Classic, the diamond's upstart answer to soccer's World Cup, arrived at Dolphin Stadium on Saturday. Sixteen teams selected by
continental death match play entrance fee have been battling it out in preliminary rounds around the globe, and the Classic has now converged upon American shores to determine a winner among the eight remaining teams - four each in Miami and San Diego.
If you're just now joining us, the Classic has a lot going for it. Unlike the Summer Olympics and Baseball World Cup, fans can follow their favorite Major Leaguers in international play. The charming logo looks like it was designed in a PBS-Telemundo cross promotion from 1973. There are really cute baby shoes. And story lines abound:
Baseball provided a Cinderella before March Madness even began. The Netherlands came from nowhere to remove perennial favorite Dominican Republic from the opening rounds by beating them twice, thankyouverymuch. But Team USA, clinging to life in a must-win situation, got their groove back last night and sent the Dutch on their way, 9-3. Doei! We'll miss you, Orange.
After a strong showing in the first two games of the Classic, USA dropped the group title to Venezuela and got pummeled by Puerto Rico on Saturday in front of over 30,000 fans (the mercy rule was invoked...no, really). USA's next loss in double-elimination Round 2 will be their last, and they will enter Tuesday's game against the winner of tonight's battle between Venezuela and Puerto Rico without star second baseman Dustin Pedroia. He strained a muscle, and Team USA has asked the Oriole's Brian Roberts to drive over from spring training in Ft. Lauderdale to join the squad. No pressure!
Venezuela and Puerto Rico have been having their way in the Classic while generating plenty of excitement. Puerto Rico has yet to lose, clinching their Group at home in San Juan in dramatic fashion. Venezuela has been firing on all pistons while ignoring political protests over a player's support of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. It certainly has not been boring for either team.
This Classic has been really entertaining, and with two titans meeting tonight at Dolphin Stadium and a scrappy US team waiting in the wings, it doesn't show signs of letting up. As "the gateway to the Americas," Miami is just the place for all the fun.
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.