Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Canada vs. South Africa

Canada vs. South Africa

You know, going into this World Baseball Classic, if you rated my excitement and/or interest in the thing, I was probably about a 3 on a scale of 1 to 10. I would watch, I said, because watching stars in exhibition is more exciting that watching bench players in exhibition, which is what spring training is to me, more often than not.

Just a note on spring training: I hate it. I see it as little more than a necessary evil. Over the winter, you see baseball blogs sign off with something like "37 days until pitchers and catchers report." And that bugs me. I understand the need for optimism in a dark, dark winter. But I don't get much out of watching somebody play long toss in the middle February.

Spring training baseball is like a cock tease. Gets you excited, thinking you've got baseball today, and then they do stuff like run their starters out for three innings to get their reps, and then they end up calling the game after the seventh inning so we can get the team back to Sarasota, or wherever. It's the big leaguers trying to get their reps in, but they aren't interested in beating the other team, and unless they're fighting for a roster spot, nobody's playing that hard. It's like three quarter speed, for me, and I don't get much out of it.

Baseball doesn't start until opening day. Everything else is just discussion.

But anyway.

With this World Baseball Classic, at least you have a few names out there, and I don't expect them to be playing full speed, but at least I can watch a few names get out there and play instead of seeing Jimmy Joe Deedle and Timmy McNoname trying fight for that 25th roster spot (again, interesting to some, but not me).

And I didn't expect to watch much of any game without major league talent. I watched about an inning of Korea walloping the hell out of China last week, saw that I recognized Hee Seop Choi and Chan Ho Park, and laughed that China had a guy whose name sounded like they were saying "Bunghole Lee."

On my lunch break last night, I listened to a couple innings of the U.S. and Mexico on my XM radio. I got to hear Derrek Lee hit his home run, taking the lead that they'd never relinquish. I was a little put out that they didn't try to put the game with the U.S. in Prime Time.

Maybe I'll write something on how the car salesman ostensibly in charge of our game (and this Classic) isn't marketing this thing right, either, but that's a post for another time.

I got home last night, and I was sitting down to read, and I flipped on the Canada vs. South Africa game. For little more than background noise while I read my book.

I didn't get more than 10 pages read last night.

I'll tell you what sucked me in, first of all.

Stubby Clapp is playing for the Canadian National Team.

Stubby played in the Cardinals organization for a good long while, and was a favorite of mine when his Redbirds would come to Nashville to play the Sounds. Stubby Clapp is a Good Baseball Name. And I'm surprised he didn't stick on the Major League level on the basis of name strength alone.

The ESPN site lists Stubby as playing for Edmonton, in the Northern League. I'd found myself wondering where Stubby ended up a couple of times last year, but hadn't followed through to check up on him. Good to know he's still in the game.

But Stubby's on Team Canada, and he was playing second base for them last night. His name caught my ear, and got me to watching.

Team Canada's got some good talent, too. Pete Orr was playing shortstop. He's done well for the Braves recently. Jason Bay, Justin Morneau, Chris Reitsma. Not names that'll necessarily win you a pennant, but some good talent spread across the roster.

I expected South Africa to be completely outmatched, kinda like China in the Asian pool that played last week.

But South Africa kept me interested in the game. Not a big sport there, a growing sport. I think ESPN said they had one professional on their roster (their roster says they have two)

I think I know what caught my eye. In the bottom of the fifth, the South African team jumped ahead of Canada, 4-3. And when every run of the inning score, the entire roster was up on their feet in the dugout, dancing and jumping around. It's about then that I realize the average age of this team is 18, 19, 20 years old.

One of the pinch hitters, Kyle Botha I believe, is 17. Pitcher Jared Elario is also 17. And there are others that young on the team, and all the guys are right around high school and young college age.

Now, maybe my perspective is skewed, but think of being 17, on a team of guys who are also 17, 18, 19 years old, and going out to pitch to Jason Bay and Matt Stairs, veteran big leaguers. Or think of being 17 and taking a pitch or three from Chris Reitsma.

And this is just Team Canada. They've still got the U.S. team to play. 17 years old, and facing Roger Clemens, or Jake Peavy. Pitching to Alex Rodriguez, or Derek Jeter, or Ken Griffey. Playing on the same level field that they are.

Now, I'm not going to say much for the talent on the field. They composed themselves well, and I think they stayed in the game on their energy and aggressiveness more than their talent...I think Canada played a sloppy game, and that they deserved to lose, and won only because of the questionable decision to leave 17-year-old Jared Elario out there for the ninth inning.

But I watched the whole thing, rooting in the bottom of the ninth for that team of youngsters, who were just so happy to be there, and who refused to be beaten by the experience itself, to somehow pull through.

Already, I've gotten more excited for the WBC than I thought I would.

I'll be watching some more....


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