“Baseball is boring.”
You hear it time and again by those who don’t understand what the game truly is, what it represents for so many. For those who believe such a crazy thought, we submit the United States versus Dominican Republic World Baseball Classic game on Saturday night as indisputable evidence to the contrary.
On the field, it was everything a thrilling baseball game should be: Team Goliath, the mighty U.S., with 19 All-Stars and the deepest roster in the tournament, taking a five-run lead into the sixth inning. Team David, the Dominican Republic, a tiny nation of 11 million, showing its might and coming back to slay the United States 7-5.
Off the field, in the stands, where zero tickets went unsold, it was a non-stop Latin carnival, a celebration of a colorful ethnicity rarely shy to show its emotions.
Drums were thumping, horns were blaring, maracas were shaking and so were the fans. Biceps were flexed by the men in cut-off shirts and skin-tight jeans were seemingly spray-painted on the women by the overwhelmingly Latin-flavored locals.
Marlins Park, drawing the largest crowd in its six-year history, was trembling and fans acted more like they were at a Disco than a ballgame.
It was everything baseball can showcase over other sports because of the time between pitches and the time to celebrate after jaw-dropping plays, like Manny Machado‘s mammoth solo blast in the sixth that ignited the Dominicans’ improbable comeback.
“That woke up the crowd and, in turn, it woke up our dugout,” said Nelson Cruz, who provided the pummeling shot, a three-run rocket that pushed the Dominicans ahead 6-5 in the eighth. “This only happens in dreams, and I guess here in the WBC, also.”
Beisbol Life in Latin America is a religious experience. The players who make it onto major league rosters are gods in their homelands. Every single Latin boy dreams of growing up to be a big-leaguer.
The Dominican Republic has easily produced the most foreign-born players in the majors. Of course, the D.R.’s roster is littered with All-Stars of its own. The difference is Dominicans practically fight each other to be on this roster. Unlike the U.S. roster, the D.R. isn’t missing stars.
Jose Reyes, who has been on all four WBC Dominican rosters and faced a domestic violence issue 18 months ago, didn’t hide. Reyes told his teammates he so badly wanted to be a part of this year’s squad that he was willing to carry bats, be the water boy or anything else needed.
That anecdote offers a tiny glimpse into why Dominican fans, both here and in the D.R., hung on every pitch of this game. It’s why the dancing in the stands resembled a wedding after-party.
It’s why, after Cruz’s go-ahead blast cleared the left-field fence, every single Dominican player leaped out of the dugout to greet Cruz at the plate. It was Little League enthusiasm displayed by grown men.
“I don’t think most people here in the United States understand what this tournament means to our country,” legendary Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez said. “In places like the D.R., Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Mexico, this is our chance to show what we can do collectively, on our own. It’s why we pour every bit of emotion into these games.”
The stars certainly aligned for the Dominicans. The game was played in the single-most Latin-flavored city in the U.S.; Miami may be on U.S. soil, but as anyone who has visited knows, Español is the dominant language. That may irk some, but it’s also what makes Miami, the city where I was raised, such an attractive and unique destination.
The city showcased all of its glory inside Marlins Park on Saturday night. That’s why the crowd was probably 90-10 in favor of the D.R. The pulse in the stands, like so much of Miami, was distinctively Latin, a thumping of drums and heartbeats.
This game was the closest any U.S. sporting event can come to a World Cup soccer match. It was a Latin festival of merengue, salsa dancing and chants, en Español, that seemed to rattle the U.S. side.
“I’ve played in some crazy playoff games in Pittsburgh and thought nothing could top those,” Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen said. “Those were great, but they weren’t anything like this.”
In my lifetime, I can think of only one time U.S. fans displayed a common national pride and truly rallied behind an American team; the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team that sleighed the mighty USSR at the Winter Games. For these Latin countries, the WBC is their Lake Placid moment.
Baseball is rightfully America’s Pastime. The question now is, which America? The United States of America or Latin America?