Last night’s improbable 2-1 win by the Netherlands over the Dominican Republic in a dramatic 11 inning game gave the World Baseball Classic what it needed–a signature moment. A team filled with has beens and never have beens beat the star studded Dominican Republic twice in three days. That’s proof once again that sport is the greatest live threatre there is. Sylvester Stallone could not have written a better script.
The easiest comparison is the 1980 Olympic hockey “Miracle on Ice” in Lake Placid. While not having the social significance or the geo–political implications of that contest, on the playing field last night’s game might have been even more remarkable.
Contrast the two sides. The Dominican Republic was managed by former big league manager Felipe Alou and contained such stars as David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, and Miguel Tejada. On the mound last night Pedro Martinez, Carlos Marmol, and Ubaldo Jimenez all threw. The team’s major league payroll would be over 80 million dollars.
The Netherlands had only three notable players that any Major League Baseball fan would know. Their manager is former college coach Rod Delmonico, who skippered the University of Tennessee. Former Oriole Sidney Ponson, he of the 90 career wins and liquid lunches, is probably the marquee name on this team. Randall Simon, who was best known for clubbing one of the sausages in Milwaukee during a between-the-innings promotion, and the former Orioles prospect Eugene Kingsale are the only position players to play in the big leagues. None of these guys will be on a roster going into spring training, and it’s been at least three years since Simon or Kingsdale has played in the big leagues.
The Dutch team was filled out with players from the Dutch Professional League and prospects like 19 year old pitcher Juan Carlos Sulbaran, who last year was pitching for American Heritage High School in Plantation, Fla. Monday night in a loss to Puerto Rico he struck out Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez on three pitches. Fellow reliever Dennis Neuman, a 19 year old Red Sox prospect, also has shown great promise in the Classic. Last year in Single A Lowell, he had an ERA of 7.20.
This team wasn’t about stars or prospects; the Dutch team played with heart, enthusiasm and confidence. They played and wore their emotions on their sleeves.
To quote the legendary Jack Buck, “I don’t believe what I just saw.” Twenty four hours later, I still don’t believe it.
What they did beating the squad from the Dominican Republic is nothing short of sensational, and the way they did it last night, scoring two in the bottom of the 11th after falling behind in the top of the inning, was even more memorable.
If you missed it, too bad; it was as good a baseball game as you will see in October only even more remarkable.
For the World Baseball Classic, a game like this and a run like the Dutch team is on will only help this tournament gain respect. While early March may not be the time or the place for this event, the event needs to continue. Seeing the excitement as these two teams played for the name on the front of the jersey is something baseball desperately needs, especially as it continues to dig out from under the steroid era.
Last night reminded us how great the game is and why we fell in love with it as kids. Thank you Netherlands for last night; you reminded us what this game is all about.