One of the complaints about the World Baseball Classic- alongside ones such as worries about injuries and the fact that it takes place during a time of year that already has an A-level sporting event (March Madness)- is that it’s nothing that couldn’t already be seen. After all, all of the world’s greatest baseball players (save for a few in Japan and Cuba) are already playing in Major League Baseball, or so the argument goes, so the novelty of seeing a top Mexican pitcher going against a top American hitter isn’t that amazing.
And that, perhaps, may be true. But it forgets the fact that not everyone is a superstar. To to say that the WBC is a tournament between stars is like saying that March Madness is simply the Final Four. And to do that would be to sell it short.
Take the day game between Brazil and Colombia. Brazil, as I noted earlier, is a country that only recently has begun to develop a baseball tradition, and most of it’s players are either of Japanese or Cuban descent. Only one of them, Yan Gomes, has played in the Major Leagues, and he didn’t have a permanent spot this year, shuttling between AAA and the big club. Some of them have had action in Japan’s top leagues, and there are even a few guys who might one day join Gomes in the majors, but they are, overall, a band of underdogs, bound together only by their country and their love of the game. And yet, they had already defeated the far more talented-on-paper Panama team, and were now a win away from going to the qualifying round’s finals.
By contrast, Colombia had numerous either current or former Major Leaguers, including Edgar Renteria. They’d already demolished Nicaragua’s team, one that also had more professionals with better pedigrees than the Brazilians.
And yet, a funny thing happened: Brazil won. And they did it in the most amazing of ways, showing timely hitting, good defense, and a pitching staff that houdini’d it’s way out of numerous jams. If one were to just look at the characters involved in this drama, you would think it would end a different way.
Take Gabriel Asakura, for example. Japanese-Brazilian who plays collegiate baseball at Cal State Los Angeles. He came in in the top of the sixth with Brazil holding a perilous 2-1 lead… and he got a 1-2-3 inning against ballplayers who are getting game-checks during the season. Then he comes back out in the seventh, and he strikes out former Red Sox farmhand Reynaldo Rodriguez and then does the same (looking) to Edgar Renteria. The same Edgar Renteria who was an All-Star five times. After two men reached (due to a single and then a HBP), Asakura finished the inning by striking out Luis Martinez, who had gotten some time with the Rangers this season.
And this kid was a Collegiate. And not even a Division I collegiate, he pitches in Division II of the NCAA.
And yet, he wasn’t the most improbable pitcher who went against the professionals. No, that title goes to Daniel Missaki, a 16-year-old from Brazil’s amateur leagues. And it wasn’t like he came in for garbage time. He came in to get the final two outs of the game, with the bases loaded, and former big-leaguer Jolbert Cabrera and the aforementioned Luis Martinez due up.
And, would you believe it? He got them both.
So, sure, you can see the best-of-the-best go against each other every day of the MLB season… but to see young Davids face professional Goliaths? That type of stuff you can only see in the World Baseball Classic.