After Christmas I prepared for the 2014 MLB season by watching my recordings from the 2013 World Baseball Classic. This was fun, following the progress of the Netherlands to the semi-finals….but about a week ago I discovered that all of my recordings had been deleted.
This my iptv supplier Telia apparently did because the recordings were from ESPN America, which no longer exists. Why the disappearance of the channel should result in deleting recording files on a harddisk they do not explain, except to say they can’t actively access my harddisk and erase files.
Yet that’s what they did.
ESPN America apparently pulled the plug on August 1, 2013. I didn’t even notice, which perhaps just shows that the channel itself no longer filled a role, at least for baseball fans.
Major League Baseball arrived on European TV screens in 1997 when Britain’s Channel Five started broadcasting the ESPN Sunday Night game live, in the early hours of Monday mornings European time. To explain the game to viewers more familiar with cricket they offered a pair of entertaining and knowledgeable hosts, who introduced the programs and talked during the America commercials.
Been sadly neglecting this blog, but even though the WBC finals were two months ago, better late than never.
The three games in San Francisco were wonderful.
There was the first semi-final between Japan and Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rico’s massive upset win over the two-time defending champions. The Japanese supporters were very vocal, and massively conspicous in their absence during the final (even though the tickets sold were three-packs).
The Japanese apparently had special try-outs for the team, and really prepared for the tournament, but perhaps were hurt by not including any MLB players, like Ichiro.
There was the second game between the Dominican Republic and upstart underdogs the Netherlands, who beat the Domincans twice in the 2009 tournament. This time the Dominicans were better prepared (and didn’t lose a single game). The Netherlands started a bit like the Puerto Ricans, but in the end were just outplayed.
But their performance, reaching the semi-finals, was an amazing testimony to European baseball.
In the final, the Domincans just outplayed the Puerto Ricans.
It was fun to see Angel Pagan playing for Puerto Rico in his own part. One wanted to think this gave him an edge, but he did misjudge one ball hit to centerfield badly.
Strange to be at AT&T without the Giants. Renel, the Giants’ PA announcer, was there, although she had to share the mike with Japanese and (especially in the final) Spanish-speakers. The mascot Lou Seal was also on-hand.
And the stands were filled with Giants fans in Giants gear. When Dodger Hanley Ramirez came up to bat for the Domincan, the stands echoed with boos and chants of “Beat LA”.
Just about the only negative thing was the weather, it got very chilly, and the final night it rained a bit. Fortunately we had seats on the Club Level that were under a roof, but we till took refugee from the cold behind the glass on the Club Level. That in itself was an amazing experience, with all the food and concession stands one could wish. We spent a lot of time inside, watching the game on the TV screens.
Originally I didn’t want seats at the Club Level, I like to sit closer to the field and the plate, behind the first base dugout, for example. But we have the most amazing views of McCovey Cove and the Bay Bridge.
I’m only at AT&T every now and then, but I’ve never seen the Giants Dugout Store there so crowded. It most mostly filled with Giants stuff, of course, with the WBC merchandise sort of shoved into the corners. But that was where the crowds were, looking for gear from not just the four teams in the final three games, but for all the teams in the final rounds of the tournament.
The opening ceremonies all three days were impressive. One little thing that irked was that among the flags of the competing nations were Britain, France, and Germany, all of whom were in the qualifiers for the WBC. Germany belonged there, but it continues to bother me that Britain and France were picked to take part, rather than Sweden, which has a better national team.
As far as I know, Britain and France were included solely for commercial reasons, being bigger countries Major League Baseball felt that their inclusion would be more profitable. But, even if it had gone out at the very first stage, Sweden deserved to be given that chance.
On the field, the Baseball World Cup Group C qualifier could have gone a lot better for Sweden. But the tournament was a great victory for Swedish baseball.
The Swedes lost all three of their games. The closest was the opening 10-8 loss to the Netherlands Antilles.
The 5-1 defeat to South Korea’s was a lot closer than expected considering they are Olympic champions, and ranked number two in the world, compared to Sweden at number 26. But a glance at the roster showed that around half the Korean players were university students. This was obviously not the same team that did so well at the World Baseball Classic.
So it probably wasn’t really a surprise that Antilles beat Korea 9-5. (Although someone mentioned that the best players from the Netherlands Antilles are actually playing for the Dutch national team, so perhaps this was the Dutch team B we saw here.)
The Canadian team (with former Rockies/Cardinals slugger Larry Walker as hitting coach!!!) was made up completely of minor league players, ranging from AAA to the Rookie League. While Sweden probably matched them defensively, the lack of Swedish pitching depth was apparent. There were seven Swedish pitchers in a game called under the mercy rule after the 5th inning, with Canada ahead 19-1.
One of the most emotional moments of the game was when opening game starter Joakim Claesson came in in the fourth inning in the final game, in an attempt to put out the fire and stave off the mercy rule loss. The entire crowd went wild, fully aware that Jocke had pitched well in the first game, and couldn’t have a whole lot left in his arm on one day’s rest. He had pulled it off two weeks previously for Stockholm in the Swedish baseball finals, Jocke winning the first game on the Saturday and coming in as the closer in the final game the next day.
Alas, despite the emotional outpouring things didn’t quite work out the same. Jocke game up a grand slam before closing the door, and Per Sjörs came in to pitch the fifth inning, giving up four hits and one earned run.
So Sweden could have done better on the field. But in terms of organization Sweden was a big winner in the Group C qualifier.
The Nya Örvallen stadium was amazingly transformed, with stands for 3000 instead of perhaps 50 before the upgrade. Where the right field bleachers were during the tournament, there used to be a bench on a small hill overlooking the field.
Most of the new bleachers are temporary, apparently only a handful behind homeplate will remain. But it was amazing seeing the old stadium with so much seating!
And all the concessions were also amazing. The little Sundbyberg Heat kiosk and tiny single toilet were closed, replaced by several restaurants and lots of porta-potties. There were sales of t-shirts, caps, baseball gloves, and even balls signed by all the players on the various national teams. There was even a place with a radar gun so kids could practice pitching and see how fast they were throwing.
It really reminded me of attending a game by the old Sonoma County Crushers, a Santa Rosa team that played in the sadly gone independent AAA Western Baseball League. Same concessions, but a much more powerful feeling, as all of baseball Sweden came together for a three day celebration.
The tournament also gots lots of publicity in the Swedish media. The national dailies “Dagens Nyheter” and “Svenska Dagbladet” not only reported the scores, as they do with Swedish Elite Division games, they ran large articles almost every day. The photo news agency Scanpix sent photographers every day. Even Swedish Radio’s Radiosporten reported the final scores after the end of the tournament. (First time I’ve ever heard them report on anything baseball other than the final game of the World Series.)
So congratulations to the Swedish Baseball and Softball Federation and the tournament organisers.
(And a tip for next year…change the selection process for the national team. The coach actually has to go watch the various teams play before picking his team. There were only four players on the 24 man roster from Sweden’s best team Stockholm. The three Stockholm position players all hit home runs, the only Swedes to do so, and the pitcher was Sweden’s best.)
It doesn’t come as a surprise that South Korea beat Sweden in their Baseball World Cup Group C game. After all, Sweden is ranked 26th in the world, and Olympic champion South Korea is ranked second.’
The surprise is that the Swedes did as well as they did, going down 5-1 before a home crowd in Sundbyberg.
South Korea quickly scored two runs in the bottom of the first inning, but after that the game was close. Sweden kept the Koreans from scoring again until the sixth inning, when they got two more runs, followed by the single Swedish run in the seventh, a home run by centerfielder Peter Johannessen.
South Korea got one more run in the eighth. Both teams had five hits, the Swedes made two errors (both by catcher Björn Johannessen), the Koreans one.
Sweden’s only chance to survive the group round in the Baseball World Cup was to win the opening game against the Netherlands Antilles. Unfortunately they came up on the short side of 10-8.
Sweden is hosting the Group C tournament at Sundbyberg, outside Stockholm. Besides Sweden and the Netherlands Antilles, the other participants are South Korea and Canada.
Wednesday’s opening game started close, with the Antilles ahead 2-1 going into the 7th inning, and 4-2 as the 9th inning opened. But the visitors scored 6 unearned runs off Swedish closer Niklas Melin in the top of the inning, four in a grand slam home run by Jair Josepha.
With the score 10-2, the game looked over. But the Swedes came back in the bottom of the 9th with 6 more runs, after loading the bases with no outs. The rally climaxed with a three run homer by catcher Björn Johanessen, before the Antilles closed the door.
Sweden might have a chance against Canada in the final game of the tournament, but the chances of beating South Korea seem very very remote, even if the Swedes did manage to hold the Olympic champions to a 3-2 one run loss in a training game before the tournament opened.