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Dispatches from the World Baseball Classic Qualifier: Day three

In which DRB’s Malinowski dons a straw hat, grabs a Coney Island hot dog, and settles in for a few rounds of World Baseball Classic qualifiers

WBC over MCU Park
Ian Malinowski

Coney Island wakes up on the weekend.

On Thursday, the streets were empty. On Friday, a few people came out to sit on the beach, but it was still quiet. But on Saturday there were screaming kids on the subway, a classic car show closing off the streets, a barber giving haircuts to the car dudes inside Freak Bar, rides that actually run, and a museum that’s actually, really open this time.

Old cars, refurbished by old, Brooklyn men
Ian Malinowski

The Coney Island Museum is three musty rooms, strewn with artifacts from the first half of Coney Island’s existence, in the upstairs of the Freak Bar and the Circus Sideshow. Five dollars gets you admission to the museum, $13 gets you a sideshow as well. The tagline for the whole complex is “Defending the Honor of American Popular Culture!”

Historic highlights include:

  • A rotating queue of old movies. The one we saw was “A Day In the Life of Coney Island,” and the amusement park it portrayed was absolutely terrifying, filled with devlish mannequins with lightup eyes and lots of happy people. That’s the great thing about Coney Island. It’s not Disney World. It’s not (just) for children, and its not intended to feel safe. It’s a place where social barriers are supposed to fall away into a kind of permanent masquerade ball, sexual inhibitions are supposed to be relaxed (you can take your date on a spinning ride so that the turns force you to actually touch the way you both want to anyway but can’t, because society), and there’s a hovering fear/hope that once you step into the bizzaro world you might never escape.
  • Old bumper cars—the 1920s version has snazzy tail lights.
  • Ingenious old post cards that show a daytime scene when lighted from the front and a nighttime scene when lighted from the back.
  • An actual “slapstick,” used in physical comedy—did you know that was a real thing?
  • Lots of pictures.

The museum itself feels like a museum piece, but in the smaller two rooms it steps out of that role, featuring work by contemporary artists.

The Great Fredini’s clean, white 3D printing of old Luna Park is incredibly anachronistic in the space, but not in a disturbing way. Africasso’s Darkside of Dreamland, on the other hand, with its transformation of a Coney Island icon into a story of inequality, exploitation, society-induced insanity, lynching, and the resulting curse, doesn’t feel anachronistic at all in this setting. And the way Darkside of Dreamland turns the normal feel of the Coney Island shock and danger into something much more shocking and much more dangerous is incredibly disturbing.

Well done, Africasso and the Coney Island Museum.

Before riding the cyclone, the attendant makes the couple in front of us get up and switch spots.

“Women on the inside.”


“So they don’t get squished.”

The Cyclone, opened 1927
Ian Malinowski

Headed to dinner at Totonno’s Pizza, three blocks back from the boardwalk. The glitz drops away fast as you leave the water, and it looks like any other neighborhood far away from the concentration of jobs: ethnic (largely old Italian and old Russian, but with other languages mixed in) and poor. They’ve had the added struggle here of recovering from Sandy, although flood damage is no longer evident.

But the pizza is amazing. Thin crust, cooked very hot so it’s both crunchy and chewy, very little sauce and not sweet at all. The cheese and pepperoni are salty and flavorful. If you’re looking for “a real New York pizza experience,” skip the crowded, touristy Lombardi’s and Grimaldi’s, and come to Coney Island.

At the ballpark, Pakistan baseball merchandise is now 50% off. I got a shirt. Their hat is actually pretty snazzy, but I don’t think I can wear it. Everyone would just assume it’s ironic, and that would be too sad. Stupid hipster culture.

Almost from the first pitch, Andre Rienzo, the Brazilian starter, makes us sit up in our seats. His fastball is harder than anything I’ve seen in this tournament so far, and he backs it up with an array of other offerings that seem (from my vantage point at least) to have some quality. He yanked the chain on a changeup to put Paul Chisolm away for the second out of the game, and he worked some breaking balls (both hard and soft ones) into his mix as well.

This seems like a good time to step away to the present and check the calibration of my eyes. Rienzo is a 27 year old who’s pitched 140.1 innings in the majors, as a starter for the White Sox in 2014 and as a reliever for the Marlins in 2015.

Andre Rienzo, 2014-2016

Over that time, his fastball has averaged 92 mph. That’s major-league stuff, although the career 5.90 ERA speaks to some problems. The World Baseball Classic Qualifier is not the major leagues, though, and having a pitcher like Rienzo going in a win-or-go-home game against Great Britain is a pretty favorable situation for Brazil.

There’s a reason they actually play the games, though. And remember, the normal order is suspended in Coney Island.

Rienzo fell behind Champ Stuart, Great Britain’s cleanup hitter, 3-0 in the third at bat of the game, and when he came into the zone, Stuart nearly took the ball out to left-center field. It was a high fly ball that hit off the top of the wall. Brazil fielded it cleanly and got the throw in quickly. A hit like that is a double every day of the week.

But for Champ, it was a standup triple. Stuart is FAST.

Not the first time his speed was evident this tournament, either.

In the third inning, things started to come apart for Rienzo. Chavez Young lead off with a line-drive single into center field, and then was immediately advanced to second on a balk. Rienzo gave Simmons a (shabbas?) meatball, which he hit for a double into the corner to put runners on second and third. Then he hit Antoan Richardson on the first pitch to load the bases.

Let’s talk about managing in the World Baseball Classic qualifier. Now a major league manager is dealing with major-leaguers. Sabermetric folks get accused of downplaying the mental part of the game, but that’s not quite right. The actual claim is that the difference in the mental game between major league players—guys who have made it through many grueling minor league seasons, faced a ton of adversity, and then stuck at the highest level—is very small, and difficult to identify.

But I think its fair to say that it’s an entirely different proposition when you’re talking about a group of young, not-quite-major-leaguers representing their country. At this point, the job of the Brazilian dugout was to pump Rienzo’s confidence back up and calm him down at the same time. To help him find that mental space where he can perform to his ability. I don’t think that’s what happened.

The first two pitches to Jasrado Chisolm were hot and aggressive, a foul, and a swinging strike. The third was a backdoor curve that looked close to being strike three, but was called a ball. The crowd, the Brazilian dugout, and Rienzo all grumbled. Same thing on pitch four. Pitch five was also a ball. Rienzo struck Chisolm out swinging on pitch six, but by this time he was pissed, and openly showing it to the ump.

Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey would never have allowed a sequence like that to happen. Sure, he might complain about a call if what his pitcher needed was fire and support. But if his pitcher was unsettled, Hickey would have been out there in a heartbeat, smiling, laughing, and reminding his guy that he was Andre-freaking-Rienzo and that he just needed to handle the things he could handle and that would be enough to dominate the next batter.

Rienzo did dominate Stuart (on all soft stuff) to get the second out, but came apart against Todd Isaacs, throwing two pitches in the dirt before hitting Isaacs to walk in the run.

And then things went crazy. The Brazilian shortstop (I think it was Reginatto at that time), possibly distracted by all the men on base and planning to throw to second, couldn’t handle a ground ball just slightly to his left. That E6 allowed one run to score, but he made it worse by trying to pick the ball up and get the out at first instead. He had no chance, but he did succeed in throwing it low and past the first baseman, allowing a second run to score on the throwing error. Isaacs tried to go to third, but was thrown out to end the inning, with Great Britain now ahead 3-0.

The Brazilian team definitely knows how to work the count, but they suffer on offense from having too many holes in their swings. I really couldn’t tell you why British starter Blake Taylor was getting enough swings and misses to survive, but the first time through the order, he was.

Second time through the order, Brazil seemed to get a better handle on him, though, pushing two runs across on a line-drive single by (former Rays farmhand) Leonardo Reginatto.

Brazil threatened again in the sixth inning, putting eight and nine hitter on with no outs, forcing Great Britain into a pitching change. But with the top of the order up, Maciel popped up a bunt to catcher.

It was kind of a pattern. Eileen, my non-baseball watching wife, asked the question (a bit later in the game) that needed to be asked: “Why do they keep trying to ‘disaster bunt’?”

Some of the disaster bunts were only disasters in terms of win probability, like when, with two men on base and the pitcher clearly struggling, Brazil’s first-baseman, Reinaldo Sato (who looks like he can hit), was asked to sacrifice. Batting behind him was the catcher.

Fuzzy picture of British fans.
Ian Malinowski

Sometime in the middle of the game, a group of three young, loud, drunk guys arrived and sat behind us. Unlike the regulars I’ve observed at MCU park this week, who are either fans of the teams playing, or actual Brooklyn Cyclones fans and season ticket holders who just love baseball and are entirely respectful of the international product on the field, these guys were here to make fun.

The heckled both sides. For instance, accusing a British player of “flopping like in soccer” when he made a diving catch in foul territory. When Brazilian players called “I got it” on a fly ball, they called “I got it” as well, hoping to make someone mess up. They abused the ump for no particular reason. At some point they tried to start a U-S-A chant, also for no particular reason.

I couldn’t stand them.

And as I was forced to listen more to their chatter and their baseball worldview, I realized that they were Red Sox fans. Go figure.

As Brazil tried to claw back into the game, Great Britain left in their reliever, Chris Reed. One funny thing about watching this WBC qualifier is that I really have no idea what kind of pitching depth each team has. The dropoff as you get further into the bullpen might be extreme. By their usage, it sure seems like Great Britain has no closer (which is ironic, given that Trevor Hoffman is their pitching coach).

In the eighth inning, Reed got hit around a bit by the bottom of the Brazilian order. The score closed to 3-4, with the bases loaded for Brazil and with one out and the top of the order up. But Reed rallied, pounded the zone, and struck out Maciel. And then he struck out Bo Bichette (who had pinch hit in the second spot earlier in the game) with a tense five straight foul balls followed by one swinging strike.

At 74 pitches, Reed stayed in for the ninth (see, no closer). He got the first two outs before giving up a double to Juan Carlos Muñiz. That put him over the 85 pitch limit, and by rule forced Great Britain to make a pitching change ahead of Reinaldo Sato.

I said earlier that it looks to me like Sato can hit. Once more, he never got a chance to show it.

I sure hope you didn’t call for that steal, Barry Larkin.

Great Britain faces Israel again on Sunday for all the marbles.