I am in Miami to take in a few World Baseball Classic games. I managed to get tickets to two games likely to be less than competitive, but part of the fun of the first round of this tournament is seeing the very young or very (by baseball standards) old or guys who have real days jobs take on the Juan Sotos. You aren’t anticipating a close game, you just absorb the “happy to be here” vibes from all involved.
Today, the Dominican Republic beat Nicaragua 6-1, but frankly the game was not as close as the score. Now a caveat here: I left after seven innings, not because I’m one of those “let’s beat the traffic” people, but because I married someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy baseball and seven non-pitch clock innings is all he’s got in him. So apparently I missed Nicaragua’s main highlights: the team scoring its only run in the eighth, and a 21-year-old named Duque Hebbert striking out the top of the Dominican order in the ninth, and getting rewarded with a professional contract from a Detroit Tiger scout who happened to be watching.
What I saw was all Dominican Republic, from the play on the field to the fans filling the stands to near capacity, almost all wearing the red and blue of the Dominican team, many waving inflatable plantains, as Platano Power has been a team mantra for years (with Fernando Rodney playing a key role). They brought flags, they brought drums, they brought what looked like various kitchen utensils to make sounds.
Whereas the Dominican lineup featured major league players, indeed major league All Stars, the Nicaraguan lineup consisted of players from various Nicaraguan teams, with a few minor league players thrown in. During the innings I watched, they seemed entirely overmatched at the plate, But their pitchers managed to strike out five Dominican players (well OK Hebbert struck out three and their other four pitchers just struck out two) and they had some nifty defensive plays that kept this from becoming a real blow out.
I was especially impressed with Juan Montes, the Nicaraguan centerfielder, who made some impressive at-the-wall catches. He was apparently once in the Baltimore organization but never got beyond short season ball because he doesn’t seem to be able to hit at all. But he does play good defense and has a really great mustache:
As for the play of the Rays players in the Dominican lineup, Wander Franco drew a walk and hit one 400 feet but it was caught by Montes at the wall. Francisco Mejia drove in a run with a patented bad-ball Mejia single — the pitch was pretty much in the dirt and he managed to get it into the outfield.
This game was a must-win for the Dominican Republic if they hope to get past this first round.
Some other observations:
Marlins Park (I know, loanDepot Park) is indeed a nice place to see a game, I love the windows that allow you to look at the city’s skyline and the concourses that have views on to the field. I was surprised the roof was closed, however, because if it’s not open on a pleasant day in March when will you open it?
But I liked it more when it first opened. They actually had a nightclub (the Clevelander) with a swimming pool just behind left field, parts of which were visible from the stands. And of course they had the great home run sculpture created by Red Grooms in center field that did all kinds of wild whirly things for a Marlins home run. The night club closed in 2020, perhaps pandemic related. But the home run sculpture was killed by Derek Jeter, who clearly understands neither art nor fun. It now sits outside the park.
The only sour note of the day was trying to get back from the park. Kudos to Miami for building a stadium in the first place that seems to connect to neither the commuter rail line nor the “Metromover” rail system. And then, in honor of the WBC, blocking off all the streets around the stadium, which created huge traffic jams for miles and made it impossible for anyone to get picked up after the game. And then saying there would be a designated pick-up spot for those using taxis of various kinds. And then not informing any of their staff or the ride hailing companies where these designated areas were supposed to be. It took us 90 minutes to make the five mile trip from the stadium to our apartment.
But the atmosphere for the game itself was tremendous fun — and the excitement is not confined to the ballpark, the area where I’m staying is filled with visitors wearing either Puerto Rican or Dominican shirts. It’s a cross between playoff baseball and a parade. If you can get yourself to Miami to take in a game you will not regret it.
My next game: Israel v Venezuela on March 15. I just learned that the WBC actually has a mercy rule; I may get to see it invoked on Wednesday.