As San Diego prepares for the semi-final games of the inaugural World Baseball Classic, what's the most remarkable story the tournament has produced so far?
Korea's exemplary fielding? The solid pitching of the Dominican Republic's team, which was expected to prevail, if at all, by outslugging their opponents? The ability of the Cubans to play just well enough to advance to the semi's in a tournament from which the U.S. government initially tried to ban them? The goofy possibility that the final stat in the long and illustrious career of Roger Clemens might be an "L" against Mexico?
All these stories will fade, but what will remain, at least for me, are the images of celebration. The game between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico had the fans waving banners and hugging each other, inning after inning.
After Mexico eliminated the U.S. on Thursday night, the Mexican players danced and cheered as if they'd won the World Series, never mind that earlier they, too, had been knocked out of the tournament.
Baseball has rarely been in greater need of joy.
Every homerun Barry Bonds whacks in spring training reminds the fans that once the season begins, every baseball fan who doesn't live in San Francisco is going to have to choose between several alternatives: do they cheer Bonds as he chases Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron? Do they disparage him as a cheat and a liar, then buy tickets so they can scream insults at him? Or do they dismiss Major League Baseball altogether as a drug-riddled freak show presided over an inept non-entity?
Always in the spring baseball has provided a sense of summer fun about to begin again. Often baseball has been beset with controversy, whether it's had to deal with a strike threat, a lock-out threat, gambling charges, the bad publicity generated by owners looking for free ballparks and by players maintaining that multi-million dollar contract offers are insulting.
But when have the contrasting currents been as powerful as they are this spring? Some U.S. baseball fans may turn away from the World Baseball Classic now that the U.S. team is no longer involved, but if the '06 season, highlighted by the record-chasing and controversial Bonds, turns out to be the grim, ugly, contentious debacle it probably can't avoid being, those same fans may find themselves yearning for the happy days, unfettered, unadulterated baseball celebration that the winning teams have been enjoying during March.
This program aired on March 18, 2006. The audio for this program is not available.