When I stepped off the plane in Phoenix on Friday, I had little time to make a decision. Some friends had an extra ticket to that afternoon’s World Baseball Classic game, a game that took place at Chase Field under the roof. Option B was to go and see the Indians take on the Royals, at the Royals/Rangers complex in Surprise, Arizona. By the time I had my luggage and rental car, it was after 12 p.m. and the sun was peeking through the clouds, despite reports of rather ominous weather for the afternoon. The WBC game had already started at noon, but was a relatively short drive from the airport. The Indians game was at 1:05, but Surprise was a 45 minute drive. After I was unable to reach my friends on their cell phone, I figured it was destiny – I should head to Surprise to see the Indians.
I arrived at the park without incident, even though I noticed that the wind was really starting to pick up as I walked to my seat. It was a really pretty park (which I’d never visited before Friday) so despite the cool, overcast, windy weather, I was still looking forward to relaxing and watching my first live baseball game since early October. The second inning was just starting by the time I got there, and I noticed that there weren’t many major league names in the lineup. I’m not even sure if I could call it the Indians’ “B” lineup…it was more like a D or E lineup. Drew Stubbs happened to make the journey though, and he had a pretty good day. Corey Kluber pitched for the Indians and they really seemed to be slamming the ball hard off of him (at least in the bottom of the second). That’s pretty much all I got to see, because it started to sprinkle right as the top of the third opened. Then I swore that I heard some thunder. I certainly did not miss the bolts of lightning though, especially because half of the (small) crowd started to panic. We cleared out of our seats just as the monsoon began. The grounds crew battled the wind and the rain to pull the tarp (everyone applauded them…I’m guessing it’s not something they have to do that often in the desert).
With the wind and the rain, it felt like the temperature dropped about 20 degrees. About 20 minutes into the rain delay, I could no longer feel my hands and started to think “I wish I had gloves.” I guess players need spring training to get in shape, and I need to find a way to get used to the April weather in Cleveland. This game provided a good opportunity. I watched on my phone as all of the other Cactus League games were postponed – for some reason, they waited for almost an hour and a half before calling the Indians-Royals game. I wandered around, looking at fun stuff like bunnies and a merry go round. Would rather have baseball, but fluffy bunnies are always nice.
In the end, I should have opted for the WBC game in dry, warm Chase Field. I was planning to attend USA vs. Mexico that night, so it’s not like I was going to miss out on the action. In fact, I planned to go to most of the WBC games in Phoenix.
The U.S. had a pretty good lineup:
And Mexico had a decent lineup with a few stars:
The crowd was a blast, and heavily favored Mexico. I saw a number of people with split allegiances – wearing items from both countries. R.A. Dickey struggled, and the U.S. offense sputtered, so Mexico went away with the 5-2 victory. All I could think to myself was “I hope R.A. Dickey pitches like this on Opening Day when he faces the Indians.” Vinnie Pestano made a brief appearance later in he game; I screamed for him during the introductions and pretty much was the only person to do so. I drew some stares.
In terms of former Indians, Karim Garcia played for Mexico:
The next game I attended was the now-infamous Mexico-Canada matchup. What’s so bizarre is that this started as a somewhat bland game. I got up to stretch my legs and saw the hit-by-pitches on the TVs in the concourse. Next thing I knew, all hell was breaking loose. I ran back to my seat and tried to get some pictures. This is really the best I could do since everyone was standing on tiptoes, cameras in the air (and I’m barely 5 feet tall).
I’ve never seen anything like this. I wish I could be a mature adult and be like “shame on them for acting like this…they’re grown men.” I can’t help it though, I have to admit that this was extremely entertaining. Everyone around me was shocked and bemused at the same time; the Team Mexico fan next to me said something along the lines of “what morons, don’t they realize this is exhibition?” That’s what the rational part of your brain is thinking while you watch this, but the blood-thirsty, basest part of your brain is just yelling “FIGHT FIGHT” with glee. I couldn’t even see all that was going down from my seat, although I did see that there was some kind of exchange between a fan and a Canadian player. (I later watched a replay of the fight online and got the precise details). At one point they made an announcement threatening arrest for anyone that interfered with the game. When there were still a few people doing dumb stuff, they made another announcement that there would be a forfeit if people didn’t chill. I think it was just one of those deals where a handful of fans had a bit too much to drink, and got a bit worked up and caused problems. When the game ended, absolutely nobody left their seats. I honestly think they were just waiting to see if anything else happened as the teams were leaving the field.
A side note about this game – the Team Mexico fans had a John Adams-type figure in the crowd. Instead of a bass drum, he had a snare drum and a whistle he used to pump up fans as he walked from section to section.
After the chaos of the afternoon, the Italy-USA game seemed peaceful and serene. I have to admit that I’m shocked Italy will advance to Miami; they have been a fun team to watch and I hope they’re able to survive for a while. (And my Italian heritage has a role in that as well). For all of the complaining I heard from people about the U.S. team, I thought they looked solid against Italy. David Wright hit a grand slam, Ryan Vogelsong pitched a great game (until he hit his pitch limit), and Brandon Phillips made a fantastic diving play. There were a few pumped U.S. fans; at first I couldn’t figure out why they needed four guys to spell U-S-A, but the fourth just had an exclamation mark on his chest.
The Canada and USA victories on Saturday set up a winner-take-all game on Sunday afternoon. Since both teams were 1-1, whoever won would continue to Miami while the loser exits the tournament. I must admit that this is one of the best games I’ve seen in a long time. It was tense, with a lot of back-and-forth action. Until the U.S. broke it open late in the game, I honestly had no idea who would pull out the victory. I managed to score a good seat right on the Canadian dugout and was close enough to hear Canada coach Larry Walker scream “Okay, let’s not F%&# this up” to the Canadian players (he said the word though). He said this in the middle of the seventh, when Canada was hanging onto a tenuous 3-2 lead. I guess in the end, the players did not heed Walker’s warning…they ultimately F%&#ed it up.
Overall, the WBC was a great experience. I actually held off on purchasing a ticket for Sunday, because I fully planned to head out to Goodyear instead. I was having so much fun, (and since it was a deciding game) I opted for the WBC instead. I can see the Indians the rest of this week, and there won’t be another WBC until 2017. If you have any doubts to its success, the Phoenix pool drew 115,183 fans (more than 44,000 of them at the USA-Mexico game on Friday night alone). Plus the extremely overpriced souvenirs literally flew off the shelves. By the end of today’s game, Chase Field’s team shop was practically empty; just the Diamondbacks gear and a few scattered WBC items remained. And when I say overpriced, I’m talking $40 for a t-shirt with a player’s name and $80 for a hooded sweatshirt. I was laughing about the large quantity of $40 Team Italy shirts with Anthony Rizzo’s name on the back; they all sold out by Sunday afternoon. In fact, pretty much every Italy souvenir in general was gone; even the extremely small and extremely large sizes. (Which always seem to be the only sizes left).
I’m off to Goodyear tomorrow to see the Indians, and it’s finally getting warm and sunny out here. I’ll either live-blog the game, or catch up with a recap and some thoughts in the evening once I’m back at my hotel. I’ll leave you with a few remaining WBC pictures from this weekend.
I should add – since Venezuela lost, Asdrubal Cabrera will be returning to camp. The rest of the Indians players in the tournament advanced with their country’s teams.