With March Madness on the horizon, the World Baseball Classic suddenly has what every tournament needs to capture the public fancy: A Cinderella story.
It’s Team Netherlands, given nary a prayer of making any noise in the WBC. Lo and behold, the Dutch tonight in San Juan, Puerto Rico, knocked off mighty Dominican Republic — for the second time, no less — to eliminate the Dominicans and advance to the second round. They won 2-1 in 11 innings to advance, with Puerto Rico, to Round 2, where they’ll face the United States and Venezuela in Miami.
It’s quite an accomplishment when you consider how difficult it is to play with wooden spikes. OK, scrap the bad jokes. It’s quite an accomplishment, period, and another indication how far baseball is progressing around the world.
On the other hand, this is a bitter blow for baseball mad Dominican, which received a huge hit at the outset of the tournament when Alex Rodriguez had to pull out. They were already without another superstar, Albert Pujols, who couldn’t get insurance to cover his participation. Adrian Beltre, the logical A-Rod successor at third base, stayed in Arizona at the behest of the Mariners. Also missing: Manny Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, and Aramis Ramirez.
Still, the Dominicans appeared to have enough firepower to get past the Netherlands, with Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, David Ortiz, Robinson Cano and Miguel Tejada in the lineup, and a staff featuring Edinson Volquez, Ubaldo Jimenez, Pedro Martinez and a sprinkling of other major leaguers.
As for the Dutch, they have Sir Sidney Ponson, who has drifted through six organizations in the last four years and can’t find anyone to sign him. They have a couple of fringe major-leaguers from yesteryear, Eugene Kingsale and Randall Simon. They have a minor-league drifter in Yurendell DeCaster, who brought in Kingsale with the winning run tonight on a ball misplayed by first baseman Willy Aybar. They have some promising young players, like outfielder Greg Halman, one of the Mariners’ top prospects, who is hitting .111 so far. They have a bonafide Hall of Fame candidate, Bert Blyleven — but he’s on the coaching staff.
Mostly, they have a bunch of guys like Danny Rombley, Michael Duursma, Sharnol Adriana and winning pitcher Leon Boyd, coming out of nowhere to put Dutch baseball on the map. And give the WBC some needed spice.