It’s March 7 — a dreary, rainy Saturday in Toronto. Hungover, I slog out of my apartment at a (relatively) ungodly hour, clad in an objectively ridiculous assortment of sporting memorabilia: a hockey jersey, a soccer scarf, a baseball toque. Within an hour, I’ll be among 42,000 others ensconced in the old SkyDome, collectively telling Derek Jeter he’s overrated in that wonderful ballpark cadence, and pinning my emotional well-being on the performance of obscure, minor-league infielders donning the red maple leaf.
Yeah, this is the World Baseball Classic.
Now, far be it from me to sound like I’m artificially drumming up emotion for a three-year-old tournament — Bud Selig’s propaganda machine has got that well in hand. But even if the tournament doesn’t “mean” anything (not that any sporting event “means” anything, unless its followers lend it historical significance), it was tough to tell that yesterday. The fans in attendance — many decked out in pro-Canada gear much more ostentatious than mine — were completely engrossed, cheerily lustily at every positive move the Canucks made, and conspiring to produce the sort of atmosphere that the ‘Dome hasn’t seen since 1993.
Put plainly, it was far and away the best baseball game I’ve ever seen live. Had Team Canada managed to complete the comeback and shock the Americans one more time, it could very easily have taken the title of best sporting event ever.
But as it was, the game was a near-perfect showcase for what the WBC could be — an enthusiastic, patriotic crowd, back-and-forth action, and a nice combination of long-ball-clobbering and tense, timely pitching performances. If the losing team is allowed to have a “hero”, then Canada’s was Russell Martin — smacking a homer and double, throwing out Jimmy Rollins at second base, and hustling around the basepaths (insofar as his catcher’s frame would allow). A close second was local transit enthusiast Joey Votto, who went 4 for 5 out of the DH slot, adding a round-tripper of his own, giving his hometown crowd ample justification for bellowing his very chantable name on multiple occasions.
Of course, the really important game for Canada will, presumably, come on Tuesday against Venezeula, with a berth in the quarter-finals up for grabs. But it’s tough to imagine that a Tuesday night affair against a South American side without significant star appeal will be able to match a weekend tussle with our southern neighbours, especially considering the various subplots woven into Saturday’s tilt.
Sure, if Canada pulls off a victory against the Venezeulans, it’s for the good of Canadian baseball, whether it’s witnessed by 42,000 Torontonians, or 20,000, or 10,000. Because ultimately, the final score is what counts in a baseball game.
But it takes a spectacle like Saturday’s to truly produce a classic.