Just because we don't care doesn't make it less special
It is no big secret that I like pulling for the Underdog. It is why my bracket is a mess and Joe Caruso and company gave me goose bumps in the fourth quarter of their game last week against SVSM.
So am I a political traitor for pulling for Cuba in the biggest sporting event never watched by the American Public?
Not one person has said a single word to me about the World Baseball Classic. As we are apt to do, when failure is a possibility, the vast majority of the country gave a collective yawn before the tournament even began.
My take is that most Americans don't hate soccer because it is boring, they hate it because they didn't invent or master it. If the Good Ole USA ain't the best at something, then it must not be important. My unfair generalization of the day is that most American sports fans fear losing more than we like winning. It is why sportswriters (aka sports snobs) diss soccer and much of the Winter Olympics. It is why Larry Brown started making excuses before we started losing basketball games in the Summer Olympics.
It also is why this tournament was held at the start of Spring Training, so America could have a built in excuse. "We weren't at our best.” “Players aren't in condition.” “Our best didn't all play.”
It is a long standing view in sports that you play with who is there. If your best player gets hurt, that is what happens. You don't make excuses. You adjust and play hard.
Anyway, while you weren't watching, Team USA lost to Canada and Mexico in the tournament. Those same sportwriters who shrugged at the start of the tournament are now outraged that we lost. Is it a national tragedy to lose to our neighbors in our national pastime?
No, it isn't. Here is the obvious statement of the week-- when you play baseball-- someone wins and someone loses. More than any other sport, the most talented team often loses to a less talented team. It is all about who is that day's starting pitcher. It is why the Major Leagues play 162 games so that the talent will rise to the top.
But because of our own insecurities as a nation, it seems to me, most sportswriters blew off the tournament.
However the players involved played for pride. The Indians's catcher Victor Martinez was quoted as saying playing for Venezuela was a highlight of his career. I am sure he was not alone in feeling that way and that includes American players such as Chipper Jones- who seemed honored to be there.
We lost-- so what? Is it worse than winning, of course. As Herman Edwards once said, “You play the win the game,” But losing or even the threat of losing does not diminish the pride of playing for country. If you get beat, you get beat. And if we didn’t play our best players or to our full potential then that is on us. You play to win.
But back to Cuba and pulling for the underdog. If he was from any other place, they would make a movie about him. Pedro Luis Lazo pitched his country into the finals of the WBC by shutting down a heavily favored Dominican Republic line-up that featured Major League all stars Miguel Tejada, Albert Pujols, David Oritz, Adrian Beltre, Moises Alou and Alfonso Soriano.
Cuba with a team full of players who will never get a chance to play in the Major Leagues, now has bragging rights over everyone except Japan.
Lazo is so talented that times, Cuba left him home for certain international tournaments afraid the temptation to defect would be too great. But allow while he had several oppurtunties, he never did. His countryman, friend and former teammate Jose Contreras did defect. Contreras is now wealthy and has a World Series ring. According to ESPN, Cuban baseball players work day jobs for the government and make between $10-15 (U.S.) dollars a week.
It is a tough argument about which is better. Being a millionaire and free to do as you please, but having to leave your country and family behind or toiling in international obscurity living in a government issue apartment, but getting to one day, be the man on the mound in the biggest baseball game in the history of your country.
Well past the prime of his best years, Lazo is now a hero to his country. And just because most Americans weren't watching, doesn't make his story all the less remarkable.