I spent part of my little vacation over the weekend watching the World Baseball Classic games from the Tokyo Dome on a local station that normally carries a show called "Out There TV," which features a woman talking on the phone about crackpot UFO stuff while the screen shows a picture of her.
I think it's her, anyway, and I think she beat Korea vs. Chinese Taipei in the ratings.
But I'm excited about the Classic coming to North America, which it does starting Tuesday with a great matchup at 1 p.m. EST in Orlando, Fla., between the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, two of the three tournament favorites along with the United States. Those countries, though not these two teams, met for the Caribbean Series title last month, with Venezuela winning a thriller.
The starting pitchers for that game will be the last two American League Cy Young winners, Johan Santana for Venezuela and Bartolo Colon for the Dominicans. We can make fun all we want of the mostly American "Italy" team or the rest of the Washington Generals half of the tournament -- the Netherlands, South Africa, etc. -- and rest assured I plan to.
But Santana vs. Colon, with hitters such as Albert Pujols, David Ortiz, Miguel Cabrera and Bobby Abreu, that's pretty good stuff.
Major League Baseball didn't immediately return a call asking about ticket sales, but they've been reported slow in the U.S., and the games from Tokyo over the weekend were watched by an awful lot of empty seats.
The wingding of a finale, Korea over Japan in a big upset, drew 40,353, but the other five games, two of which featured Japan, averaged 12,122. The average attendance when Japan wasn't playing: 4,565.
Tuesday's Dominican Republic-Venezuela game, at the Ballpark at Disney's Wide World of Sports, is sold out. The place only holds 9,500 people, but I suspect a much larger crowd would show if the seats were available. Maybe even three times larger. They had a reported 8,000 watching a workout.
Searching at Ticketmaster, I wasn't able to get four tickets together for any of the games in Orlando, even the decidedly nonmarquee Italy-Australia game. For much of the rest of the tournament, though, good seats are still available, as they say.
At 8 a.m. EST Tuesday, eight hours before the first pitch of the U.S. vs. Mexico game, I was able to find four tickets together in Section 324, Row 6 at Chase Field, formerly known as Bank One Ballpark, in Phoenix. Those are near the bottom of the upper deck, next to the shallowest part of left field.
The tickets cost $25 before the service charge, $4 more than they'd cost for an Arizona Diamondbacks game. The Associated Press reports that a crowd of about 30,000 is expected for U.S. vs. Mexico.
For Thursday evening's Canada-Mexico game, I was able to get four $50 tickets together in Section K, Row E, which are just to the left of home plate, right behind the screen. They're where you'd sit if you wandered up to a Little League game.
U.S. vs. Canada Wednesday? Section 121, Row 33, toward the back of the field level, just right of home plate, $35. Your chance to see Derek Jeter and his compatriots up close.
The Tickets.com system declared itself down when I tried to buy tickets to any of the three games South Africa will play at Scottsdale Stadium. I think I caught it off guard. Perhaps I should have given the system some warning, as when ordering Peking duck.
I wasn't expecting to be able to get tickets to Tuesday night's Panama-Puerto Rico game at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, but I was. Ticketpop.com turned up four together in the last row of the single deck, just to the right of home plate, $35. The park holds about 19,000 people.
I did better for Wednesday's afternoon game between Panama and Cuba. Third row of the infield box -- those on-the-field seats from which you kind of have to look back over your shoulder to see into the dugout -- beyond first base. Those babies cost $90.50 each. There was no problem finding four seats together at any other price level either.
I skipped ahead to the second round and asked for four tickets together for the Japan vs. Pool B winner -- probably the U.S. or Mexico. That game will be played at Angel Stadium of Anaheim at 4 p.m. local time next Tuesday. I got Section 108, Row F, on the field level just beyond the third-base dugout.
For Sunday night's 8 p.m. game between Korea and the Pool B winner, though, I was only able to find nosebleed seats on the third-base side, for $12.50. So it looks like time of game matters a lot.
For the championship game March 20 in San Diego, I found four seats together in Section 312, Row 13. Those are in the upper deck, about even with third base, for an eyebrow-raising $45, and by the way, thank you Petco Park for a seating diagram large enough to be comprehended.
Not sure what to make of all that. The WBC clearly hasn't set the world on fire but there's certainly time for people to get interested in this hemisphere once the games start. Baseball says it has issued 3,500 press credentials -- not including one to this publication, which MLB makes it a policy not to credential.
I don't know that people will get any more interested than the current tepid level. We Americans tend to be bored by international competitions that aren't the Olympics, and anyway we're at the start of a month when we pay a whole lot of attention to college basketball.
I think the ballparks in the second and third rounds will be reasonably full, maybe sold out for the semifinals and finals in San Diego, and I think Bud Selig will declare the WBC a success.
I think he'd declare it a success if the average attendance for the whole tournament were 4,565, but by reasonable standards the Classic will likely be a modest plus for the project of increasing the sport's international profile.
Now, if Italy can pull off a couple of upsets and advance, that'd really be something. They'd be dancing in the streets of Rome, buying all sorts of MLB merchandise. As soon as they figure out who all those Americans in the Italy uniforms are.
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Olympics postscript: Costas takes the blame [PERMALINK]
Two weeks ago I wrote about NBC giving American speed skater Shani Davis short shrift by calling him "the first African-American" to win an individual gold medal at the Winter Olympics when he was in fact the first black person of any nationality to do so.
I wondered if it was a conscious decision on NBC's part, since the practice went on for several days. NBC wouldn't answer, and host Bob Costas' assistant said she'd pass along the question to him after he got back. Sure, right.
So imagine my surprise Monday when Costas called me up and said he was plowing through a stack of messages. Referring to Davis as the first African-American, he said, was simply a mistake.
"It would appear that I along with everyone else fell into what the common parlance is," he said. "Clearly, clearly, and I pride myself on some precision in language, but clearly that escaped my attention."
I told him I thought the usage might have been an NBC policy because it went on so long. Didn't anybody mention the mistake?
"Nope, nope. Maybe I should have caught it," he said. "But it never crossed my mind or anyone else's that I'm aware of. But it was not a consciously politically correct thing. You're just thinking about other things, I guess.
"A lot of stuff is happening at an Olympics. There's a lot of material coming at you from various directions, but that doesn't mean that some bad hops aren't fielded and some errors aren't corrected. I think of myself almost as a last line of defense. That should be the job of the anchor, to kind of act as the goalie on this, if I can torture the metaphor. The last line of defense. And in this particular case it got by me."
As long as I had Costas on the phone and he was shooting straight, I asked him to critique NBC's coverage.
"I think that, leaving me out of it, NBC did a much better job than some people credited them for because the ratings became the story," he said. "And while I think much of what was written showed a reasonably nuanced understanding of why the ratings were as they were, I think what very often happens when one story takes hold, other stories get short shrift.
"I don't know how much better a job you can do if you're a cameraman at aerial skiing than those guys did in capturing the beauty of that. Or how much better a job you can do if you're the people who have to jigsaw together a nightly show out of all these disparate parts coming in from everywhere."
Costas says you can't broadcast an Olympics and avoid criticism.
"Some of this stuff is just, you know, people have and will always have, even if an Olympics were done perfectly by my lights or your lights, there'd be somebody over here who would have a complaint about it," he said.
"And who's to say that complaint isn't valid? It's such a vast undertaking and people come to it with so many different tastes and expectations and perspectives. But given what we were asked to do, under the circumstances we were asked to do it, I was proud to be part of it."
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Kirby Puckett, 1960-2006 [PERMALINK]
I'd get puzzled letters if I didn't write something about the shocking news of Kirby Puckett's death Monday of a stroke. I don't know what I can add to the millions of words already written and said. He was a wonderful player, a joy to watch.
I confess to rooting against his Minnesota Twins in both of the World Series he played in, 1987 and '91, because the purist in me didn't like the idea of the Fall Classic being played indoors, in such a joke of a venue as the Metrodome.
But I didn't root against him. How could you root against him? I was sad to see his career cut short by glaucoma, sadder to see him have tough times after his playing days. Sad to see him looking so fat and unhealthy. Now I'm sad he's gone.
What I can add is nothing, but I can point you to Twins fan and blogger Batgirl, who writes touchingly about mourning Puckett, now, for the third time.
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