The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

 

Suspending Disbelief at the WBC Tournament

Got back from Puerto Rico Tuesday evening, and it feels like I've been writing ever since. My epic account of the two games I witnessed is now up at Baseball Prospectus. While I can't say I give San Juan itself particularly high marks, attending the games was a fantastic, eye-opening experience, and an intense one at that:
We arrived at Hiram Bithorn Stadium--named for the first Puerto Rican to play in the majors, circa 1942--about ninety minutes before gametime to find a frenzied scene outside the park. Salsa music blared, airhorns sounded, thundersticks pinged (those inflatable abominations make a decidedly "aluminum" sound when they're banged together) and packs of Puerto Rican and Dominican fans waved flags, chanted and danced to the rhythms. Even to an American fan who can claim attendance at a World Series clincher in the Bronx, not to mention a large handful of tense Yanks-Red Sox matchups, this was an entirely higher level of tension, chaos, and sensory overload outside a ballpark. The atmosphere was as electrifying as jamming a steak knife into a wall socket. Faced with the need to procure a pair of extra tickets to the sold-out event, we were anything but loose.

We began our discussions with a tall, broad-shoulder Dominican man asking $80 apiece for a pair of $50 tickets. He had been asking $100 a pop earlier, he confided, but wanted to get inside the park to join the fun (keep in mind this was still well over an hour before game time). We haggled and in doing so, drew a curt dismissal. Our next discussion was with an enthusiastic Puerto Rican wearing a replica flag as a bandana. He wanted $100 per for a pair of $75 tix down the rightfield line. As we negotiated with him, a visibly intoxicated seller brandishing a seating chart horned in on the racket, claiming his $50 seats, for which he was asking $100 apiece, were superior. The scene got tense, and I backed off, letting Andra and Adam, both of whom can speak Spanish, work their way through the conversations as I scanned the crowd for our Dominican contact. The second Puerto Rican soon wandered away. Finally our bandana-bedecked friend -- citing a need to get into the park as well -- relented, punting the tickets for face value as the clock struck 8 PM. No laws were broken in this transaction, officer.

We entered the park to find that within the concourse, the fans were no less controlled. Loyalties were advertised on sleeves and heads; at least half of the people visible were wearing something to mark which side of the rivalry they were on, be it via t-shirt, replica jersey, hat, flag, or face tattoo. A ring of Puerto Rican musicians playing drums and brass instruments whipped up a frenzied, cacophonous beat while women danced among them, throngs pushed towards a D.R.-only merchandise area, the stadium shook with the cheers and jeers of fans in the stands watching Japan versus the U.S. on the Jumbotron, and a vendor hawked piƱa coladas. Alas, the only food we could find on the concourse besides plantain chips was standard-issue fare from an American fast-food chain. So much for my dreams of ballpark churrasco with tostones and plastic mini-helmets full of mofungo.
The piece contains blow-by-blow accounts of both games, along with some perspective on the tournament and coverage of the rest of that four-team pool. I'll try to get my photos up here later today.

The flurry of writing I've done since returning, including my latest batch of updates for Fantasy Baseball Index has, for the second year in a row, prevented me from getting involved in an NCAA Basketball pool. Call it my own brand of March Madness; one year ago today I was on television, debating steroid policy with a grandstanding congressman and the son of a former U.S. President. Not surprisingly, steroids are still in the news; the weight of evidence against Barry Bonds has finally compelled Bud Selig to launch an investigation into the whole sordid affair, just as he was asked to by Congress one year ago tomorrow. While I'm hardly impressed by the Commissioner's reaction time, and I think the investigation should be broadened to include other players, Bud may have more up his sleeve than I previously gave him credit for:
Selig's anger with Bonds goes beyond recent allegations that he used hardcore steroids knowingly and before he ever met Victor Conte and the staff at BALCO labs. As the Chicago Tribune reported, Selig met with Bonds two years ago and said if Bonds had anything else to confess, he wanted to know about it then. Bonds reportedly told the commissioner that he would have nothing to worry about, and Selig warned Bonds that he would deal with him more harshly if it turned out he was not telling the truth.
It looks like Hank Aaron won't be the only hammer Bonds has to deal with this year.

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