Sunday, March 15, 2009

WBC/Toronto Highlights

My trip to Toronto for the opening round of the World Baseball Classic certainly had its share of highlights, some related to baseball and some not. The following is a wrap-up of some of the trip's most memorable moments and some of my favorite observations, about subjects ranging from Canadian beer to Dutch coaches.

Canada certainly is not known for its quality beer, but that's not to say I didn't check out a few of their offerings. I have to say that nothing I drank in Toronto really changed my opinion, though, but it wasn't for a lack of trying. Alexander Keith's India Pale Ale was a very drinkable brew, but they have no business calling it an IPA, as it went down more like an above average golden ale. Rickard's Red was my most commonly ordered selection, despite the fact that it was quite mediocre. I didn't realize it was brewed by Molson Coors until I got home and read about it on their web site. I drank a couple Sleeman Cream Ales at the Rogers Centre and, although it was served in plastic cups and is far from my favorite style of beer, it was probably the best I had on the trip.

One myth that was debunked during my time north of the border was a prior impression that Canadians are much nicer than Americans. Not only did I find out that this is not true, I came away feeling that Toronto fans may actually be almost as obnoxious as their counterparts in Boston and New York. In case you're scoring at home, this would rank them as worse than your average Americans. Their primary targets were Adam Dunn, apparently for having the nerve to defend himself against completely undeserved criticism from Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi; Ted Lilly, because Toronto's former manager, John Gibbons, was an even bigger idiot than Ricciardi, and came out on the wrong end of a confrontation with the former Jays pitcher; Derek Jeter, due to the fact that he's the captain of a franchise that puts theirs to shame; and Frank Catalanotto, because he was only good enough to make an Italy team that embarrassed Canada by knocking them out of the Classic.

On the other hand, Venezuelan fans—who, by the way, greatly out-numbered fans of Team USA—had a much better reason for booing Magglio Ordonez and Victoria Mata. Ordonez is a supporter of Hugo Chavez, and Mata—the country's sports minister who threw out the first pitch prior to last Sunday's game—is one of the Venezuelan president's minions. It was interesting being there and getting to ask the opinions of these very proud people first-hand.

The Rogers Centre, although built prior to Major League Baseball's wave of modern stadiums, was a pretty nice place to witness a game. Our seats were seventh row and just to the first base side of directly behind home plate, so I have to admit it would have been difficult to not be in awe considering that. One unique thing about the park that my traveling companions and I got a real kick out of were the vending machines that dispensed 20-year old packs of baseball cards, with the original gum still in them. We didn't chew the gum, but I got a John Smoltz rookie card in the first pack that I bought.

While the USA-Canada game last Saturday was quite exciting, the most memorable World Baseball Classic action we witnessed was on television. On Tuesday night, on our way back to the hotel after Venezuela's second victory over Italy, we stopped off at a bar to watch the final few innings of the elimination game between the Dominican Republic and the Netherlands. During one of the Dutch team's frequent celebrations—they even poured out of the dugout when Gene Kingsale, representing the potential winning run, went from first to third on Carlos Marmol's throwing error—I noticed the name Meulens on the back of one of their jerseys. When I commented to my friend Dave that it must be former Yankee Hensley Meulens, he didn't know who that was. This was a little surprising considering that Dave's extensive knowledge of the game rivals that of almost anyone I know. Then, following the Netherlands' exciting come-from-behind 11th inning victory, we opened the packs of cards we had purchased from the Rogers Centre vending machine earlier in the evening. One of Dave's cards was none other than Curacao native Hensley Meulens.

We did do some non-baseball related sightseeing while we were there. The Hockey Hall of Fame was, as expected, nowhere near as impressive as its baseball counterpart, but it certainly measured up to the museums celebrating immortality in the other "lesser" sports—football and basketball. The CN Tower provided some awe-inspiring views of the city, but the day we visited it was too windy to go all the way up to the skypod of the Western Hemisphere's tallest free-standing structure.

I find the concept of international baseball to be pretty exciting, but there are a number of factors preventing the Classic from truly rising to the level of a tournament to determine the champions of the world. That discussion, however, will have to wait for a later post.

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