Wednesday

3-11-09: The Damn Dutch Did It!

Hello again everybody...

It's mid-week time again. And here in the upper Midwest, it's also mid-Arctic time. Mother Nature is having a good chuckle at our expense as she reminds us that mid-March is still technically winter.

As I begin writing today's column, the current air temperature is 5 degrees above zero, while the windchill is a comfy 14 below zero.

Did I mention there's a mere 10 days until I leave for Phoenix? No? I think this is a perfect time for it.

Enough about the weather? Okay.

Today's column is about baseball, but not spring training. That's right, the World Baseball Classic is under way and we already have our first surprise ouster from the tournament. I'll discuss.

"Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost how it feels about dogs."
- Christopher Hampton (1946 - ), British playwright


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As I said, today we're talking baseball. This year's WBC has already had it's first surprise exit. One of the favorites, the Dominican Republic, was defeated by the Netherlands last night. The DR's second loss in the double-elimination tournament has sent them packing.

So why is it remarkable? Because not only was it their second loss, it was their second loss to the Netherlands. The Netherlands... Holland... the Dutch. They don't even call it "baseball" over there for chrissakes. No, Amsterdam natives refer to the game as "honkbal".

I'll let that one sink in. "Honkbal".

You want further evidence of how large an upset this was? Compare the rosters:

The Dominican Republic squad is populated by 23 current MLB players. The Netherlands? 2.

The DR team has 4 players who were in last year's All-Star game. The Netherlands? None.

The DR's pitching staff has 518 career MLB wins. The Netherlands? 95. 90 of which belong to Sidney Ponson alone.

And the final statistic I'll bore you with... the DR's team boasts a current MLB payroll of $83.4 million. The Netherlands? $400,000.

So what happened? Have MLB scouts completely missed a wealth of honkbal talent in Holland? Is the next wave of young baseball talent going to be Dutch?

Considering that most of the Netherlands roster actually comes from Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles, probably not.

No, I think what happened is that the DR fielded a bunch of fat-cat major leaguers (David Ortiz, I'm looking at you) who thought they could waltz through Pool D in the first round without much trouble. And sometimes over-confident teams run into less-talented but hungrier teams and end up getting beat.

What's the classic quote? "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard?"

I think that had a lot to do with it. I saw a bit of the end of the game, and it was pretty clear that the DR player were tight and playing "not to lose". That never seems to work out well.

So with the Dominican Republic's exit, 7 of the 8 second-round slots have been filled. Here's what we've got:

Pool A: Korea and Japan advance

Pool B: Cuba advances, the winner of tonight's Mexico/Australia match-up advances

Pool C: USA and Venezuela advance

Pool D: Netherlands and Puerto Rico advance

The exact match-ups have yet to be determined as Korea's the only club that's locked up a 1-seed, but we'll know after tonight's match-ups and tomorrow night's game between Cuba and the Mexico/Australia winner are complete.

Based on the way it's set up though, we're staring at a strong possibility of a USA vs. Japan final. Can you tell I'm starting to get a little excited about the tournament?

I didn't really think I would, but between some big upsets and a competent USA squad, I'm starting to get into it a little.

So if you want to catch a little WBC fever yourself, check out the victorious Dutch as they play Puerto Rico for Pool D dominance this afternoon, 4:30pm central time on ESPN2. Check your local listings!

That's it for today. I'll be back on Friday with the DFTU-ness of it all! Until then, thanks for reading!

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