Manager Felipe Alou and the Dominican team refuse even to discuss how Ponson and his crew of rodeo clowns were able to upset one of the hottest baseball teams ever fielded in a tense nail-biter of a game. This is because, as adherents to the supernatural cult of Santeria, the Dominicans recognize Ponson as being a voodoo witch. There's no other explanation for what he pulled off. Any baseball fan who is not glued to this series is crazy, because things are happening here that defy rational analysis.
The DR team, who are all physically robust veterans like Pedro Martinez, Miguel Olivo, David Ortiz, Endy Chavez and Tony Pena, immediately asserted total dominance with masterful pitching, fielding and huge homeruns to win 9-0 over Panama and stay in the series, but they won't forget Ponson for the rest of their lives.
I feel bad for Panama, which is a nifty little team of young hustlers. They're hot stuff, but they are not totally developed as players yet so they don't have the strength to hit the ball over the fence. If they had drawn one of those goofy teams like Australia or South Africa instead of monster teams like Puerto Rico and the DR, who are realistically too much for a team at their stage of development, they would have survived to the second round, which would have been good baseball, because they are a very entertaining group of hustlers.
Puerto Rico could have saved a lot of money by just fielding Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez and giving the rest of the team a day off. Pudge, who is a very scary dude, was himself responsible for 2 HRs, a double, single, 4 RBIs and a stolen base, comprising practically the whole team's 7-0 production against Panama. The shocking aspect is that he does not have a contract this year, so this series is a great showcase to remind owners and GMs why he is a Hall of Fame shoe-in. I want to bet that he ends up with Manny Ramirez in Joe Torre's elephants graveyard. Torre should consider signing Ponson as well, who would naturally fit in perfectly in LA.
The great thing about this tournament is that you forget about "I hate Boston" or "I hate Philly". The important thing is USA against the world. But the charm is also in widening the geographical and cultural scope of the sport to exotic locales like Tokyo, Mexico City and San Juan.
It was crucial for me that the U.S. beat Venezuela because I didn't want them to have to play against Canada again. I got a really bad vibe about Canada, whom I consider to be our most dedicated adversaries. You have to be personally acquainted with Canadians to understand the depth of their resentment toward us. They look like us, talk like us but they really don't like us. It's like the pod people in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". This might seem shocking to say, but in terms of this tournament the U.S. can expect better relations with Venezuela or Cuba than with Canada. When I saw the faces of the Canadian players after their loss to the U.S., I realized that this is more than just about baseball. I have seen that look before, and it's not good.
Without knowing anything, I am willing to bet that Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez promised his players some serious coin if they won the World Baseball Classic. Since most of their starting lineup is already drawing MLB money (four of them play for the Tigers alone), he must have promised them real money, probably around a million bucks each.
The Venezuelan players are a serious threat, but after six close innings their pitching ran out of steam and Team USA romped over them 16-6. The U.S. now proceeds to the second round in Miami, where it will go up against the formidable Puerto Rican and Dominican machines. That is going to be serious baseball.
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