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Korea 10, Venezuela 2

The Saturday Night Massacre

Most Americans could care less about watching this tournament, and it's a good thing for them. Maybe, like Shakespeare's "King Lear", where a deranged sovereign throws everything away, the ponderous cultural magnitude of the event is too much to process, because for a nation addicted to the facile notion of "feeling good about yourself", the harsh global realities which are being distilled into a relatively simple game of baseball are simply too punishing to accept.

I left the bar after witnessing a Venezuelan team of Major League stars being whiplashed for seven innings by a Korean team of players who mainly learned the game by playing in a corporate sandlot league. On my way home I learned that Carlos Guillen had hit a homer. Big deal, that brought the massacre up from 10-1 to 10-2.

Up to that point, I had watched in utter despair as the Venezuelans had given up 5 runs in the first inning on terrible pitching, errors, and concentrated Korean power hitting and proceeded to go downhill from there. The Venezuelans couldn't catch the ball, couldn't throw straight, no focus, nothing. The Koreans processed every inning like an assembly line, with quality precision, just like they had been drilled to do. For them, this Venezuelan game was just a way station on the way to their final destination - an apocalyptic Monday night showdown with their archrivals, the Japanese.

I don't expect the U.S. to fare much better tonight against Japan. We are just a final hurdle for them as well. The Japanese are living a dream of revenge on the Koreans for beating them out for the 2008 Olympic gold medal. These two teams are living out the continuation of a regional geopolitical rivalry stretching back hundreds and thousands of years. We are irrelevant to them.

Now that the game of baseball has gone international, it has taken on the tooth-and-nail characteristics of international soccer, which is less a game than a continuation of war by other means. It's poignant that the game as it's played in Korea started fundamentally as an offshoot of corporate culture. The players were expected to uphold the honor of their companies, which instilled in them the same meticulous training methods that turned South Korea into an industrial powerhouse. Preparation, training study and adherence to authoritarian hierarchy. Players are expected to train until they're told to stop, to study until they're exhausted, not to talk back. It's the old joke about the tourist in New York who asks the cop, "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?" The cop answers, "Practice".

Anybody who wants an answer to why we do not make one television, one radio and, pretty soon, one automobile in this country, why our whole industrial production has shifted to the orient, why we are playing pocket pool and hemorrhaging money, even as the Japanese, Chinese and Koreans are building huge surpluses, would do well to watch a replay of this game. The Koreans showed up early, did fielding practice, did batting practice, were warmed and ready to play in advance of the first pitch.

By contrast, the Venezuelans sauntered in, watched a few minutes of a tape of the opposition pitcher they expected to face, suited up and went onto the field cold. What did they think, that they would use the first couple of innings to get warmed up? Next thing they knew, they were behind by five runs. The North American approach to the sport is too casual, too self-indulgent.  I used to do a lot of boxing, and the first thing you learn is, always take your opponent seriously.

Some readers might object that this sports blog is not the appropriate place to air such grievances, but with the fusion of sport and power politics, particularly in the case of Korea, which has taken the industrial approach to baseball, such transferences are inevitable.

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