WBC Diary: Playoff atmosphere with passionate fans makes for memorable experience

Fans from Mexico and U.S. show their passion at the World Baseball Classic in Phoenix (Photos by Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

PHOENIX — When asked by Field Level Media, a wire service that transmits games stories and previews to major media outlets, to serve as its freelance reporter during the World Baseball Classic, I felt like a kid who was asked if he wants a new X-Box.

Report on baseball? Write about major-leaguers? Be in the middle of the pageantry of a world sports event?

Chase Field also holds a special place in my professional journalism existence. I reported on the first game the Arizona Diamondbacks played here almost 25 years ago, on March 31, 1998, against the Colorado Rockies when it was called Bank One Ballpark.

The most important factor in my ability to report on the WBC this week: The school where I teach — Gallego Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District — is on spring break. Thank you, Baseball Gods (or School Gods).

My first experience Saturday midday — getting stuck behind a throng of Team Mexico fans a couple of blocks from the stadium ahead of the game with Colombia in the opening game of Pool C play. Fans of Mexico’s team, which includes Sahuaro alum Alex Verdugo, are here in the thousands and they wear their Mexican gear and flag proudly.

They lined up two city-blocks long outside the stadium and blocked the entrance of the media parking garage. I missed that entrance and had to circle around.

Finally able to park and walk toward the stadium to pick up my credential, I came across Mexico fans with flags draped over their bodies and some wearing lucha libre wrestling masks. Street vendors were selling Mexico baseball shirts and ice chests of Mexican beer (Negra Modelo is the most famous brand, by the way, just by observation).

The Mexican fans outnumbered Colombia’s followers by a ratio of 9-to-1.

Mexico captain Julio Urias of the Los Angeles Dodgers speaks with the Mexican media (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

I got the sense, to a minimal degree, this is what it feels like at the World Cup with all the pride involved of the fans with their homelands.

The atmosphere was ripe for the Colombia-Mexico and Great Britain-U.S. games with vociferous fans cheering, “Me-xi-co! Me-xi-co” and “U-S-A! U-S-A!”

“It’s way up there; it’s no different,” former Diamondback Paul Goldschmidt of Team USA said when asked to compare the atmosphere of the WBC with that of the MLB playoffs.

“If you get a chance to win the World Series, you’re working through that for a whole year. We get to come together for two to three weeks. But it’s different when you’re representing your country and your playing with different players. So both those things or success as a team, they’re a little different but they’re both ranked way up there.”

I wanted to gain an idea of how the media in a world event such as this goes about their business.

The media from Mexico is here en masse with some of them holding microphones and commenting on the games from their laptops, the modern way of doing a “radio” broadcast.

Team Mexico captain Julio Urías, a left-hander with the Los Angeles Dodgers, appeared to feel at home fielding questions in Spanish and sharing laughs with the Mexican media despite his team losing 5-4 in 10 innings. While with the Dodgers, he generally needs a translator when speaking with English-speaking journalists.

“I feel that the way my country has supported me that this is a way I can give back,” Urías said.

That’s the most wholesome part of this event — although some millionaire professional baseball players are involved, they decided to represent their countries instead of staying with their MLB organizations in spring training.

They inspire the youth in their countries by wearing their colors and country’s name across their chests.

Not all the players have millions. In fact, the hero for Colombia in its win over Mexico was 36-year-old Reynaldo Rodriguez, who has never appeared in the major leagues. He has played in Colombia, Mexico, the U.S. minor leagues, Venezuela and Canada. He also played for the Yuma Scorpions of the independent Golden Baseball League in 2009.

He has gained popularity in Mexico in recent years playing for the Quintana Roo Tigers.

Rodriguez hit a two-run home run off Urías in the fifth and had an RBI single in the seventh.

Some Colombian media wore Colombia baseball caps, which is different from what I’ve grown accustomed to as a sports reporter from the U.S. The Colombian media members also asked impassioned questions of the players.

This is a question one of them asked Rodriguez about his two-run home run in the press conference:

I want to ask you and the message for your daughter in the future when she sees it. She’ll be able to remember. When you thought about it, what was going on in your mind when you saw the at-bat? You said that Julio was showing his pitching. What was going through your brain, a message for your family and daughter, obviously for when your daughter is older? Do you dedicate the home run for her?

The only thing is Rodriguez answered he has two sons.

“This is for God, for my family, and you have seen this is from the heart for my two kids, my two boys, and also for my wife,” Rodriguez said.

The Great Britain-U.S. game, won by the Americans 6-2, drew a crowd of 39,650. Combined with the first-session game of Colombia-Mexico, more than 68,000 fans attended (the stadium was emptied between games).

Great Britain fans were loudly booed when shown on the Chase Field video board even though the Revolutionary War was around 250 years ago.

Many U.S. fans came dressed as the Founding Fathers with powdered wigs and wearing breeches, frock coats and tricorne hats.

When Team USA’s Kyle Schwarber hit a three-run home run, he was greeted by a military salute.

“That’s going to be our little celebration for us this year,” he said. “Giving back with a little salute to our men and women (of the military), too.”

I filed a game story of the U.S. victory for Field Level Media shortly after the game and went to the press conference room to add quotes for a preview for Sunday’s game between Mexico and U.S.

After completing my work, I tuned into the Arizona-UCLA game on my computer and caught the last minute, including Courtney Ramey’s deciding 3-pointer.

Started driving back around 11:20 and arrived home shortly after 1 a.m.

I will do the same routine Sunday night and Monday night. The U.S. does not play Tuesday so I will rest that day. I will return Wednesday for the last day of the WBC here.

I decided to commute back and forth because I did not want to spend money on a four-night hotel stay. I also have other things to take care of back in Tucson during the day, including gathering material for AllSportsTucson.com.

The father of one of my former students at Gallego commutes every day to Phoenix for his landscaping business. If he can do it all year, I can do that in a five-day stretch.

Awoke Sunday morning with thoughts of my dad’s 13-year anniversary of his passing. Went to San Xavier del Bac, where some of his ashes were placed, and prayed.

Took the drive up to Chase Field again, in time to watch the NCAA tournament “Selection Sunday” show.

Anticipating another very fun night of baseball that will be a wild meeting between Mexico and U.S. in terms of their fans.

Bring on the lucha libre masks and powdered wigs!


ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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