Dominican Republican, Puerto Rico Face Off In World Baseball Championship
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And I'm Robert Siegel. It is the first all Caribbean final. Tonight, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico are facing off in the World Baseball Classic in San Francisco. And for more on the big game and Major League Baseball's quest to make the sport more international, we're joined now by NPR's Tom Goldman, who is in San Francisco covering the event. Hi, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Robert.
SIEGEL: And Tom, tell us about tonight's match-up. Anyone who follows the game knows there's a great baseball tradition in Latin America and the Caribbean, especially in the Dominican and Puerto Rico.
GOLDMAN: Oh, for sure. You know, they both feed lots of top players to Major League Baseball. Some of the names you'll recognize playing tonight for Puerto Rico, St. Louis Cardinals' catcher Yadier Molina, from the Dominican Republic, New York Yankee second basement Robinson Cano and Tampa Ace relief pitcher Fernando Rodney. I have to mention him, Robert. He is a show all by himself.
After he closes out games with a victory, he strikes that archery pose like Hussein Bolt and his Dominican teammates crowd around and watch the flight of the imaginary arrow. It's quite comical. And he gave us a new wrinkle last night in the semifinal winner for the Netherlands. He debuted his lucky plantain. He held up the fruit during pre-game introductions and then he started waving it around during team DR's big four run, fifth inning rally that put the game away.
And Robert, the plantain talks, too. And I'm quoting Rodney here, "Platano said if you keep me close, you'll get the win. The plantain gave me luck."
SIEGEL: Okay. So going back to that team that the plantain helped beat, the Netherlands, not a country as well known for its baseball tradition as the Dominican Republic.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, right. It's definitely not, but it is in the mix, you know. And it's not just players from the Dutch Islands of Curacao and Aruba. There are players from the actual European mainland. Organizers of this event want you to know that baseball truly is a world game. MLB has been flooding reporters' inboxes with stats about record attendance and TV ratings and how the World Baseball Classic has been on top trending lists for social media in places like Italy and Spain.
SIEGEL: So is the World Baseball Classic, in fact, achieving what the Dream Team did for the NBA or do, in fact, the same countries dominate the tournament every time?
GOLDMAN: Well, that's an interesting question. You know, with two-time defending champion Japan knocked out of the tournament by Puerto Rico, with these two first-timers, as you mentioned, in the title game, Dominican Republican and Puerto Rico, and you also saw Italy and the Netherlands make strides during this time around - yeah, you are seeing other countries starting to get into the mix.
But the parallel ends to the NBA Dream Team because there hasn't been a U.S.-based MLB Dream Team. The A-listers don't play this thing. The recognizable stars for the U.S., David Wright, Jimmy Rallings, Joe Mauer, they're all very good, but they aren't Justin Verlander and Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, the red hot players of the moment. You get those guys playing and you've got your Dream Team and you'll see the U.S. start to win this thing. And you'll start to see fans more engaged, too.
SIEGEL: Tonight's match-up is kind of odd. The teams have already played twice. The Dominicans won both times. They've arrived at the final by very different routes.
GOLDMAN: They have, Robert. You know, the Dominican has just been a juggernaut. They are undefeated and, in fact, if they win tonight, they will be the first team in World Baseball Classic history to go undefeated through the tournament and win the title. Puerto Rico is a surprise entrant here. They faced elimination, three elimination games in five days and won all those games, including big name teams like the U.S.A. and Japan.
So, yes, they took different routes, but they're both here. I think it should be a pretty close contest.
SIEGEL: Thank you, Tom.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman. He's in San Francisco covering tonight's championship game of the World Baseball Classic between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.