Ups and Downs at the World Baseball Classic

Latin American teams are providing enough thrills to overcome games such as a 17-0 U.S. victory over South Africa. Ron Rapoport of the Chicago Sun-Times tells Susan Stamberg about the highlights and lowlights.

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It's been a hectic week for baseball and it's only spring training. We will get to the most recent on Barry Bonds and steroids in a minute. Right now the good news: the first ever World Baseball Classic has concluded Round 1. The U.S. Team faces Japan in Round 2, which starts tomorrow. Joining us now, WEEKEND EDITION'S own slugger, Ron Rapoport. Good morning to you.

RON RAPOPORT reporting:

Hi, Susan.

STAMBERG: So Week 1, Round 1, tell us about the highlights.

RAPOPORT: Well, you have that seven inning no hitter that the baseball powerhouse, the Netherlands, threw against Panama, and you've got winless Taiwan beating winless China in the consolation game in the Asian pool, Susan. This doesn't mean war, does it? And you've got a really embarrassing loss by the U.S. team to Canada, which the American team avenged a little bit yesterday by beating South Africa, 17 to nothing. But you know, if you really want to know my favorite game of the tournament so far...


RAPOPORT:'s got to be the one between the Dominican Republic and Venezuela in a little ballpark in Disney World. They're going to have to go a long way to beat this one in the final rounds. The place was packed an hour before the game, the fans were dressed in their country's colors, waving flags, singing, cheering on every pitch, screaming at the umpires, jumping out of the dugout when the home runs were hit. It was more of a soccer atmosphere than anything else. Really wild stuff. And I should say that it was a good game too. The Dominican was leading 6 to 5 until the ninth and then they hit a bunch of homers and won 11 to 5.

STAMBERG: Well, listen to you. You sound as if you're sitting there waving flags. A couple of weeks ago when you talked with Scott about the World Baseball Classic you sounded very skeptical. You said it wasn't really serious competition. So what's happened to you, Rapoport, have you become a convert?

RAPOPORT: Not exactly. I'm still not sure this is an idea whose time has come, Susan. But I've got to admit, it's the first time anybody has actually cared about the scores of spring training games and that has to count for something, I suppose.

STAMBERG: We ought to note the death this week of Kirby Puckett. This is a sad story, Hall of Famer, outfielder for the Minnesota Twins.

RAPOPORT: If you ask me to name the two men who enjoyed being big league ballplayers more than anybody I've ever met, who seemed so appreciative of it, how lucky they were, you know, which ballplayers don't always feel, it would be Kirby Puckett and Pete Rose.


RAPOPORT: They just loved the game so much, you know. And it's kind of ironic that they both fell on hard times after their playing days are over. You know, Puckett was the heart and soul of the Twins. One fan when he died called him their Mickey Mantle, their Ernie Banks, and hope he'll be remembered as this wonderful, wonderful ballplayer who loved the game so much rather than for the demons that tormented him when his career ended.

STAMBERG: Yeah, Ron Rapoport, a columnist for the Chicago Sun Times and our sports commentator on WEEKEND EDITION. Thank you, Ron.

RAPOPORT: Thank you, Susan.

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