Japan Tops Cuba to Grab World Baseball Crown

Japan can call itself the world champion of baseball. The Japanese team captured the inaugural World Baseball Classic by beating Cuba 10-6 in the championship game San Diego.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The first ever World Baseball Classic has its first ever champion. Team Japan beat Team Cuba, ten to six, last night in San Diego to take the title.

Despite having only two major-leaguers, Japan outlasted 16 other teams, including star-studded squads from the U.S. and Dominican Republic.

From San Diego, NPR's Luke Burbank reports.

LUKE BURBANK reporting:

There were a lot of foreign jerseys being worn last night at Petco Park, and they weren't just on the grown-up players. Over at the kids Whiffle ball field, behind the center field wall, American kids could be seen sporting Mexican, Korean, and Japanese uniforms as they played around with their friends. It was a testament to just how international the game has become.

Over where the adults were playing, Japan got out to a quick lead in the top of the first inning. It was vintage Japanese baseball. They were patient, they got walks, they hit precision grounders to just the right spots. John Miller had the call for ESPN.

Mr. JOHN MILLER (sportscaster, ESPN): Team Japan has jumped ahead, a four-run first inning against Cuba. And it's now Cuba-at least they know they've got the comfort of having an entire game to try and catch up.

BURBANK: But by the sixth inning, Japan was still leading six to one, and they looked ready to run away with the game. Then, something unusual happened. Japan's defense started to crack. Suddenly, they were committing errors, they couldn't seem to field the ball, and Cuba took advantage.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

BURBANK: Frederich Cepeda's eighth inning home run brought Cuba roaring back. The score was now six to five, and you could almost hear them cheering back in Havana. But that was as close as Cuba would get.

Japan scored four runs in their final at-bat to ice the game. They went on to win ten to six.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Yelling) Nippon, numero uno! (Foreign spoken)

ARNOLD: Outside the stadium, Robbie Dodds(ph) was wearing a headband with Japanese characters on it. They read, Pass the test, which is just what he said his team did.

Mr. ROBBIE DODDS (baseball fan): In the world, Japan is known for perfect math scores, extreme politeness, you know, very stereotypical things, violin--I'm a violin player myself, you know. But, tonight we prevailed in baseball. We are number one in baseball, and I'm very proud to say that as a Japanese-American.

ARNOLD: Austin Essikson(ph) wasn't feeling as great as he left the stadium wearing a Cuba jersey. He traveled all the way from Boston for the game.

They're playing We Are the Champions in the background.

Mr. AUSTIN ESSICKSON (baseball fan): Yeah.

ARNOLD: They're not playing it for your team.

Mr. ESSICKSON: They're not, they're playing it for the Japanese. It's a sad day for all Cubans. It was to get farther than America, to be honest, but, yeah...

ARNOLD: You'll always have that to fall back on.

Mr. ESSICKSON: We'll always have that.

ARNOLD: And, they'll have the memory of attending a unique event: part sport, part cultural exchange.

There was an amazing moment during the championship game when the whole stadium was doing the wave--Cuban and Japanese flags next to each other, thrusted excitedly in the air. It was clear we're not as different as we might think.

That point was also driven home later in the game, when the song YMCA was played. It turns out everyone, no matter where they're from, looks kind of ridiculous dancing to the Village People.

Luke Burbank, NPR News, San Diego.

(Soundbite of "YMCA" by the Village People)

THE VILLAGE PEOPLE: (Singing) Young man, are you listening to me? I said young man, what do you want to be? I said young man, you can make real your dreams, but you've got to know this one thing - no man, does it all by himself. I said young man, put your pride on the shelf, and just go there, to the YMCA...

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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