My roommate and I received tickets for the World Baseball Classic at Dolphins Stadium (I still call it Joe Robbie Stadium) for the games in the second round of the bracket. We are both huge fans of baseball and figured we should take advantage of the fact that we live so close to the stadium. I was surprised at how easy it was to get tickets as people were practically giving them away...and I was more than happy to take them. However, after the U.S. team lost its first game when I was out of town, I was disappointed when I found they wouldn't be playing on Monday, March 16th which is when I was able to go. Instead, I had to settle for watching Venezuela play Puerto Rico. Even though I could care less which team won, I figured I would go anyway since I had tickets.
Honestly, I was not that excited about sitting through a game where I didn't care about the outcome, but once I got to the stadium, everything changed. This game was like no other sporting event I have ever been to. Obviously it didn't compare to a Florida Gator College Football National Championship game, but it was...well different. I have never really been out of the country let alone seen a soccer game live in Europe or South America, but this is what I imagined it might resemble. I left the stadium feeling more cultured and I will tell you why...
The crowd : Now, I am used to standing for entire games and going crazy after just about every play at Gators games, but never at a baseball game, particularly at Dolphins stadium. I think I have gone an entire Marlins game without standing up, but that wasn't going to happen on this night. The fans from both Venezuela and Puerto Rico go crazy after anything that happens in favor of their team. I mean nasty pitches, strikeouts, routine singles, routine ground balls, deep fly balls hit to the warning track. And I am not just talking about standing up and clapping. These fans chant the name of their country and then move into some kind of song while the pitcher is already delivering to the next batter. And yes, you can only imagine what happens when a double play is turned, a diving catch is made or a run scores. It's kind of like a soccer game, but with much more to cheer about because...well, baseball is better!
Instruments : Not only do you receive the entertainment of a baseball game with the purchase of a ticket, you also receive musical entertainment throughout the game. I would say about 20 percent of each team's fans had some sort of musical instrument while the rest had those hard-stick-balloons that make a crap load of noise when you bang them together (what Japanese baseball has made popular). You can hear tambourines, maracas, drums and this thing that looks like a humongous thimble that is louder than all the instruments when you rub a wooden stick against it. And they don't just make a bunch of noise, the fans sound like they actually all get to together and practice. You would think a bunch of mariachi bands were hired to stand all around the stadium. The music also never stops from two hours before the game to...well they were still going when I went home. The fans of both teams parade around the stadium and their sections before the game, playing songs and proudly chanting the name of the country they represent, all the while looking more like a conga-line gang more than anything. It's quite an intimidating feeling when you are walking toward such an ensemble. And when Venezuela won the game that night, I am dead serious when I say it looked like a parade after a team wins the World Series without all the confetti.
Political Agendas : Yes, I know you see signs at every baseball game, but not like this. The amount of information on these signs should allow them to be considered as novellas. These fans have a lot to say and apparently they are going to use every space on the front and back of that poster board to voice their opinion. Even though I have taken five years of Spanish classes, I still really didn't have any clue what the signs meant or what they were trying to say, but a lot of them seemed to have a political agenda. The Venezuelan fans heavily and voraciously booed Magglio Ordonez. At first I thought I was just hearing things or they were just emphasizing the 'O' at the end of his name, like fans most often do at baseball games. But, I noticed they were doing it again the next time he came to the plate, so we asked a woman sitting next to us why the fans were booing one of the best players on the team. And what we were told is that Magglio recently sided with the very unpopular Venezuelan president on a talk show and the fans were not too pleased with him. What was really great was listening to the Venezuelan fans boo the ever loving crap out of Magglio and then shower him with cheers after...you guessed it, a routine single. You gotta love sports fans. Isn't that right A-Rod?
The People : From what I could tell, the fans from Venezuela and Puerto Rico were not at the stadium to watch just a baseball game; everyone was their to experience an event. People are constantly walking around and talking to each other in different sections; it almost reminded me of the fraternization that takes place in between classes in high school. Now this can be kind of annoying for a fan that is trying to catch a glimpse of every pitch, but you have to just realize that it's not going to happen and that is what we did. So we decided to embrace the situation and fit in with the crowd. With that in mind, we asked the woman sitting next to us who we should root for. She responded by saying she was Puerto Rican, but her husband was with Venezuela and that we should root for Venezuela. My roommate and I were a bit confused by her answer as she was sitting down with six kids next to her and no husband in sight. So, my roommate asked her where her husband was and her response was..."Oh he is on deck." We turned back around to the field and Melvin Mora was standing in the on-deck circle. Low and behold, we were sitting next to Melvin Mora's wife. She was probably the most approachable person I have ever sat next to at any sporting event and she may have been the most knowledgeable woman I have ever sat next to at a baseball game. Not only was I impressed with Gisele Mora's disposition and knowledge of the game, but she had six kids sitting next to her (they were all hers), and five of which were quintuplets...yes, that's five kids in one birth people! And to top it all off, they were the most well behaved kids I have ever seen in my entire life. Now, I am sure the fact that they all had their own hand-held video games helped, but keeping six kids under control for an entire baseball game is more of a monumental feat than anything that can be done on the baseball field. Gisel even had the dignity to text my roommate and wish him a happy birthday last weekend. I am going to have to say that Melvin Mora is my new favorite baseball player.
Country Pride : A lot of the fans were wearing the jerseys of the teams which their favorite players play for from the leagues in their country. Many of the fans also had Puerto Rican and Venezuelan flags draped over them like a cloak and quite a few even had their face painted. The pride floating around the stadium was palpable and there were a few times I even got chills even though the United States was not playing. I really got a feel of how important baseball was to the fans of both of these countries and it reminded me of why baseball was my first love. I was interested in the World Baseball Classic before I attended this game, but now I actually truly cared. I really wanted the United States to win the whole tournament. I couldn't wait to attend the next game and chant...U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! I really wish more Americans found this event more interesting and more of our top-notch players would represent our country in the tournament, because it really was like nothing I have ever experienced and it could become so much better. I only hope that one day the United States will win the World Baseball Classic and that I will be there to see it all happen while I am wearing my American flag.
In case, you couldn't quite catch the tone of my message, I am huge fan of the World Baseball Classic and I would recommend going to as many games as possible to anyone that is a baseball fan or anyone that would just like to experience something different. When I was at the stadium, I honestly felt as though I was in another country on vacation, and experiencing a once in a life-time opportunity. Now, yes, the $7 dollar beers may have contributed to that feeling, but you really can't understand how special the WBC is until you experience it for yourself.