Opening day for major league baseball is just over two weeks away. But for those who just can't wait, the championship round of the World Baseball Classic starts this weekend in San Francisco. Event organizers pitch it as the premiere international baseball tournament. We talk with some of the fans who'll be there. Reporter: Nina Thorsen
Major League Baseball's Opening Day is April 1, just a bit more than two weeks away. But there'll be a first pitch thrown out at AT&T Park on Sunday night, when San Francisco hosts the final three games of the World Baseball Classic.
The WBC is a multi-national tournament that's promoting America's pastime as a sport around the world. Teams from 28 countries entered the qualifying rounds last September, but the final round will feature just four. They include the Dominican Republic, where they call the game beisbol. Japan, where it's yakyu. And the Netherlands, where they say honkbal.
Honkbal is a literal translation of base+ball, according to Ian Miller, who wrote an article about the Dutch game for the online journal Baseball Prospectus. And so is the rest of the lingo:
"They have things like tweede honkman, which is second baseman," he says, "kortestop is shortstop, and werper is pitcher. And I needed to throw my lot in with a team, so why not pick these guys who were making me laugh?"
The Dutch terminology may seem funny to English speakers, but the team is seriously talented. Manager Hensley Meulens is the hitting coach for the San Francisco Giants. Pitching coach Bert Blyleven is a Hall of Famer, and won a World Series ring with the Minnesota Twins. The players include major leaguers like Andruw Jones, who's from the honkbal heart of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the island of Curacao. The consulate's Natasha Chatlein is from there too.
Natasha Chatlein of the Consulate of the Netherlands is working overtime to promote the honkbal culture of her native Curacao.
"Baseball's huge in the island," she says. "Every little kid when they're playing outside has a stick and a ball, or a stick and a stone. There's baseball teams and leagues all over the place, and it's just a tradition on the island, playing baseball, everyone wants to be the next one to be scouted."
The consulate is organizing a cheering section for Dutch expats, but the other teams have their local fans too. Larry Cruz of Elk Grove is coming to Sunday's game with his wife Kaoru, who's originally from Japan, and their son Anton. When they found out Japan would be in the final four, Anton asked for the tickets as his 13th birthday present. The Cruz family has followed the WBC games played in Asia earlier this month, which started at 3 AM Pacific time.
"We're fanatics, but we're not nuts," says Larry Cruz. "I TiVoed them. I'm usually the one that's up getting breakfast ready and lunches ready, so I'm usually the one that flips on to see what the score was. And then when I go to get them up, their first question isn't 'hello dad', or 'did you sleep well?', it's 'how did Japan do?'"
Another family who'll be in the stands: Elaine Allen and her adult daughter Julia Seaman. They're both at UC San Francisco. Seaman is a PhD candidate in pharmacogenomics and Allen's a professor of biostatistics and epidemiology. And in their spare time, they write about baseball statistics.
"We have waited through a long, cold winter for baseball to start up again," Allen says. "It would be cool if the Netherlands won, but I think I'm rooting for the Dominican Republic, just because they have such great players. I love Robinson Cano. And they didn't win last time, Japan has won the last two (World Baseball Classics), so I think it would be great for the Dominican to win."
Beyond fans like Allen, Major League Baseball hopes the WBC will appeal to people who didn't grow up with America's pastime -- like Dominic Johnson of Marin County, who's originally from England but is now a devotee of the San Francisco Giants. "Ever since moving over here eight years ago, I've been hooked on the baseball bug," Johnson says. "I really like the idea of being able to go and see multiple different countries play together, because after all, the World Series is not really a World Series."
Back at the Dutch consulate, Natasha Chetlain's put her regular job as science and technology adviser on hold for a few days. Instead, she's been doing things like arranging for an Afro-Caribbean dance group to fly in from Curacao. They'll perform at Monday's game before the honkballers take the field in San Francisco.