Sunday, March 29, 2009


While I was enjoying the recently-concluded World Baseball Classic, I noticed a few things along the way that might improve the tournament while raising its profile and prestige. Here, in short, is what I would do if I were the King of Baseball (God forbid):

Condense the WBC into a one-week tournament. One of the problems fans, players and execs alike had with the WBC in its current form is that it just takes too damned long to play the thing. I propose that instead of spreading it out over nearly three weeks, the WBC be condensed into a seven-day event that begins on a Monday and ends the following Sunday.

This can be done by first junking the double-elimination format used this time around (which led to far too many meaningless games, even some between good teams) and reverting to the round-robin format used in the first WBC. This way, initial pool play can be done in a three-day period.

I would then add one more game on the fourth day between the top two teams in each pool to determine who moves on to the semifinals. This, in effect, eliminates the second round we've had in both WBCs, which I've always found extraneous. So what we have now are four pools playing a total of 28 games in a four-day period...a pretty tight schedule, but very doable.

At that point, you create a travel day to allow each pool winner to go to the site of the semifinals and finals, which would be held Saturday and Sunday, respectively. It should be said here that I would eliminate the Tokyo pool, not because people there won't support it (they will, but only if Japan is one of the teams on the field...check the attendance figures), but because it makes more logistic sense to keep all the games in the Western Hemisphere.

Place two pools in the Eastern time zone and the other two in the Pacific time zone, and schedule games to allow for the best TV scheduling in which there are always two games being played simultaneously in a 12-hour block the first three days of pool play (two pools on MLB Network, two pools on ESPN2), and I would go one step further and make sure that all WBC play is held in ballparks with domes or retractable roofs. With 31 games scheduled over a seven-day period, you can't afford to risk rainouts.

Finally, I would schedule the WBC to occur in mid-July, replacing the MLB All-Star Game for one year. This can be done by taking the standard three-day All-Star Break and adding two days in front of it and two more days after it ends. Make sure WBC Week begins on a Monday so MLB and other leagues lose only one weekday and one weekend series each.

So in the end, here's a Readers Digest verison of what my dream WBC Week would look like in 2013 (based largely on how teams finished this year, although I'd replace South Africa with Germany):

Monday, July 15-Thursday July 18
POOL A (Miami): Japan, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Panama
POOL B (Toronto) Venzeuela, Netherlands, China, Canada
POOL C (Phoenix) USA, Mexico, Australia, Taiwan
POOL D (Seattle) South Korea, Puerto Rico, Italy, Germany


Saturday, July 20-Sunday, July 21
(Minute Maid Park, Houston)

It ain't perfect, but I think it would be an improvement. You take away the argument that players are out of shape, you don't take away three weeks of spring training from many players, and the interruption during a season is pretty minimal. What's a seven-day midseason break for the biggest baseball tournament in the world? No doubt a lot of players NOT in the WBC would love a one-week vacation.

Anyway, this is just one man's opinion. Take it for what it's worth.


Hall of Fame third baseman George Kell has passed away at the age of 86.

Kell broke into the major leagues with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1943, and went on to spend 15 seasons with the A’s, Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles. One of just eleven third sackers enshrined in Cooperstown, Kell was a 10-time All-Star who batted .306 for his career, barely nipping Boston’s Ted Williams for the American League batting title with a .343 average with the Tigers in 1949. Kell posted nine seasons with a .300 or better batting average before retiring at age 35 in 1957.

Kell then spent nearly 40 years as a broadcaster, mostly with Ernie Harwell doing Tigers games, before retiring from the booth in 1996. Kell was voted into the Hall in 1983.


During a season-opening press conference for the Italian League’s Danesi Nettuno team, the mayor of Nettuno, Alessio Chiavetta, told the assembled media he believes the Baseball World Cup finals in September will be coming to his town, saying, “No political decision will remove the final” from Nettuno.

While no official announcement has been made regarding where the World Cup final will be held, original plans to stage it in Rome have hit a snag. With six months to go until the tournament, there is still no sufficient facility in Rome. Nettuno is about 50 miles south of the Italian capital.

The IBAF Baseball World Cup will be staged over a three-week period in seven nations across the European continent. Twenty-two national teams will take part in the event.


Two weekends into the 2009 Division de Honor baseball season in Spain, three of the league’s ten teams are undefeated.

FC Barcelona registered a pair of shutouts last weekend over San Inazio to go to 4-0 in the young season. Homer Baez struck out 15 batters over 11 innings in Barca’s 1-0 win in the opening game, followed by Pedro Belmonte tossed a six-hit shutout one day later in a 4-0 victory. Barcelona has allowed just two runs over their first four games.

Sant Boi is also 4-0 after sweeping a doubleheader over Astros last Sunday, 3-2 and 15-0; while the defending champion Puerto Cruz Marlins took a pair of wins over El Llano, 2-1 and 5-1, in a Saturday twinbill to open their season with four straight wins.

The Spanish league has been considered one of Europe’s top circuits for many years.


Baseball Philippines’ Series 5 will open Easter Sunday, April 12, with the Cebu Dolphins hoping for a third straight championship. Baseball Philippines teams play in two tournaments a year: One in the spring and another in the fall.

Cebu’s lineup remains largely unchanged from 2008’s two championship teams, with Series 4 MVP Joseph Orillana back for another tournament. The versatile Orillana has the ability to dominate a game either on the mound or at the plate. He’ll be joined in the Dolphins lineup by Miggy Corcuera, one of the most-feared power-hitters in the Philippines.

Teams expected to challenge Cebu include the Dumaguete Uni-Bikers, who lost to the Dolphins in last fall’s finals with star pitcher Darwin dela Calzada; and the Batangas Bulls, BP’s Series 3 champions who have ace lefty Vladimir Eguia and former MVP Virgilio Roxas.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Curt Schilling has called it a career after 20 seasons in the major leagues. The 42-year-old right-handed pitcher, who hasn’t pitched since 2007 due to a nagging shoulder injury, announced his retirement online last week.

After beginning his MLB stint for Baltimore in 1988 by retiring Boston’s future Hall of Famer Wade Boggs on a groundout, Schilling finished it in the 2007 World Series by walking Colorado’s Todd Helton on a full count. In between, he finished with a career record of 216-146 and a 3.46 ERA, winning 20 games or more three times and finishing 15th on the all-time strikeouts list with 3,116. However, it was in the postseason where Schilling truly shone.

He was 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA over 19 playoff and World Series starts, was co-MVP with fellow Arizona pitcher Randy Johnson in the 2001 World Series, and also helped Boston win world titles in 2004 and 2007.


After three separate ownership groups had tried to gain approval for a new ballpark, the Florida Marlins appear to be on the way to getting a field of their own. Following a 3-2 Miami City Commission vote approving the Marlins’ proposed 37,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof, Miami-Dade County commissioners similarly gave a thumbs-up last Monday. The vote came after nearly ten hours of meetings.

Thousands of hours of negotiations have gone into the project, which will cost $625 million for the ballpark and a parking lot at the site of the former Orange Bowl football stadium. Officially, the county will own the new ballpark. The team, which will be renamed the Miami Marlins after moving into the stadium in 2012, is under a lease to play at Dolphins Stadium through the 2010 season.


It was nothing he did or said. The Boston Red Sox have actually been impressed by free agent signee Junichi Tazawa this spring, but still sent him to their Class AA Eastern League affiliate in Portland, Maine last week. The 22-year-old pitcher signed with Boston over the winter after declaring he would not enter the Japanese player draft after a stellar season in amateur ball last summer. He pitched in five Grapefruit League games for Boston, allowing just one run in nine innings, striking out ten batters and walking one.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona said, “Tazawa was lights-out. He commanded his fastball, and his breaking ball was swing-and-miss. He had an extraordinary camp. He just needs experience.”

39-year-old reliever Takashi Saito said of Tazawa, “He’s keeping a very level head about him, putting in his work and working very hard. I think he’s got it together very well.”


The Detroit Tigers have optioned Taiwanese left-handed pitcher Fu-te Ni to AAA affiliate Toledo of the International League. The 26-year-old Ni came to the Tigers as a free agent over the winter after spending last year in the Chinese Professional Baseball League.

Ni pitched well for Detroit in his first three exhibition appearances for Detroit, tossing scoreless innings each time before giving up two runs and three hits in two-thirds of an inning in a recent appearance against the Washington Nationals. He is expected to pitch out of the bullpen for the Mud Hens, with a chance to rejoin the big club later in the season.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Ichiro Suzuki’s two-run single in the top of the 10th inning broke a 3-3 tie as Japan went on to beat South Korea, 5-3, Monday night in Los Angeles to win their second World Baseball Classic championship. With two Japanese runners on, first base open and two out, Korean reliever Chang-Yong Lim pitched to Suzuki, who already had three hits on the night. The two battled it out until Ichiro stroked Lim’s eighth pitch into right field to score both runners, putting Japan up for good. Yu Darvish, Japan’s 22-year-old pitching prodigy, held Korea scoreless in the bottom of the 10th.

Korea was trailing by a 3-2 count going into the bottom of the ninth when Darvish gave up an RBI single to Bum-Ho Lee, but Darvish settled down when it mattered. Shin-Soo Choo whacked a homer for the second straight game for the Koreans in the fifth inning. Japan’s Daisuke Matsuzaka was the WBC’s MVP for the second consecutive time after going 3-0 with a 1.69 ERA.


The United States took a shaky pitching staff into their WBC semifinal matchup against Japan, and went on to be crunched, 9-4, last Saturday at Dodger Stadium. Roy Oswalt, who had pitched creditably his first two times out in the tournament, was rocked for five Japanese runs in the fourth inning before USA manager Dave Johnson finally brought John Grabow in from the bullpen. The Americans had led, 2-1, before that fateful frame.

To their credit, the USA battled back, scoring two runs on a Mark DeRosa double in the eighth to come to within 6-4, but Johnson raised eyebrows when he sent in right-handed batter Evan Longoria to pinch-hit for lefty batter Curtis Granderson against righty Takahiro Mahara. Longoria struck out, and the rally died when Brian Roberts tapped a 1-3 comebacker to Mahara for the third out. Japan scored three more times in the bottom of the eighth to close out the game’s scoring.


One night later, South Korea bludgeoned Venezuela, 10-2, to win the other semifinal game, setting up the title bout with archrival Japan. Korean starter Suk-Min Yook turned in 6.1 solid innings, giving up two runs while scattering seven hits for the win. Conversely, Venezuelan opener Carlos Silva was battered for five runs in the first inning, including a three-run homer by Shin-Soo Choo. After Tae-Kyun Kim walloped a two-run bomb in the second, Silva was yanked. He ended up allowing seven runs on six hits in just 1.1 innings.

The Venezuelans scored their first run on a Melvin Mora single in the third, but Korea posted three more runs on the board to effectively put the game out of reach. Carlos Guillen swatted a solo homer in the seventh inning for Venezuela, but it was too little, too late.


Although 19 of the WBC’s 39 games had fewer than 15,000 fans on hand, the event ended up drawing 801,407 attendees for an average of 20,549 (both WBC records). The final totals were boosted by the 141,854 who came to the final three games in Los Angeles. Among first round venues, Pool A games in Tokyo averaged 28,352 over six games to lead the four groups. Second round games in Miami averaged 19,066 fans, while San Diego’s second-round action averaged 15,297.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Michihiro Ogasawara’s pinch-hit single in the eighth inning broke a 2-2 tie as Japan went on to post a 6-2 win over South Korea Thursday night in San Diego to clinch first place in Pool 1 of the World Baseball Classic’s second round. Japan scored two more runs in the eighth off an Akinori Iwamura single, and added an insurance run in the ninth inning.

Japan reached the Pool 1 title game by bracketing a pair of shutouts over Cuba around a loss to the Koreans. Japan whitewashed Cuba, 6-0, last Sunday as Daisuke Matsuzaka struck out eight batters in five innings and Shuichi Murata drove in two runs. Following a 4-1 loss to South Korea in which Kosuke Fukudome scored Japan’s only run, the Japanese registered a 5-0 shutout over Cuba as Hisashi Iwakuma blanked the Cubans over six innings.


Although Thursday’s loss to Japan included uncharacteristic defensive miscues, South Korea scored a pair of important Pool 1 victories along the way to ensure their berth in the semifinals.

The Koreans opened pool play with an 8-2 win over Mexico last Sunday as Kim Tae-kyun drove in three runs on two hits, including a solo homer, and five relievers held Mexico scoreless from the third inning on. South Korea clinched their spot in the WBC’s final four with a solid 4-1 win over Japan two nights later Starter Bong Jung-keun turned in another solid performance, allowing just one run on three hits over 5.1 innings. The Koreans were scheduled to play Pool 2 champions Venezuela Saturday in Los Angeles.


Venezuela will be the only nation in the WBC semifinals to go through second-round play undefeated after beating The Netherlands, Puerto Rico and the USA in consecutive outings last week in Miami. The Venezuelans opened last Saturday with a hard-fought 3-1 win over the surprising Dutch team despite only recording three hits, two of them solo homers by Jose Lopez and Miguel Cabrera. That was followed Monday by a thrilling 2-0 shutout over Puerto Rico as Felix Hernandez and four relievers combined to hold the powerful Puerto Ricans to just five hits.

The week was capped by a 10-6 win over the United States in a Wednesday night slugfest in which the two teams combined for 27 hits. Max Ramirez blasted a three-run homer for Venezuela, who did most of their damage with a six-run second inning off American starter Jeremy Guthrie.


In reaching the WBC semifinals, the United States has already surpassed their 2006 showing, but they paid for it along the way. After an embarrassing 11-1 loss to Puerto Rico last Saturday in a game called after seven innings on the mercy rule, the Americans eliminated The Netherlands, 9-3, Sunday night and exacted revenge Tuesday by sending Puerto Rico home with a 6-5 comeback win as David Wright’s two-run single off Fernando Cabrera ended the contest in the ninth. The USA fought back to within one run of Venezuela Wednesday as Mark DeRosa hit a two-run homer, but fell short.

Along the way, the Americans lost Dustin Pedroia, Chipper Jones, Kevin Youkilis and Matt Lindstrom to injuries. The USA was scheduled to play Japan Sunday at Dodger Stadium.


City commissioners in Miami have approved the building of a $634 million ballpark for the Florida Marlins by a 3-2 vote taken Thursday. The new stadium would seat 37,000 fans and feature a retractable roof. Despite Thursday’s vote by Miami leaders, the stadium project isn’t out of the woods yet. County commissioners will vet the issue on Monday.

Prior to Thursday’s vote, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria pronounced confidence that the city would approve the ballpark: “To get this stadium built now is the perfect time…People need jobs, people need paychecks. The time to get it done is now.”

The stadium, whose original price tag of $515 million took a jump Thursday, would be built on the site of the now-demolished Orange Bowl in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood.


The $900 million sale of the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field is inching closer to completion. Talks between the Cubs’ current owners, the Chicago Tribune, and aspiring buyer Tom Ricketts and his family are ongoing, and team chairman Crane Kenney says the two sides are very close to finalizing the deal.

Because the Tribune is in bankruptcy, the sale must first pass muster in the courts to make sure the newspapers’ creditors are taken care of. Then the transfer must be approved by Major League Baseball owners. Kenney said about the sale, “I think it’ll be a challenge to make Opening Day. If I would tell you ‘Opening Day,’ everything would have to fall into place just perfectly, and I would say that’s unlikely.”

The Ricketts family made their fortune through Incapital, a Chicago investment bank.


In the wake of a terrific performance for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, future Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez has worked out a one-year contract with the Houston Astros for the upcoming season. The deal calls for $1.5 million in salary, with another $1.5 million in incentives.

Rodriguez is coming off a disappointing 2008 campaign for the Detroit Tigers and the New York Yankees. Over his two months in pinstripes, I-Rod batted just .219 in 33 games. He ended the season with a .276 average, seven homers and 10 stolen bases in 115 games. For his career, Rodriguez has a .301 batting average, 295 homers, 2,605 hits and 1,217 RBIs, and is considered one of the greatest defensive catchers in the game’s history.

The 14-time All-Star was 10-for-20 with two homers in six games in the WBC.


Although The Netherlands had to give up the glass slipper during the second round of their remarkable run in the World Baseball Classic, two Dutch pitchers have signed contracts with major league organizations for 2009 as a result.

Big league veteran Sidney Ponson inked a minor league deal with the Kansas City Royals last Tuesday. The 32-year-old right-hander was invited to the Royals’ major league camp, and may be given a shot at a berth in Kansas City’s starting rotation. He was 8-5 in 24 starts for the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers last year before going 1-1 in the WBC.

Closer Leon Boyd signed a minor league contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. The 25-year-old Boyd, who was born in Canada to a Dutch mother, was 9-0 for Neptunus in the Dutch Major League in 2008 and has pitched for Holland in several international tournaments.


One more ballplayer who parlayed a solid performance in the World Baseball Classic into a new job was Australian outfielder Chris Snelling. The 27-year-old major league veteran signed a minor league contract with the San Diego Padres last week after hitting .273 with three homers and nine RBIs in three WBC games for the Aussies.

Once one of the leading prospects in the Seattle Mariners organization, Snelling made his big league debut for Seattle in 2002 at age 20. However, a series of injuries for the hustling outfielder curtailed his progress, and he has gone on to bat .244 in 225 major league at-bats for the Mariners, Washington, Oakland and Philadelphia.

Snelling played just four games for the world champion Phillies last season, but made the most of his brief opportunity with a homer and double in four plate appearances.


Given the bad news that has washed over Taiwanese baseball since last summer, fans there got some good news last week when it was announced that the city government of Taipei will establish a new baseball team.

Taipei deputy mayor Wu Ching-chi announced last week that the city would form the new team for the equivalent of $868,000US, with a third of that coming from Taiwan’s cabinet-level Sports Affairs Council. The other two-thirds of the cost would come from donations and Taipei mayor Hau Ling-bin’s second preparatory fund.

Wu said the mayor is responding to Taiwan premier Liu Chao-shiuan’s call to both the public and private sectors to revive baseball after poor showings in the Olympics and World Baseball Classic and a gambling scandal in the Chinese Professional Baseball League that led to the reduction of two teams in the circuit.


The Baseball Federation of Asia has decided to move May’s Asia Cup tournament from Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila to Bangkok, Thailand after the Philippines Amateur Baseball Association was unable to come up with financing needed to stage the event.

Manila last hosted the Asia Cup in 1996, and PABA president Hector Navasero had been hopeful that up to 12 national teams would take part in this year’s event. However, organizers in the Philippines failed to come up with $200,000US from the private sector. As a result, the BFA shifted the Asia Cup to Bangkok. Navasero has announced he is stepping down from his post in April after 22 years with the PABA.

The Asia Cup is a qualifying tournament for the region in which the top two teams will advance to the Asian Baseball Championship in Sapporo, Japan in July.


The pro baseball debut of 17-year-old female pitcher Eri Yoshida is fast approaching. The 5’0” tall Yoshida is expected to pitch Tuesday, March 22 for the Kobe 9 Cruise in a Japanese independent league exhibition game against the Kishu Rangers in Wakayama. Kobe manager Yoshihiro Nakata has said he plans to pitch Yoshida in the inaugural Kansai League season opener for Kobe on the 27th against the Osaka Villicanes at the Kyocera Dome.

The drafting and signing late last year of Yoshida, who still attends high school, was considered by many a publicity stunt, but the 114-pounder raised eyebrows at a winter camp when the sidearming knuckleballer baffled a number of male batters. Her fastball has been clocked at 63 MPH, while her knuckler travels about 50 MPH.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Pool B was the last group to begin play in the WBC, but Cuba more than made up for any lost time by easily winning two games to clinch a spot in the second round. After Frederich Cepeda’s two solo homers helped propel the Cubans to an 8-1 win over South Africa last Sunday afternoon in Mexico City, Cuba required a two-run roundtripper by Yosvani Peraza in the eighth inning to register a come-from-behind 5-4 win Wednesday night against surprisingly plucky Australia.

The Aussies opened their pool schedule with a 17-7 pounding of host Mexico Sunday night, setting a WBC record with 22 hits, including two homers by Chris Snelling. The Mexicans came back with a 14-3 win over South Africa one night later behind Adrian Gonzalez’ two homers before exacting revenge on Australia, 16-1, Wednesday night.

Cuba closed out pool play Thursday night with a 16-4 win over Mexico as Ariel Pestano and Cepeda each hit three-run homers in a nine-run seventh inning. Both teams advanced to round two.


When the United States and Venezuela squared off in Toronto Wednesday night, both nations had clinched second round berths. However, after a 15-6 pasting by the Americans Sunday, the Venezuelans had something to prove, and beat the USA, 5-3, as Henry Blanco doubled and homered.

The first time the two teams faced each other, Chris Ianetta’s three-run double keyed an eight-run sixth inning as the USA clinched a berth in the Pool C final and a slot in the second round. After Italy eliminated Canada with a 6-2 win Monday, Venezuela sent the Italians packing one night later with a 10-1 win as Endy Chavez and Miguel Cabrera each logged three hits for the winners.


Just three days after shocking the baseball world with their 3-2 win over the Dominican Republic in Pool D’s opening game, The Netherlands did it again Tuesday night by eliminating the Dominicans with a 2-1 win in 11 innings in San Juan.

After ten scoreless innings, the Dominicans pulled ahead when Jose Reyes scored on right fielder Eugene Kingsale’s throwing error. Kingsale more than atoned for his miscue in the bottom of the 11th by singling off Carlos Marmol to drive in Sidney de Jong with the tying run, then scoring the game-winner from third on a Willy Aybar throwing error.

Puerto Rico shut out The Netherlands, 5-0, Wednesday behind Jonathan Sanchez’ four shutout innings to win the pool final and join the Dutchmen in the second stanza.


After being crushed, 14-2, by Japan the first time the two countries met in World Baseball Classic Pool A action, South Korea came back to win a 1-0 nailbiter at the Tokyo Dome Tuesday night to earn the top seed coming out of pool play.

Nearly 43,000 fans witnessed a superlative pitching performance by Korean starter Bong Jeun-Keun, who allowed just three hits and no walks in 5.1 innings for the win. Korea plated the game’s only run in the top of the fourth when Lee Jong-Wook came in on Kim Tae-Kyun’s single to left.

The Koreans advanced to the Pool A final with a 14-0 drubbing of China on Monday night.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


The Cambodian National Team swept of a series against a team from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam last week in Baribo, the first time Cambodia has hosted an international baseball event since the game was first played there in 2002.

Cambodia opened the set Tuesday with a 37-0 win as starter Korm Keri gave up no hits and struck out seven Vietnamese batters in five innings and left fielder Som Vijet went 4-for-4 at the plate. Two more games were played Wednesday, with Cambodia pulling out a 14-6 win in the nine-inning opener as the visitors scored four ninth-inning runs. The nightcap was an abbreviated 42-0 Cambodian win over their injury-depleted guests.

Organizer Joe Cook of Cambodia Baseball praised the Vietnam side for their hard work and spirit, adding both teams had a “good relationship and shared a lot of baseball.” The game is new in Vietnam, where its own National Team is slated for a debut later this year.


It’s not even April yet, but Alex Rodriguez might be forgiven if he is already looking longingly at the end of the 2009 season. On the heels of the firestorm of controversy over his admission of using performance-enhancing drugs, the New York Yankees third baseman underwent surgery on his right hip Monday that kept him out of the World Baseball Classic and out of the Yankees’ lineup until at least mid-April.

Colorado surgeon Dr. Marc Philippon said about Rodriguez’ surgery, “There were no surprises. It was exactly what we prepared for.” Philippon repaired a torn labrum in A-Rod’s right hip while working on cartilage from a paralabral cyst. Rodriguez will eventually have another procedure performed, likely in November.

Rodriguez is in the second year of a ten-year, $275 million contract with the Yankees.


Another player who has endured a long offseason is Washington Nationals prospect Carlos Alvarado Daniel Lugo, or “The Player Formerly Known as Esmailyn Gonzalez.” It was discovered before spring training that the 19-year-old Gonzalez, who hit .343 for the Nats’ rookie level team in the Gulf Coast League last year, is really the 23-year-old Lugo, who received a $1.4 million signing bonus from the Nats in 2006.

Now, Lugo is embroiled with work visa issues in his native Dominican Republic which are keeping him out of the Nationals’ Florida training camp. Lugo’s agent, Stanley King, says “it’s an immigration issue at this point.” Washington manager Manny Acta says, “Regardless of his age, if he can really play, he’ll be able to make it to the major leagues. He has to get on the field, play and compete at whatever level they have him play in.”


America’s national recession apparently hasn’t touched America’s national pastime, at least not in spring training. Attendance at exhibition games in Florida and Arizona was up two percent through 154 contests as of last week, not including games with World Baseball Classic national teams which have drawn well.

Grapefruit and Cactus League games were averaging 5,659 fans per opening through last weekend, an increase over the 5,548 turnstile clicks per contest in 2008. The New York Yankees drew 10,685 for their first four home games in Tampa, tops in the majors, followed by the 9,866 average for the Chicago Cubs after eight games in Arizona.

The Cubs are the top draw away from home, averaging 7,879 fans on the road. The top road draw in the Grapefruit League is Tampa Bay, with 7,749 turning out in Florida parks.


The Los Angeles Dodgers are looking to bulk up their bullpen this spring, making Kuo Hong-chih’s first mound appearance in a “B” squad game against the Chicago White Sox more important than usual. The 27-year-old native of Tainan, Taiwan hurled a scoreless inning against the ChiSox last Monday, and said he felt fine. The lefty has had elbow problems the past few years, usually the day after he pitches. Dodgers manager Joe Torre said Kuo’s curveball needs work, but that he was spotting his fastball effectively.

Kuo pitched 80 innings for the Dodgers last year, posting a 2.14 ERA out of the bullpen, but missed the National League Championship Series. He pitched for Taiwan in the 2002 Asian Games, but has since undergone four elbow surgeries.


On the heels of Taiwan’s surprising two-and-out exit from the World Baseball Classic, baseball officials in that country are promising a complete overhaul to the domestic game. Taiwan’s Sports Affairs Council, which oversees baseball in the island nation, says it will develop new programs in schools, companies and the military, fight against gambling scandals that have rocked the game, and call on the federal government for more help in rebuilding Taiwan’s once-promising baseball fortunes.

Taiwan teams have won 17 Little League World Series, earned medals in two Olympic Games, and won the 2006 Asia Games. However, following a disappointing showing in last summer’s Beijing Olympics Taiwan lost 4-1 to China and 9-0 to South Korea in the WBC. Their next shot for redemption will be at the Baseball World Cup in Prague this September.


There has long been suspicion that import players in the Korea Baseball Organization are getting paid more money than their teams claim publicly, and a recent East Windup Chronicle interview with JoongAng sportswriter You Jee-hoo seems to offer confirmation. You told the website, “Teams have been known to pay players extra cash under the table…It’s an open secret: Everyone knows about it, but nobody talks about it.”

When the Kia Tigers signed American pitcher Rick Guttormsen, he became the eighth of 16 foreign players said to be earning the $300,000 maximum allowed for imports.

KBO Players Association secretary general Na Jin-gyun says, “I can’t believe the salary cap for foreign players in $300,000 per. That’s just too low.”


Two of the most decorated teams in European baseball met in a two-game preseason series last weekend in Rouen, France. The defending French League champion Rouen Huskies crushed the visiting Antwerp Royal Greys, 17-0, last Saturday as the Huskies scored five runs in the fifth inning and another eight in the sixth to break the game wide open. The offensive outburst benefitted Rouen pitchers Robin Roy and Alexandre Sochon.

The defending Belgian League champs got a measure of revenge one day later, topping the Huskies, 6-4, last Sunday in an eight-inning contest. Australian pitcher Adam Crabb started the game for Antwerp, going five innings against Rouen opener Keino Perez.

Both teams took part in last year’s European Cup among the continent’s elite teams.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


Despite collecting only three hits in the game, The Netherlands opened Pool D play of the World Baseball Classic with a huge 3-2 upset win over the Dominican Republic Saturday in Puerto Rico. The Dutchmen eked out three first inning runs as the Dominicans killed themselves with three errors, then starter Sidney Ponson and four relievers battled their way to the win. Ponson allowed two runs in five innings, including a Hanley Ramirez solo homer, but Dutch League stars Rob Cordemans and Leon Boyd helped hold the Dominicans scoreless over the last four frames for the win.

In the other Pool D game in San Juan, host Puerto Rico easily handled Panama, 7-0. Javier Vazquez and three relievers combined for the shutout for Puerto Rico as Ivan Rodriguez crushed two homers and Carlos Delgado added a solo blast.


Canada was hoping for an upset after taking a 2-1 lead over the United States into the bottom of the fourth inning, but a solo homer by Kevin Youkilis and a two-run bomb by Brian McCann off Canada starter Mike Johnson gave the Americans a 4-2 lead en route to a 6-5 win over the Canadian in the opening game of Pool C play in Toronto. USA starter Jake Peavy was touched up for two runs, including a third inning homer by Joey Votto.

Italy gave Venezuela a scare in the Pool C nightcap, but the favored Venezuelans pulled out a 7-0 win. Italy starter Mark DeFelice and Venezuela’s Carlos Silva matched zeros for four innings, but Italy reliever Jason Grilli coughed up a leadoff homer to Carlos Guillen in Venezuela’s four-run fifth.


As expected, Japan is cruising their way through Pool A play in the Tokyo Dome. Japan won their first two games, including a 14-2 drubbing of South Korea Saturday, to clinch a second round WBC berth. Beneficiaries of Japan’s explosion have been starters Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzaka, as third baseman Shuichi Murata has clubbed two homers and driven in five runs.

At the other end of the Pool A spectrum, Taiwan was eliminated from the WBC after dropping a 4-1 decision to rival China on Saturday. South Korea pounded the island nation, 9-0, Friday night. The Taiwanese offense basically went on vacation in Tokyo, with first baseman Cheng Peng-ming’s RBI single against China plating the team’s only run in the Classic.

South Korea and China will meet Sunday, with the winner clinching a second round slot.


The World Baseball Classic’s Pool B schedule will begin Sunday afternoon with a doubleheader at Mexico City’s Foro Sol. Cuba will take on South Africa in the day’s opener, followed by a nightcap between Australia and host Mexico.

Cuba was a finalist in the inaugural WBC in 2006, losing to Japan in the final game. All-time Cuban outfield great Osmani Urrutia is back as are third baseman Yulieski Gourriel and pitcher Pedro Lazo. They will be the team to beat in the pool. Three Pool B teams played exhibition games against major league teams in Arizona. Mexico took a 7-3 win over Colorado Tuesday, Australia won an 11-9 against Seattle Wednesday, and South Africa lost to Oakland one day later, 6-1.


The offseason dance between the Los Angeles Dodgers and outfielder Manny Ramirez is finally over after Ramirez signed a two-year, $45 million contract with the National League team. The deal was announced last Wednesday.

Ramirez came to the Dodgers from Boston in an August trade last season, and went on to hit .396 with 17 homers and 53 RBIs in 53 games to lead LA to the National League Championship Series.

The Dodgers, Ramirez and agent Scott Boras engaged in extended off-season negotiations that lasted into the beginning of training camp. The new contract calls for Ramirez to make $25 million this year and $20 million in 2010, with a player option after the 2009 season.


Shortstop Orlando Cabrera has signed a one-year contract with the Oakland Athletics for $4 million. Cabrera had been seeking a two-year deal for $9 million, but found no takers in what turned out to be a soft market for the veteran free agent. He earned $10 million in 2008. Because Cabrera was a Type A free agent, the A’s will have to give his former team (the Chicago White Sox) its second round pick in the June draft.

A 12-year major league veteran, the Colombia native is a career .274 batter with 105 homers and 181 stolen bases. He hit .281 last year in a stormy 2008 season under White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen.

Cabrera’s signing likely means the end of shortstop Bobby Crosby’s time in Oakland. The A’s waived Crosby during their failed pursuit of Rafael Furcal, but he went unclaimed.


A vote among City of Miami leaders on the future of the Florida Marlins’ proposed 37,000-seat, retractable-roof stadium has been put on hold after city commissioners decided to delay last Friday’s scheduled vote until March 19.

The Marlins are seeking public assistance in building the $515 million stadium. When their proposal was originally considered by Miami commissioners in February, the vote ended in a 2-2 split. The city’s fifth commissioner, Michelle Spence-Jones, was on maternity leave.

A rift has developed between Miami and Dade County officials over the placement of the ballpark. The Marlins are seeking to move the stadium away from the former Orange Bowl site in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood to outside the city limits. Miami-Dade County mayor Carlos Alvarez has complained the negotiation process has been “hijacked.”


The Chicago White Sox have had 15 Cuban natives play at least one game for the team over the years, including legendary outfielder Orestes “Minnie” Minoso and pitcher Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez. Three more products of the Caribbean nation are in the Chisox spring training camp in Arizona this year. Veteran pitcher Jose Contreras and 2008 second base sensation Alexei Ramirez have been joined by 19-year-old prospect Dayan Viciedo. Viciedo signed a four-year, $10 million contract with the White Sox in the offseason.

Contraras and Ramirez have been serving as mentors to Viciedo. Sox GM Ken Williams says, “We understand culturalization is a part of any success, whatever the business.” According to Ramirez, “It’s the right fit for us here.”


The last time we checked on the Cuban National Series standings, La Habana and Villa Clara were leading the Occidental and Oriental leagues, respectively. Nothing has changed on that count, although Ciego de Avila is turning up the heat a bit on Villa Clara.

Havana has a 37-19 record to hold an 8.5-game lead over Pinar del Rio in the Occidental League, thanks in part to the pitching of Yadier Pedroso. Pedroso has a 6-2 record with a Cuban-best 1.37 ERA, including 80 strikeouts in 72.1 innings pitched. Mound mate Yulieski Glez is also 6-2 for Havana with a 3.30 ERA.

While Havana has gotten it done with pitching, 39-18 Ciego de Avila has been using offense to close the gap with 41-16 Villa Clara. Yorelvis Charles is leading Cuban hitters with a .390 batting average. The Cuban leagues are taking a break for the World Baseball Classic.


The Hanshin Tigers of Japan’s Central League have signed 20-year-old right-handed pitcher Cheng Kai-wen to a one-year contract for a $100,000 salary plus a $200,000 signing bonus. Although he stands only 5’9” and weighs 170 pounds, Cheng can reportedly hit 94 MPH on the radar gun and has a number of secondary pitches.

Cheng has made a number of appearances for Taiwan’s National Team, including two outings in last summer’s Beijing Olympics. He pitched two scoreless innings against The Netherlands, but got clobbered in a relief appearance against Japan. A student at Taiwan’s Chinese Cultural University, Cheng was on the country’s roster for this season’s World Baseball Classic, tossing 1.2 scoreless innings in a 9-0 pounding at the hands of South Korea on Friday at the Tokyo Dome.


European baseball’s preseason schedule has begun with a number of games throughout the continent this weekend. Among international games, one intriguing matchup on Saturday involved French Elite League champion Rouen and Belgian League titlists Antwerp. The Huskies have won five of the last six French pennants, while the Royal Greys have won four straight Belgian flags.

Another international matchup was scheduled for Sunday between the Rotterdam Euro Stars of The Netherland and the Hoboken Pioniers, who lost to Antwerp in last season’s Belgian League championship series. The Euro Stars play in Holland’s First Division, one step below the Dutch Major League.


With their 2008 season opener less than a month away, the German League’s Heidenheim Heidekoepfe have signed two Americans for 2009.

Thirty-one-year-old pitcher Dusty Bergman is joining Heidenheim after spending ten seasons in the minor leagues. A sixth-round draft pick by Anaheim out of the University of Hawaii in 1999, Bergman made one major league appearance for the Angels in 2004, giving up three runs in two relief innings against Milwaukee. He’s spent the past two seasons in independent baseball. Bergman has German roots, and may not count as an import player.

Californian Ray Stokes spent three seasons with minor league affiliates of the San Diego Padres at the Rookie and Class A levels, hitting .241 with 37 runs scored in 57 career pro games. The 23-year-old Stokes was a 16th round pick of the Padres in 2006.