The United States, Mexico, Italy and Canada converged in Phoenix over the weekend for their leg of the World Baseball Classic. Each of these four rank in the top 11 of the IBAF World Rankings, comprising what is likely the strongest opening pool (Pool B is debatably stronger, but Pool D has the overall strongest team, so I’d give them the nod).
My expectations for the event were that it would be a fairly modest crowds, with Mexico vs. the US on Friday night being the largest and most vigorous. I was dead on about the size, but the overall passion surprised me. Other than Italy, each team sported large sections of fans… each of which would randomly (honestly at any point for no good reason) burst into a three syllable breakdown chants of their respective countries:
“EWE-ESS-SAY! EWE-ESS-SAY! EWE-ESS-SAY!”
“MEH-HE-CO! MEH-HE-CO! MEH-HE-CO!”
“CAN-UH-DUH! CAN-UH-DUH! CAN-UH-DUH!”
I’m not sure what it is about truncating your nation’s name into a chant, but it seems an inevitability at any international sporting event. The next time I hit a Cubs game and a “CHEH-CAW-GEAUX” chant breaks out… will be the first time. That said, the chants come complete with a certain level of passion you aren’t likely to see at even some of your best divisional rivalries during the regular season. There’s a hot-blooded madness to the way the chants roll off lips in unison.
The violence of the chants didn’t carry over physically… every interaction between fan bases I saw proved amicable, usually beginning with a not-so-hilarious, non-sensical taunt and concluding in chuckles, even high fives. But when it came time to cheer for your team, the cheers exploded, seemingly bouncing off the Chase Field roof and echoing back down into the crowd. The voices of 20,000 were louder than you’d anticipate.
I remain impressed by the diversity of the event. Seeing gobs of Mexico fans came as no shock, but Canada represented well too. Even within the United States contingent, fans of every team popped up. I feel as if the 50+ year old Pirates fan that came to every game proudly decked out in Pirates gear (new jersey every time) should have been given beers on the house. Anyone who can clearly love the Pirates for that long… especially with the last two decades of futility… that’s dedication. Beyond that, Brewers fans seemed to come out in droves. I guess I can’t blame anyone for wanting to escape the Midwest for the warmth of Phoenix, but every time I turned around I ran into a Brewers fan, it seemed. They somewhat helped to offset the random, odd boo-ings of Ryan Braun.
As far as environments go, nothing can compare to US/Mexico. Mexico fans showed up loud, proud and excited. Coming off a heart breaking defeat on Thursday, they were in a must-win situation. The passion carried over to the field, where the players clearly brought more emotion than Team USA… often fist-pumping and high-fiving with every positive play. The US never matched their emotion, nor their quality of play. When Sergio Romo induced a light-tapper to end the game, the crowd went into a tizzy unlike many I’ve seen before. I regret not grabbing a recording of the celebration on my phone in hindsight. They roared for minutes, waving Mexican flags, breaking into the Spanish equivalent of “Yes We Can!” (so my wife tells me) and of course, more “MEH-HE-CO!” Half-drunk and frustrated with the loss, I couldn’t appreciate the celebration in the moment nearly as much as I do in hindsight.
The US rebounded, however, playing much better on Saturday and Sunday to earn their trip to Miami for Round 2. The emotion of their play notably ticked up after the game one loss. The team really seems to take it’s cues from David Wright, a World Baseball Classic veteran. His grand slam on Saturday brought about the second most raucous reaction from the crowd… and a genuine joy settled over the bulk of the crowd. Wright the hero proved he’s worth the scrilla. Each player seemed to have at least some moment in the first three games. From Adam Jones’ huge double to take the lead on Sunday to Brandon Phillips’ continually stellar glove play to Jimmy Rollins’ overall effort and contributions, Team USA improved by the game. Hell, even Eric Hosmer got in on the fun with a roped double to pile on Team Canada late.
Overall, a tremendous experience. Take a cue from Bryce Harper, and don’t miss the 2017 version.