While MLB’s version of the "world’s greatest game" marches through its "dog days" towards its marathon post-season television tournament that was once so inaccurately labelled "The World Series" (a somewhat laughable designation even back in 1903), other baseball-playing nations and their fans will be riveted in coming months on action taking place in the far-flung diamond outposts of Rio de Janeiro, Rotterdam and Taipei City (Chinese Taipei). These backwater venues will host the 2007 schedule of highly competitive tournament matches that constitute the sport’s more legitimate versions of "a real world series"–events staging national teams carrying the pride and traditions of their own home-flavored national pastimes.
First up (July 14-19) is the Pan American Games baseball tournament scheduled for Rio and featuring not only defending champion and perenniel powerhouse Cuba, but also promising a strong challenge from a Dominican Republic team featuring big league veterans Luis Polonia and Raul Mondesi. Team USA, under the direction of Long Beach State University head coach Mike Weathers, is comprised of a collection of university all-stars topped by 2003 National Youth team veteran Danny Espinosa, a crack Long Beach State infielder. Once again the lackluster American roster is indicative of a country that rarely takes international competitions seriously, and Team USA is a club expected to pose little threat to Cuba’s World Baseball Classic holdovers or the Dominican lineup sprinkled with ex-big leaguers. Fans interested in following the action can do so on the www.baseballdecuba.com website available online ahywhere in the States. Cuba will of course again be the overwhelming favorite to defend the title it has won in every outing since 1971 (with the exception of the 2001 event, when the Cubans stayed home); the defending champs have captured 11 of 13 tournaments entered overall since the 1951 inaugural, also posting an all-time 91-13 (.875 Pct.) won-lost mark in individual games played.
Next up (August 2-12) will be the colorful ENECO World Port Tournament at Rotterdam’s quaint Neptunus Family Stadium (pictured above), also the previous site of the 2005 World Cup Tournament. I will be personally returning to Rotterdam (one of my favorite international baseball venues) to cover this event for both the Cuban League website (ww.baseballdecuba.com) and New York-based Beisbol Mundial magazine. Fans will thus be able to follow the action of the Rotterdam event on this blog site, where I will file daily results and stories capturing the unique flavor of one of baseball’s best international events. This year’s participants will be the Cuban national team, Team USA (the same roster that will be in Rio), the host Netherlands club (featuring much of Holland’s WBC roster), Japan, and Chinese Taipei. The World Port Tournament was inaugurated in 1985 and shares the spotlight of European baseball with the Haarlem International Baseball Week (staged in the rival Dutch city of Haarlem) on alternating years. Cuba has won six of the ten previous editions, including the two most recent sesssions (2001, 2003). But the host Dutch, who defeated a Cuban National B Team last year at Haarlem and then barely lost to the top Cuban squad in the November Intercontinental Cup finals (Taipei), can be expected to muster a stiff challenge.
A final chapter and climax (November 5-18) to this year’s international top-flight competitions will be the IBAF World Cup XXXVII (once known as the Amateur World Series and owning a tradition that dates back to 1939), scheduled to take place in this pre-Olympic year in Chinese Taipei. Here Cuba is expected again to peak with yet another victory in the international showcase event that it has dominated with 25 gold medals in 28 tournaments entered, plus a championship streak (nine straight) unbroken since 1984. I will post more details on this final tournament once it draws closer, but its day-by-day action will be available on both major Cuban League websites (www.baseballdecuba.com and www.radiococo.cu), as well as with daily entries in this current blog site.
Most Americans will pay preciously little attention as the colorful 2007 summer and fall international baseball pageant unfolds in Rio, Rotterdam and Taiwan. But for aficionados of the "true world series" it simply doesn’t get any better than this. It is athletes battling with deep-seated passions for the honor of their national flags and cherished homelands, always to my view a far better spectacle than professional baseball’s staged exhibitions of rented athletes with usually cavalier attachments to the corporate teams that employ them for a season or two. Note: Readers wishing detailed summaries of international tournaments (champions, standings, stats, etc.), including the Pan American Games and the IBAF World Cup, can find them (along with a narrative history of the international baseball movement) in either my 2005 book entitled Diamonds around the Globe: The Encyclopedia of International Baseball (Greenwood), or my more recent A History of Cuban Baseball, 1864-2006 (McFarland Publishers). Both are available from most internet book dealers and also on my website at www.bjarkman.com.