The eleventh edition of the Rotterdam-based ENECO World Port Tournament–this summer’s showcase international baseball event–is off to a thrilling start this weekend in Europe’s largest northern shipping center. Featuring national teams from perennial international champion Cuba (Cuba’s B Team still featuring several WBC holdovers), the USA (the same collegiate all-star squad that dropped the gold medal finale to Cuba in last month’s Pan American Games event), host Netherlands (largely the same Dutch team that appeard in MLB’s 2006 World Baseball Classic), Japan (a talented collegiate all-star squad that defeated Team USA in a best-of-five tune-up in early July at North Carolina), and Chinese Taipei (an all-star squad from the Taiwanese Professional Baseball League). The event runs for eleven days (August 2-12), is a double round-robin, and features a single championship game on Sunday, August 12 in Neptunus Family Stadium. As with most world-class international tournaments, Cuba is the current defending champion.
This year’s event has gotten off to a rousing start with Team USA escaping a near-no-hit-blanking by Japan’s southpaw submariner Yusuke Iwamoto in its opener, and Cuba bashing the same Japanese club with an impressive onslaught of longball slugging that has immediately established the Cuban Red Machine as the odds-on tournament favorite. The Americans barely won 1-0 Thursday night when University of Arkansas infielder Logan Forsythe singled with two out in the ninth to provide the only USA hit as well as the slim margin of victory. Cuba was paced Friday afternoon by a pair of long homers from Santiago first baseman Jose Julio Ruiz (pictured) and a relentless 13-hit attack that buried the same hard-luck Japanese club 11-3. Upcoming highlight games will be the two afternoon (8am New York time) USA-Cuba showdowns scheduled for Monday (August 6) and Saturday (August 11). With its mix of upcoming star sluggers (Julio Ruiz, Donald Duarte, Alexei Bell and Yosvani Pereza) and savvy veteran pitchers (Yosvani Aragon, Ciro Silvino Licea, Yadel Marti, and Yulieski Gonzalez) this Cuba B team may actually be the clear equal of the island’s celebrated A squad. Team USA’s road to the finals may thus be even more arduous one than the one recently traveled in Rio de Janeiro.
For those interest in the thrills of international baseball, the entire tournament action (including play-by-play summaries of all Cuba games and indepth articles on tournament developments) can be followed daily over the next two weeks on-line at www.baseballdecuba.com. Tune in and stay informed on a more pastoral throwback diamond world where THE BARRY BONDS HOME RUN DERBY SOAP OPERA and shopping mall stadiums are not on the daily menu and where the sport’s non-commercial future still holds promise.