WBC crowns champ but fails to captivate

AT&T PARK — This week, there was meaningful baseball played at AT&T Park. It doesn’t matter that the Giants aren’t involved. It was baseball in March with a trophy and bragging rights on the line.

The World Baseball Classic final wasn’t a sellout like game 7 of the NLCS, when the Giants beat the Cardinals in a downpour to clinch the second World Series appearance for San Francisco in three years.

But it was still fun and memorable, especially for the Dominican Republic.

Edwin Encarnacion hit a two run double and Erick Aybar added an RBI double as the Dominican Republic defeated rival Puerto Rico 3-0 on a rainy Tuesday night in front of 35,703 raucous fans.

Manager Tony Pena spoke of the pride his team felt in winning the international event.

“This ballclub is about emotion.  We showed emotion every single time. And that’s what it’s all about in baseball. It is a unique group that played with their hearts and they showed the whole world that they could do it.  The DR, as a country, should feel really proud.”

We should have all been riveted to the World Baseball Classic in that beautiful brick building along the shores of San Francisco Bay. But because Team USA failed to advance, nobody around here seemed to care.

Yes, the price of tickets was initially exorbitantly high. But in the wake of terrible sales, the prices dropped to being ridiculously cheap. The stadium should be packed. But it’s not. And it’s a little disappointing.

Granted, only a few Giants players were in the tourney but fans got a chance to see some of the most talented players in baseball. They’re playing with the natural passion that they grew up with, a natural fire that gets extinguished when they make to the big leagues.

Robinson Cano, one the best pure hitters in the majors, went 15-for-32 (.469) in the WBC to be named tournament MVP.

“I’ll tell you one thing.  Tonight we we’re going to celebrate.  Tomorrow we’re going to celebrate.  And Thursday, we will go back to Spring Training.”

Yadier Molina, one of the best all-around catchers in baseball, had the instincts to run across the diamond from his catcher’s position during the semi-final against Japan to tag out Japan’s Seiichi Uchikawa on a botched hit and run. Molina made the tag 20 feet from second base.

Even if no one is in the U.S. watching, just about everybody back home is.

Though ratings for Tuesday’s final are not yet available, the MLB Network has been drawing fewer than a million viewers nationwide for the tournament. Last Thursday’s Dominican Republic-United States game peaked with 883,000 viewers — about half that of a regular season NBA game on TNT.

Ratings in other teams’ homelands, though, are through the roof:

You might have thought was an exhibition game, but the players on the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico teams played the final like it was the most important game of their lives. They played for their countries they left as teenagers.

Jose Reyes and Angel Pagan have been so animated after RBI hits during the WBC, you would think they just drove in the go-ahead run to win the World Series. Bullpen pitchers for the Dominican Republic could be seen jumping for joy on a game-tying hit, Monday night.

To their credit, the fans of Japan, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico made their presence known during the semi-finals. Japanese fans had taken over the platform on the giant Coca-Cola bottle beyond the left field bleachers on Sunday night. They had giant flags and musical instruments and they could be heard all around the park.

Quite a few Puerto Rico fans were walking around banging on drums.

After a few quiet innings, the Dominican fans let their horns be heard on Monday night with a jubiant group of fans in section 112, just a stone’s throw from the press box.

In a story about the lack of interest in the WBC in America, Los Angeles Times reporter Bill Shaikin talked to MLB commissioner Bud Selig about the future of the tournament and whether they would consider moving the finals to an Asian or Latin American country.

“It’s something that we can think about.”

A tournament showcasing America’s Pastime, created by MLB, not playing its most important games in the USA? American fans should be upset by that thought, but they’re not.  They’ll move on with their day and not even blink.

The announced paid attendance on Sunday was 33,683. On Monday, 27,527 people supposedly walked through the turnstiles. That number is hard to believe considering how empty the Club Level was on both nights.

The championship game pushed attendance for the 2013 World Baseball Classic to 885,212, surpassing the 2009 total of 801,410.

Notes

The Dominican Republic became the first team in the history of the World Baseball Classic to to go 8-0 breaking the previous record of six straight victories by Japan in 2009. … 2B Robinson Cano hit .469 (15-for-32) with four doubles, two homers, six RBI and six runs scored over the eight games to be named Tournament MVP. Robinson was also MVP of Pool C played in San Juan, Puerto Rico and Pool 2, played in Miami, Florida. … Closer Fernando Rodney had seven saves, shattering the previous record of three set by Korea’s Chan Ho Park in 2006. … Giants CF Angel Pagan, represented Puerto Rico and had 12 hits. That is a new PR record and second only to the 15 hits by Cano. Pagan hit .364 (12-for-33) with two doubles, a triple, two RBI and two runs scored in the 2013 WBC.