Sunday, March 12, 2006

Baseball's Zhang Gang

If you're allowing Joe Lunardi to violate you by walkin' ya through his little b-ball jack-off-tology, maybe you can stop the madness in March Madness and explore some real brackets.
Like these:
USA vs. Japan at 4 o’clock and then, look-the-frick-out! -- the Dom.Rep. and P-Rico squarin' off at 8:00.
That’ll get ya amped.

Many Americans, however, will be rooting against Team USA in the WBC for three very distinct reasons:
1) Jeter’s STILL wears that wristband with the logo of a jumping basketball player (Jordan) on it
2) The American-flag patch on the right sleeve of the U.S. players, ummmm … last time we checked, the blue field is supposed to be placed in the upper LEFT quadrant of the American flag, not the upper right ... no matter how some military uniforms might display it
3) Without a quality Soviet opponent or other Eastern bloc foe, what’s the point?
4) Al Leiter.
What … Jimmy Key wasn’t available?

When the Worldwide Leader gives us anything with “world” in the title, yeah … we're there. After all, this is the network which has given us the WORLD Series of Poker (and WSOP reruns), the Met-Rx WORLD’S Strongest Man competition (and Met-Rx World’s Strongest Man reruns starring Mariusz Pudzianowski, Riku Kiri, Raimonds Bergmanis and – everyone’s fave – Magnus ver Magnussen of Iceland) and the Little League WORLD Series (which, in ’05, was the best LLWS ever with the way that those spunky, pesky kids from West Ewa Beach, Oahu, Hawaii rallied for three in the top of the 6th to tie defending-champion Curacao, 6-6, until catcher Michael Memea hit that unforgettable homer leading off the bottom of the 7th … jeez, that team was fun – mainly because they weren’t trying to be all mainland cool – and Vonn Fe’ao’s home run feats and the blonde highlights in his Mana Loa mullet … have we seen a ballplayer THAT engaging?).

The point is: Jeter, you’re a BASEball player, so lose the Jordan b-ball wristband which you’ve been wearing for the past five seasons.
Again … you play BASEball.

Stop messin' with our children's heads.

Jumping back to the kids for a minute: When then-Baseball Tonight suit Larry Bowa had to travel to Williamsport to accept an honorary award during the LLWS, the Worldwide Leader did something original (for a change) and allowed Orestes Destrade to sit in the studio.

Up until that point, all most of us knew about Orestes Destrade was:
A) He was Cuban
B) He was a journeyman MLB’er
C) He was the last Yankee to wear #23 before Donnie Baseball
E) He was an original Florida Marlin from back in the days when they wore the teal-coloured caps n’ batting helmets
F) He put up some formidable numbers for the Seibu Lions.
For the few days that he sat in the Baseball Tonight chair, he did a good job. A smooth delivery and he shared some insightful nuggets.

So, it was no surprise to tune in to the Cuba-Panama game last Weds. and, in the top of the 7th, hear Orestes and Orel (Hershiser) discussing Osmani Urrutia (who, allegedly, batted .400 four times in his Cuban career).
Then, in the bottom of the 7th, it was Orestes and Orel discussing Panama’s Olmedo Saenz.

Orestes and Orel talkin' 'bout Osmani and Olmedo (although Hershiser can turn each AB into a dissertation about mound mentality and neurological components vectoring to a triangulation of the 2-2 slider ... ).
Just throw the damn pitch.

That was a great game, though. Right about the time everybody was second-guessing the decision by Cuba to pinch-hit for Urruttia in a 6-6 game in the top of the 11th, that very pinch-hitter, Yoandy Garlobo, lined the first pitch he saw cleanly into center field for an RBI single which snapped the 6-6 tie.

The Sunday games which ESPN won't bother to broadcast today (because it would take air-time away from Lumpy Rutherford, errrrr …. Joe Lunardi) feature blockbusters between Cuba and Venezuela and Korea and Mexico (wait … don’t say that we've gotta subscribe to ESPN Deportes to lock into “Donde esta mi pelota?”).

Truth be told, there were time when some of us were awake at 4 a.m. on some of those mornings, sticking it out with the boys from Team China … y’know, sort of a ceremonial "Let's Hang With The Zhang Gang."

And, the Zhang Gang was all there -- Yufeng Zhang, Jun Zhang, Li Zhang, Hongbo Zhang and Zhenwang Zhang.
God, it had to suck when Team China manager Jim Lefebvre yelled, “Hey, Zhang!” and five guys glared at him thinking, “Who you talkin’ to, you Yankee bastage?”
Pitching coach Bruce Hurst didn’t look as though he was very helpful.

Team China got blasted, 18-2 by Japan; 10-1 by Korea; and 12-3 by Chinese Taipei (you mainlanders call it “Taiwan”).
You could say that their one shining moment was when catcher Wei Wang (not catcher Zhenwang Zhang) threw out Japan's Tsuyoshi Nishioka attempting to steal -- not bad considering Nishioka was 41 of 41 on SB attempts for the Chiba Lotte Marines last season.

Nishioka got his revenge a few innings later when he clouted a 3-run homer off of Quansheng Zhao to snap a 1-1 tie.

Y'see, that was the problem -- Zhao is not Zhang.

Kosuke Fukudome made it a “back-to-back” moment when he homered off of Quansheng Zhao a few pitches later.
Ya gotta wonder if when Japan played Korea in what amounted to the Pool A championship game if maybe Quansheng Zhao, watching from the stands (or on TV), wasn't giving a little fist-pump when Korean right fielder Jin Young Lee robbed Nishioka of a potential 3-run double when he made a tumbling catch of that sinking liner.

The Korean lineup was almost as much fun as the Chinese roster of Zhang Times Five. The one which was used most-regularly was:
1) Byun Kyu Lee – LF
2) Jong Beom Lee – CF
3) Seung Yeop Lee – 1B
4) Hee Seop Choi – DH
5) Jin Young Lee – RF
6) Bum Ho Lee – 3B

That “All-Lee” outfield is formidable and Seung Yeop Lee has a fluid power stroke, although we didn’t see enough of Dong Joo Kim, Jae Gul Kim, Jong Kook Kim, Min Jae Kim, Tae Kyun Kim and Duk Koo Kim to offer much of a scouting-report workup.

Duk Koo Kim doesn’t actually play for Korea – but the other five do.
Duk Koo Kim was the boxer who died in the ring when knocked out by Ray Mancini back in ’82.

Speaking of the Italians, they sure didn’t show the world very much before they were sent home, did they? With that boot-shaped nation’s contributions to the game during the past 100 years, you’dda thunk they’d’ve done better to honor the memory of all of our Italian faves … y’know, DiMaggio and Campanella and Incaviglia and Graffanino and Giovanola and Simontacchi and Amalfitano and Altobelli and Kluszewski and Boccabella and Cannizzarro and Frascatore and Poncharello and Fonzarelli and … forget Lasorda, OK?
Actually … the names of Giovanola and Simontacchi were tossed in there merely because some of us ssaw them play in high school …

And, Kluszewski? Well, ya’ve gotta toss Klu’s name out there every chance ya get …
And, it is true ... Poncharello is actually “Ponch” from “ChiPs” and Fonzarelli is actually “Fonzie” from “Happy Days” (which brings back some hurtful memories -- whether you're Italian or not -- when you consider how, on ‘70s TV it was okay to have a Latino actor portraying an Italian character or why it wasn’t a big deal to have a Jewish actor portraying an Italian character … at least w/ SNL back then, it was Don Novello, and not Esther Rolle, portraying Father Guido Sarducci. Was Hollywood given carte blanche to portray Italians in stereotypical fashion?)

More to the point: Everybody's wondering if manager Sadahru Oh will cross up the mainlanders and send Shunsuke Watanabe out on the mound for today’s tussle. Watanabe was 15-4 with a 2.17 ERA for the Chibe Lotte Marines last year.
All most of us know from watching Japan in that first round is:
A) Watanabe has THE most exaggerated submarine-style pitching delivery you’ll ever see (his knuckles almost scrape the dirt during his delivery)
B) The Chibe Lotte Marines colour scheme was once black with pink trim, but we haven't seen an updated version of their uniform lately
C) Third baseman Akinori Iwamura has highlights in his hair which are stylish and non-offensive
D) First baseman Michihiro Ogasawara has one of the best Japanese goat-tees ever

Looks as though we’re in for one helluva ballgame.
The nightcap, though … that’s gonna rock.

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