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COHN: A defeat for underdogs everywhere

Netherlands first baseman Curt Smith runs down Dominican Republic baserunner Hanley Ramirez as he tries to get to second base during their World Baseball Classic semifinal game in San Francisco on Monday, March 18, 2013.

CHRISTOPHER CHUNG / The Press Democrat
Published: Monday, March 18, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 9:10 a.m.

SAN FRANCISCO -- We got beat on Monday night 4-1. By “we” I mean Team Netherlands. My team.

I am being completely unprofessional, utterly derelict in my duty. I freely admit that. I rooted for the Netherlands to beat the Dominican Republic in the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic at AT&T Park. It didn’t happen.

I’m supposed to be impartial because I’m a sports journalist. The heck with that. I rooted like nobody’s business, rooted shamelessly. It was a completely new feeling for me, this ardent love of a team. And it felt good.

You want to know why I rooted?

It’s all about the little guy.

Say what?

Yes, the little guy like you and me.

The Dominicans are the big guy. They are General Motors, Exxon, IBM. I’m sure the Dominican players are very nice, but they are some of the best on the planet. I mean, all credit to the Dominican Republic for producing Jose Reyes, Robinson Cano, Hanley Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion and Nelson Cruz. I could go on.

Eighteen players on the Dominican team were on major-league rosters last season. Seven have played in the Major League All Star Game. The Dominican team is loaded, could play in the majors right now and be a threat. Or as Team Netherlands manager and Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens said before the game, “It’s like playing a big-league game. The Dominican Republic team is straight up big-league players, so it is.”

Compare the Dominicans to the Kingdom of the Netherlands team — a mom-and-pop operation if there ever was one, you and me, us. Yes, us. We have five players who were on major-league rosters last season, for gosh sakes. That’s quite a disparity compared to 18, you’ll agree. Not that we were afraid — we’re made of sterner stuff than that.

Our catcher, Dashenko Ricardo never has played above Single-A. Our third baseman Jonathan Schoop and our first baseman Curt Smith and our left fielder Kalian Sams never have played above Double-A.

And then there’s our starting pitcher Diegomar Markwell, God love him. The guy never pitched above Double-A and, get this, last season he pitched for Neptunus Rotterdam. Do you regularly follow Neptunus Rotterdam? He’s 32 and won’t ever get a shot at the Show, and there he was pitching his heart out for us.

I wish I could write that Diegomar — we fans call him Diego for short — pitched a perfect game for us and stood those Dominican superstars on their heads. Alas, I can’t.

Markwell was just fine for a while. Think of him as the Barry Zito of Rotterdam. He throws strictly junk, some pitches topping out at 67 mph, looking like they’ll run out of gas before reaching the plate. His “heat” is 85. He keeps guys off balance just like Zito, nipping and tucking at the corners of the dish. In the bottom of the second, he issued a leadoff walk to Hanley Ramirez and promptly picked that star off. It was a wonderful moment for all us Netherlands faithful.

It reminded me of an enchanted night I spent in Amsterdam decades ago, drinking Heineken in a friendly pub, falling in love with Netherlands baseball even then.

For four glorious innings, Markwell had the big Dominican sluggers swinging at air. That’s how over-anxious they were to murder our guy. But in the bottom of the fifth, they finally figured him out and connected with the ball and scored four runs. Markwell didn’t complete the inning.

Needless to say, I wanted to break down and weep.

It wasn’t just us who were losing — Team Netherlands, I mean. It was underdogs all over the world taking it on the chin — David getting whacked by Goliath, Sonny Liston knocking out Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay in their first fight). It was the end of all hope and optimism and surprise. And it just felt wrong.

The game ended when Fernando Rodney, the closer for Tampa Bay with 48 saves in 2012 — life can be so unjust — put our guys down in order in the ninth. Afterward, Meulens came to the interview room. I really felt sorry for the guy, having to answer all those stupid questions from the typically insensitive media.

“Would you comment on the Dominican bullpen?”

Like that was his concern. But he soldiered on. “They base their team on that,” he said. “Most of the guys on the roster are bullpen guys. It’s a great bullpen. Those guys calmed our bats. We just got beat by a little better team today.”

I was so proud of Meulens. But I just couldn’t take it anymore, and left the room.

So here’s the deal, and I regret having to write this. After just one game, I’m done being a fan. It’s murder on the emotions.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.

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