For those Americans already stewing over the poor performance thus far by the so-called Dream Team in basketball, one of the more interesting developments they may have failed to notice in the Athens has been the rise of Australia in baseball. The Aussies beat a Japanese team loaded with professionals and took the silver medal, losing in the finals to Cuba. The American team failed to even qualify. (The Aussies also contended for the gold medal in women’s softball losing to the extraordinary U.S. squad.) With Commissioner Bud Selig indicating professionals are not likely to participate in future Games (hardly a guarantee of success as we are discovering), it isn’t hard to imagine the Olympics paralleling the Little League World Series of the past several decades during which foreign teams have been the winners in 23 of 36 title games. What’s next, the Super Bowl champs are beaten by a sandlot team from Qatar?
While we are on the subject of the rise of baseball beyond our shores, it is worth noting many of the vaunted Cuban defectors who signed with major league clubs have been less than overpowering. Indeed, the best imports other than those from the rest of Latin America remain Japanese players like Ichiro and Hideki Matsui. Perhaps Fidel has been unloading second tier talent on unsuspecting Yankees in a clever reprise of the Mariel boatlift.
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If ever there was an equal-opportunity club this year’s installment of the Phillies takes the prize. Every day someone new steps up and blows the game. The only downside appears to be that with so many players seeking their moment in the shade, repeat performances are inevitable; after all, the last time I looked MLB still limits each roster to 25 men. Perhaps in September, when the roster expands as teams call up deserving minor leaguers, the Phillies will spread the wealth around.
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A few months ago a friend and I decided to buy tickets to a Phillies game. I had been given two tickets to a mid-week day game earlier in the season, but my friend had not seen the new ballpark and expressed a desire to go. When I ordered tickets online in July the Phillies were still above .500 and only trailed the Braves by a few games. Tickets were hard to come by in any event given the novelty of a new stadium, but we were able to secure decent seats at $40 apiece for a Friday night game against Milwaukee. Then came the swoon capped by a horrendous 1-9 home stand. Out of idle curiosity I put the tickets up for bid on Ebay with no reserve. I did not receive a single bid though one person emailed me to say I should be paying him to take them off my hands!