Nationalism is powerful stuff. Lately, you can't turn on the television or read a story without someone fawning over the World Baseball Classic.
I was watching SportsCenter when the manager of the Netherlands cried after his team beat the heavily favored Dominicans. Rod Delmonico had to fight back tears while talking about his "incredible young men." A lot of people at the news conference clapped. They were very moved.
I just blinked. International competitions like the Olympics and the World Cup are fine, but the WBC seems so forced. If you're going to hold an event based on people getting super worked up about winning for their country, shouldn't they be familiar with the land?
The rosters are stocked with adopted mercenaries. Nick Punto is from California, but he signed on with Italy. Alex Rodriguez grew up in New York and Florida but wanted to play for the Dominicans. And for the last 25 years, Delmonico has lived in Knoxville and Tallahassee, neither of which happen to be in Holland.
Despite a lack of players who know how to find the Heineken Brewery, columnists from Albany to Amsterdam called the Netherlands triumph "amazing" and "inspiring." ESPN also ramped up the hype. SportsCenter compared the Netherlands game with other great upsets like the "Miracle on Ice" and that time David beat Goliath.
The next night, I turned on ESPN ready to hear more breathless hyperbole about the Netherlands, but that never happened because the happy, weepy Dutch got shut out. Apparently, after David beat Goliath, Puerto Rico came along and tanned David's hide. The Bible skipped that part.
No biggie. If we've learned anything about the WBC, it's that there are plenty of international storylines to trumpet. Between Delmonico and Tommy Lasorda's crazed, xenophobic, baseball-and-apple pie rant last week, the WBC has been a great success in the artificial patriotic pride department. There's nothing like a little flag waving to get the media's attention. Failing to display your country's colors also works.
Soon, some ESPN reporter will accuse Hugo Chavez of not wearing a Venezuelan flag pin on his lapel. It will be a great story.
In honor of the Sixers' final game at the Spectrum this evening, I can't resist outlining my personal top-five Spectrum moments (post 1977 only):
5. Globetrotters vs. Generals on the roof (2009): Ok, so it was a gimmick. But it was an interesting one. To get up there, you had to climb some stairs and two ladders, shimmy across a catwalk, and pop through a hatch that leads to the roof. Watching a bunch of really tall players contort themselves to scale Mount Spectrum was almost as entertaining as when the Globetrotters replaced the regular ball with a beach ball and it floated off into South Philly.
4. Rocky wins the heavyweight title (1979): I'm fudging here since Rocky wasn't real and the arena scenes were actually filmed elsewhere. But I still get choked up at the end of Part II when the Rock wins. Brain damage was never so beautiful.
3. Lamar Odom sinks a shot at the buzzer to beat Temple and win the A-10 tournament (1999): I'm a sucker for nostalgia. That was my senior year in college, and I covered the tournament for the La Salle paper. As the clock hit zero, Odom launched a bomb that found the net. Rhode Island was good - not great - that year. Odom saved the Rams.
2. Chris Webber dunks on Shawn Bradley (1993): I was upset when the Sixers didn't land Webber or Penny Hardaway in the draft, but I was willing to give Bradley a chance. At first. Then the two rookies faced each other at the Spectrum. Webber took the ball in the post and, from a standstill position, jumped up, turned around, and dunked on Bradley's head. I lost all faith in Bradley after that.
1. Duke vs. Kentucky (1992): There are few things I hate in this world. Duke is one of them. The Duke people always seem so smug. But credit where it's due: Christian Laettner's buzzer-beating basket was truly amazing. I just wish Jamal Mashburn had made the shot instead.
E-mailed the Eagles PR staff yesterday and asked to speak with Jeffrey Lurie. I wanted to congratulate him on becoming a billionaire. Surprisingly, they declined to make him available. He won't talk to Mayor Nutter, either. It's so hard to get a billionaire on the phone when he owes you $8 million. Maybe the mayor will hold a news conference outside the NovaCare Complex like he did in front of Robert Gamburg's office. . . . The 101st Philadelphia Sportscard and Memorabilia Show will be held this weekend at the Valley Forge Convention Center in King of Prussia. Willie Mays, Frank Robinson and Jennie Finch are scheduled to attend. The event runs today (5 p.m. to 9 p.m.), tomorrow (9 a.m. to 5p.m.) and Sunday (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.). I don't think Keith Olbermann will be there. . . .Here's what Adam Eaton told MLB.com about his time in Philly: "A lot of things went wrong, but a lot of things went right, too. I helped them get to the playoffs two years in a row, and obviously we won the World Series last year." Love revisionist history.
Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or firstname.lastname@example.org