When tourism officials and World Baseball Classic organizers spoke of Miami as a natural location for second round games in the Olympic-style baseball tournament, they weren't counting the Netherlands among the teams that would attract locals and international tourists to the games that start Saturday at Dolphin Stadium.
"The diversity of Miami corresponds very well to all these teams," Claude Delorme, a Marlins senior vice president who is coordinating the Classic, told me before the WBC started.
USA, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, even Canada, perhaps. But the Netherlands?
The Netherlands beat the heavily favored Dominican team -- whose roster read like an All-Star lineup, including David Ortiz, the Marlins' Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, and Miguel Tejada -- last night for the second time in the WBC's first round. Last night's game qualified the Netherlands for a trip to Miami and sent the Dominicans home. The game, which the Netherlands won in the bottom of the 11th inning, is being re-aired this morning on the MLB Network.
The Netherlands joins the US, Puerto Rican and Venezuelan teams for the second round at Dolphin Stadium that includes six games starting Saturday and running through March 18. Tour operators in Venezuela had already purchased hundreds of strips of tickets for the games. Ticket sales should pick up now that the competing teams are known, but how much will the Dominican team not appearing hurt sales? Dominican fans at the Marlins-Dominican exhibition game in Jupiter last week were sure their team would be among those at Dolphin Stadium.
Anyone think there might be an A-Rod curse? The New Yankees haven't won a World Series since Alex Rodriguez has been on the team. Dominican fans told me Dominicans tore down posters of Rodriguez in their native country when he chose to play for the US in the inaugural WBC in 2006. This time he was to play for the Dominican team, but bowed out and had surgery on his hip this week.
Is the Netherlands knocking off the vaunted Dominicans one of those feel-good stories that fans like, even if organizers and broadcasters worry about ticket sales and viewership? Will you root for the underdog?