Pay no attention to Dunedin: the baseball gods delivered half-decent diamond action to the Rogers Centre this past weekend in the form of the World Baseball Classic. Designed to make up for baseball’s cut from future summer Olympic Games, the Classic staged its first few games in various cities around the world, and the first North American battle pitted Canada against the U.S. on Saturday afternoon. Judging by the over forty-two thousand fans who attended, Toronto’s sports lovers were more than happy to watch something other than the ailing Raptors and Leafs.
Unlike the Americans, Canada’s starting lineup had a few non-Major Leaguers. Fortunately, that didn’t detract from the quality of the game—and even if it had, the crowd of predominately twenty- and-thirty-something guys who showed up in groups probably wouldn’t have minded. Fans of this type talked in the stands and paid less and less attention to the game as the Americans took the lead in the middle innings.
But with Canada down 6–4 in the top of ninth, the crowd quickly became re-engaged. Fans went wild when Joey Votto hit a broken-bat double to the gap, leaving the Canadians only one run behind, and the noise only got louder as Justin Morneau came to the plate with Jason Bay on-deck behind him. Sadly, Morneau grounded out and the game was placed in Bay’s hands. Given his experiences with the Red Sox last season, there isn’t a player on the Canadian squad that would have been a better choice to have up at bat, but Bay popped out, just missing the pitch, and the game was over.
Despite the loss, the event was well run—more specifically, unlike last year’s disastrous Jays’ home opener, the large number of beer stands prevented against excruciating inning-long lineups. (Next time, though, the taps should be hooked up because pouring from tall boys just takes too long.) The crowd also maintained an acceptable decorum, enabling the little guys who attended to enjoy the game too. But maybe Saturday afternoon’s biggest success was found at the beer establishments along Front Street. With heavy crowds before and after the baseball game, and a Leaf game at the ACC that night, the bars were packed for hours. In the middle of weak hockey and basketball seasons, for just one day, bar owners could forget that baseball crowds in Toronto might be small for yet another summer.