SANTIAGO, D.R.–Sunday night, while people in the States were going through the regular routine of Super Bowl parties, I was here in El Stadio Cibao, watching Aguilas knock off Venezuela, 3-1. In fact, I literally found out who won the Super Bowl 15 minutes ago.
And my condolences go out to BA staffers (and obviously Patriots fans) Aaron Fitt and Ben Badler.
Anyway, so the first night when I left the stadium, I had no problems getting a taxi back to the hotel. You have to walk about two blocks, and Sunday was a completely different challenge. Sticking out like an obvious sore thumb, I was immediately encircled by a handful of children asking me for money.
"No comprende," I said. "No habla Espanol."
Their numbers quickly multiplied, and soon adults joined them as I continued to move briskly toward the surrounding streets outside the stadium complex. From what I understood, they said they needed money for water, but of course I could be completely wrong.
One of the children asked if I needed a taxi. He found me one, I handed him a few pesos and the cab driver swooped in to carry me away. But not before the kids were banging on the doors and reaching inside the car.
"Hotel Ambar?" the cab driver asked. "Si, si, porfavor," I replied as he gunned it down the streets, quickly passing the small restaurants and dodging stray dogs in our path.
It wasn’t scary as much as it was sad–I wish I had something to give them. Every time I reached in my pockets, they grabbed at my wrists, trying to coax them out. So yeah, the Super Bowl was the last thing I was thinking about yesterday.
* Speaking of cab drivers, every one has been a huge baseball fan. I’m convinced everyone in this country is, but the cabbies want to talk about it the most.
The driver who took me to the stadium the last two days has been the only Licey fan, however, as Santiago is dominated by Aguilas backers.
* As I mentioned before here, Mexico has the best fans. I’m not sure if I want to say that outright, because all the fans are extremely passionate, but Mexico fans travel anywhere and they certainly dress for the ocassion. I met an older gentleman at the Series last year in Puerto Rico who paints–paints, not dyes–his beard for each Series. One side is green, the other is red with sparkles and it’s white down the middle, representing the Mexican flag.
There was another guy I didn’t see last year, but here in Santiago, his presence is well known already. He’s dressed as a wrestler, wearing white full-body tights with "MEXICO" adorned on the front in red and a red-and-green eagle flying underneath. And of course he’s topping it off with a mask with "Liga del Pacifico Mexico" stitched in over his eyebrows.
It’s amazing, because Mexico hasn’t really performed well in the Caribbean Series in recent years and they’re 1-13 in their last 14 Caribbean Series games.
* Can you imagine having to look at a 25-foot high billboard of a gigantic smiling Barrack Obama or John McCain head while you watched the Red Sox win the World Series last year?
Well, there are several different billboards here in the stadium advertising candidates for the Domincan’s upcoming May elections. And watching the video feed in the press box here, each candidate has a commercial that is somehow related to baseball.
* There shouldn’t be much of a turnout for the early game, which pits Venezuela (0-2) against Mexico (0-2), but the Aguilas (2-0) vs. Licey (2-0) matchup will be a different story.
It’s going to be the biggest party in Santiago all year, and it will be repeated Thursday night, regardless of where the teams are in the standings for the round-robin tournament.
"This is what everyone’s been waiting for, what everyone’s been talking about," Aguilas manager Felix Fermin said. "The championship series had incredible atmosphere, but this will be on another level. This is our World Series."