WBC Notebook: Security tightened at Hiram Bithorn Stadium
Compiled by John Manuel
SAN JUAN, P.R.--Security officials at the entrance to Hiram Bithorn Stadium had their hands full collecting signs on Friday night, part of a zero-tolerance policy implemented by MB Sports (promotor locally of the Classic) and Major League Baseball.
The stricter policy was adopted after two fans who brought in a sign in that read "Abajo Castro" ("Down With Castro" in English) to Thursday night's game between Cuba and the Netherlands got into an altercation with four members of the Cuban delegation, including former Cuban national team shortstop German Mesa.
"We hope that incidents like [Thursday's] do not happen again and if they do, the Cuban Baseball Federation reiterates that it will not permit provocations nor insults," Cuban baseball officials said in a written statement issued Friday.
MB Sports' Tuti Munoz said that the promoters sat down Friday morning with MLB and Cuban officials and decided to implement the "no signs" rule to keep the peace.
"This is a touchy issue because in reality, we live in a country where you are free to express yourself," said Munoz. "This is a public event, but it is private as well. Our policy is that the banners obstruct the view of the other fans, and with the whole issue of having the Cubans here, well, we didn't want any more problems."
MLB issued an official statement Friday, a two-page missive distributed to the media, that begins with "Code of Conduct for the World Baseball Classic." According to the statement, the code will be effective in all ballparks in which the event is played. The code prohibits any sign over 3 feet or any that is in bad taste, offensive or of a political nature.
Prior to Friday night's game, security officials had already confiscated dozens of signs, along with another dozen broomsticks to be used to hold them up.
MLB Director of Media Relations Pat Courtney said Cuba's position was understandable under the circumstances.
"Cuba basically feels they've bent over backwards to play by our rules in this tournament and they just want us to reciprocate," Courtney told The San Juan Star. "They were very upset after the game last night." Courtney said MLB is following the general rules set for banners during games, although he said the promoters for this tournament have their own protocol.
Munoz said Thursday night's incident caught MB Sports off guard. "We hadn't heard anything about any kind of incident so we were surprised."
MLB's Russell Gabay, venue manager for the Classic here, said MLB had not altered its "enhanced security" plan in any way prior to Friday's game.
"We're still following the same procedures," said Gabay. "The incident last night was unfortunate."
Delgado still on the fence
Carlos Delgado was not in Puerto Rico's lineup again Friday night and manager Jose Oquendo said the team could opt to replace him for the second round when he and his coaching staff and general manager Lou Melendez meet today.
"We're going to sit down (Saturday) and have a meeting and make what could turn out to be a tough decision," Oquendo said. "But that all depends. Carlos continues to make progress. He sat out [Friday] more as a precaution. He is more anxious to play than anyone."
Under tournament rules any roster change must be made by today.
Delgado has a case of tendonitis in his left elbow, a nagging injury he also battled through last spring with the Marlins. He's able to throw and bat without discomfort, but the elbow bothers him when he has to turn his wrist to catch the ball.
Delgado returned to Mets camp in Port St. Lucie, Fla. to have the team's doctors examine him. He was scheduled to travel back to Puerto Rico last night. Oquendo said the decision for Delgado to sit out Friday's game was mutual.
"[Carlos and I] met before the game and agreed that it was the best course of action given that we've already qualified for the second round," Oquendo said.
Among those being considered to replace Delgado should such a move be necessary: Juan "Igor" Gonzalez.
"He's a possibility. So are a few other guys," said Puerto Rico general manager Lou Melendez, who doubles as MLB's vice president of international operations.
Oliveras brings back scouting report
Long-time winter league manager Mako Oliveras, a bench coach for the Cubs from 1995-96 and a hitting coach in the Devil Rays organization, was already quite familiar with the Dominican lineup before he went to scout them in Kissimmee, Fla. But he returned to Puerto Rico on Friday with a report that he hopes will help the island team's pitching staff stifle the Dominican's potent lineup in the second round.
"I'm pretty familiar already with the strengths and weaknesses of their guys, but it was a chance to see how far along each guy is in his preparation for the season; who's hot and who's not," sad Oliveras.
So, who's hot?
"Well, just about everyone. [Adrian] Beltre and David Ortiz look particularly good," said Oliveras. "[Miguel] Tejada was struggling a little bit, but that could change from one day to the next. It's certainly not going to be easy to bat them."
Oliveras was particularly impressed by the impact the game between the Dominican Republic and Venezuela had on Florida fans.
"It was something else. We got the chance to export or game over there. The noise, the emotion, I had goose bumps," said Oliveras. "A lot of the U.S. fans, most of them were surrounded by these screaming and shouting Dominican and Venezuelan fans. They had a pretty uncomfortable look on their faces at first. But I think the emotion turned out to be contagious."
Bonus For Vernon Jr.
Of all the media members milling about Team USA in Phoenix, only one had the tandem of "sports artist" as his affiliation and a son playing center field.
Vernon Wells Jr., the father of Blue Jays outfielder Vernon III, has been asked by several members of the American team--including Yankees Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon--to paint portraits of them wearing Team USA uniforms. A former Canadian Football League player who has made a second career for himself as an artist, Wells has already done paintings for Ken Griffey Jr., Johan Santana, Gary Sheffield and many other stars over the years, receiving commissions in the $6,000-$10,000 range per piece.
"When I first heard about the tournament, I figured I'd benefit more than anybody," Wells said with a laugh. "Guys want to play for their country, and they want it portrayed."
Wells also was asked by current Toronto teammate Frank Catalanotto (Italy) and former Blue Jay Esteban Loiaza (Mexico) to paint them in their countries' uniforms.
• The prospect who elevated his status more than any other in Pool D was the Phillies' Bradley Harman. The shortstop, who ranked as the No. 9 prospect in the Phillies' system, showed fluid actions on defense as he was flawless in the field. The 20-year-old had three of Australia's nine hits in the tournament. That included their only hit against Venezuela and one of their two extra-base hits, a lead-off double that one-hopped the wall in right against Francisco Liriano in the top of the fifth.
"Coming into this tournament, I sort of told myself that his was an opportunity to see what I was going to go up against in the next few years of my career," said Harman, who hit .303/380/442 in 419 at-bats at low Class A Lakewood in 2005.
"And to be able to swing the bat the way I did, it was only three hits, but I felt comfortable the whole tournament up at the plate. So I'm very happy about the way I swung the bat."
• Several African-American members of Team USA--Vernon Wells, Randy Winn and Derrek Lee--said that while they remembered growing up hearing about apartheid, playing South Africa carried no special significance to them. "I look at it as these guys had nothing to do with apartheid," Lee said. "I'm not holding any grudges against South Africa. It's in the past. Things have changed. You don't forget, but you have to move on at some point."
• Cuba's worst three losses in international play in the last 30 years, prior to Friday's 12-2, seven-inning, mercy-rule loss to Puerto Rico, were: 1983 Intercontinental Cup, Taiwan 13, Cuba 1; 1997 Intercontinental Cup gold-medal game, Japan 11, Cuba 2 (a loss that ended Cuba's 134-game international winning streak); and 1999 Pan American Games, USA 10, Cuba 5.
Contributing: Matt Meyers, Alan Schwarz.