February 04, 2009
Whether you're waiting for it or not, the World Baseball Classic is fast approaching. The international shindig kicks off in Tokyo on March 5 and runs through the final at Dodger Stadium on March 23. In an attempt to get you quickly up to speed with what's going on, BLS will be running occasional team previews as the event nears.
Republic of South Africa
Pool: B, Mexico City
'06 WBC finish: Lost 17-0 against United States; went 0-3 in pool play
First game: Sunday, March 8
Five questions to ask about South Africa
• Since when does South Africa play baseball on the international level? Notice the guy fruitlessly scaling the fence in the photo above? It's Ian Butcher, playing left field for South African at the WBC in '06. Visual proof that the RSA has played baseball at least that long. After Apartheid broke up in the '90s, South Africa's white players became visible to scouts in the West, and South Africa's black athletes were given a first chance to play baseball. But in that time, a deep baseball culture has yet to develop in a country where soccer, rugby and cricket (cursed cricket!) are more popular. Maybe someday it will, and maybe participation in the WBC will help. In the meantime, some tough losses might accrue.
• You mean, like, 17-0? It's true, the Americans demolished the South Africans in '06. No getting around it. Roger Clemens got the victory and Ken Griffey hit a pair of homers. But did you also know that South Africa led Canada 8-7 in the ninth inning of another game? Sure, Canada rallied to win, but through eight innings South Africa had the Terrance and Phillip crowd on the run.
• So, how many major leaguers has the RSA produced? Not a one, nary a soul, nobody ever. The current roster has at least six minor-leaguers, though none above Class AA. Barry Armitage, a WBC vet, returns. He pitched for the Royals organization for seven seasons before his release in '06.
• Is Nelson Mandela going to be the manager again? Now you're just being silly. Nelson Mandela was not and is not the manager — though he did win his first major league start at Yankee Stadium in 1990. Actual manager Rick Magnante admits his team is "at the bottom of the totem pole, working our way up."
• What does the pool look like? South Africa gets to face Cuba in its first game, with Australia and Mexico on the horizon. In pool play, four teams enter and two can leave, so even a loss to the Cubans isn't the end of the world. A second loss? Now that's the end of the world.