Traveling the World Watching Baseball - Six Months at a Time

Myworld finished our first six months of travel around the world.  Now that the major league season has started it is time to take a break and refresh our senses.  What have we learned from this sojourn covering about 25,000 miles and more than four days of travel time.  Cabs are bad.  Baseball is good.  Cheerleaders are better.  English is not well spoken here.

Panama City, Panama - The World Cup Netherlands Upset

Myworld did not know what to expect when we arrived in Panama for our first World Cup experience.  Frozen in my mind were visions of the the soccer events with rabid fans cheering wildly for their teams to win.  There was no expectation to see an empty stadium with more players and scouts than fans, which was the reality for most of the games.  The only place one could buy tickets in advance was on line through Blockbuster.  Since all the instructions for purchasing tickets were in Spanish that was an obstacle.  Spanish is not spoken here so the purchase of tickets remained a mystery.

The first day was a twenty dollar cab ride to the stadium.  It would not be our last experience with robber cabs.  Later, one of the scouts informed me that buses transported fans to the stadium for free.  Myworld could walk to one of the designated stops, then take the bus to the stadium.  Late at night an honest cab drive was $5 to return to the hotel from where the buses stopped.  There were to be no midnight walks through the streets of Panama.

Arriving at the stadium early was the first thought.  When the cab driver dropped me in front of the stadium the vendors were already by the side of the street selling hats and other merchandise.  Food venders were cooking all sorts of meat on a stick.  The mood was electric.  It felt like an improtant event was about to be held.  Unfortunately, tickets were not sold at the stadium and the game was a sell out.  The only venue that sold tickets was at Blockbuster, the place that went bankrupt in the United States was still in full force renting videos in Panama.

Since the opening day for the game between Panama and Greece was a sell out there were not a lot of alternatives.  No tickee no watchee.  A cab took me to Blockbuster where the line was four hours long.  Not that it was a tremendously long line, but the processing was slow.  Dialup internet seemed to be connection.  Shocked that the opener was a sellout and fearing this would be a pattern for all the games I bought a ticket to all the round robin games.  The good news is that the tickets were cheap.  Only four dollars got you a seat behind home plate.  Two dollars for general admission ticket got you the equivalent of a $40 seat at Yankee stadium.  There were no sell outs to the games I wanted.  There were also few fans that showed up as well.

The first game the next day was an afternoon game.  An early arrival again to drink in the mood.  The front of the stadium was quiet.  There was also no entrance allowed in the stadium and noone could tell me when entrance would be allowed.  Of course, my English and their Spanish was not a great way to communicate.  Before they could let anyone in the stadium the national police had to search the stadium for security purposes.  They were not early birds who would catch a lot of worms.  Or baseballs either.  The stadium finally opened as the national anthems played for each of the teams playing the game.  The only heartbeat inside the stadium, other than the players, were some scouts, the ushers and a handful of fans.  And I mean a handful.  They had more ushers showing people to seats that people looking for seats.  That first game Canada beat Purto Rico 9-1.

The night game between Japan and the United States appeared to have a good crowd but the rains prevented the game from being played.  After an hour of torrential downpour the field looked like a swimming pool.  Fortunately the field drains well and it was good to go for the afternoon game the next day.

The games were played at three different stadiums.  Myworld chose to stay in Panama City to watch the Round Robin play at Rod Carew stadium.  It will be one of four stadiums that will be the host to the first qualifying games of the World Baseball Classic.  It’s a nice stadium that can hold about 25,000.  The one thing that stands out about the stadium is the large patch of black asphalt along the first base side that ran from the top of the seats all the way to the bottom.  It is almost like someone placed some tar at the top of the stadium, it spilled and the tar dried into a cake of asphalt.  The other two stadiums were played way out in the country.  Myworld had no idea where to stay or how to get there if watching the other games was even an option.  The down side is that Cuba played all their round robin games out in the country.  Watching Cuba play was one of the motivations for going to the games.

The only time a large crowd appeared to watch a game was when Panama played.  They were always scheduled for the night games.  Fortunately, Panama started the round robin winning their first four games.  Each time they won a game the tradition was for fans to buy a full glass of beer and fling it in the air in celebration.  Since a cup of beer only cost $1 it was not too much of a waste.  Water and soft drinks also cost $1.  Un cervaza por favor.

The rains came a lot in Panama.  The only time Cuba showed up to play at Rod Carew stadium the rains came and shortened the game.  It rained so much that the games were moved to the countryside at the smaller stadiums to keep the Rod Carew field good for the finals.  That meant that a couple tickets I bought for the second round of games for Rod Carew stadium were being played elsewhere.  The challenge was how to get to elsewhere.  That venture was never accomplished.

For the finals the rains came again.  They decided not to play the bronze medal game between the United States and Canada.  The hope was to keep the field playable for the gold medal game between the Netherlands and Cuba.  Canada and the United States were declared as co-winners for the bronze, but only the Canadian team got the actual medals.  The next day a couple Canadians were spotted wearing their medals around their neck as they were waiting to go to Mexico for the Pan Am games in Mexico City.  The Canadians later added a gold to that collection.

Myworld showed up for the gold medal game.  When we left the hotel the sun was out.  When we got to the stadium the rains came.  We waited before buying our tickets to see if the rain would stop.  Though the tickets were cheap there were already a number of unused tickets sitting on the dresser table.  After an hour of downpour we returned to the bus stop and let fate take its course.  If a bus taking me back to the hotel arrived before the rains stopped we would take the bus back to the hotel.  If the rains stopped we would buy a ticket to the game.  The bus came and the rain did not stop.

The game between Cuba and Netherlands was eventually played.  It only took about a four hour rain delay before the game was played.  It is ashame because it appeared that a number of people had arrived at the stadium to watch the game.  It appeared from the television broadcast that many of those people did not stay to wait out the rain.  Netherlands upset Cuba using a mixture of national team veterans mixed with young but talented United States minor leaguers of Curacao descent.  The Netherlands were to become the first European team to win a major international event.  It would have been nice to have been there to help the Dutch celebrate in their victory, but the rains prevented that from happening.  Bummer.

Taichung, Taiwan - Asian Series, Samsung Lions with the upset

The trip to the Asian series was a better experience.  The series occurred late November and into early december.  The flight was a bit long, taking 24 hours to complete if you count the layover time in Japan.  There was also the two hour bus ride from Taipei to Taichung, or maybe it was less but seemed two hours.  It was odd that it cost about $20 for the two hour bus ride from Taipei to Taichung, but a twenty minute cab ride from the airport to the down town area cost $40.  We arrived at our hotel in Taichung at 3 AM.  Fortunately, the lobby to the hotel was still open.  Myworld was prepared to sleep in the alley the first night.  The biggest fear is that the bus would arrive at our stop and we would not get off, since they announced all the stops in Mandarin and I had no clue what that sounded like.

China did not participate in the Asia series.  The fact that it was being played in Taiwan could be the reason.  So the organizers substituted the champion from Australia from the previous year, the Perth Heat, as a replacement.  The Heat had already won the first 12 games to their new season in Australia so they were hot, literally.  The Softbank Hawks represented Japan, the Samsung Lions were the Korean champs and Taiwan was represented by the 7-11 Uni President Lions.

The good thing about the series was that everything was in English, even the announcing of the lineup.  Since English, Japanese, Korean and Mandarin were the languages spoken by the four teams present the game was announced in Mandarin, the local language and English, since more people had an understanding of that language than Korean or Japanese.

The bad thing was that the games did not take credit cards for their ticket purchase.  Only cash was accepted.  This limited what expenses were used to buy our tickets, forgoing a couple games and buying some of the cheaper tickets in the upper deck to save our cash.  The upper deck ended up having better sight lines than the lower deck seats, though we lost a bit in the festive atmosphere of the charged up crowd.

The first game in the afternoon was sparsly attended.  The Samsung Lions destroyed the Perth Heat 10-2 scoring six runs in the eighth to run away with the game.  The night game between the local Uni President Lions and the Softbank Hawks was well attended, just short of a sell out.  The Hawks withstood a late 3-run ninth inning rally from the Lions to win the game 6-5.

They announced at the start of the game some of the restrictions for the fans.  One of the restrictions was that there would be no loud, noise producing equipment allowed in the stadium.  For the night game there were cheer sticks, pounding drums, chanting fans and many other instruments of noise.  If there was an unauthorized loud, noise producing article that they had in mind when creating this rule had found itself in the stadium it surely was drowned out by the noise already being produced.

The weekend games were well attended by the Japanese.  It was probably a nice weekend vacation for them. The first night game between the Hawks and Lions could have been a massive sellout if the Lions had played the Hawks during the weekend.  Myworld wore one of our Japanese jerseys to one of the Japanese games and it was fun to watch some of the Japanese fans try to surreptitiously take my picture.  When I glanced their way they almost seemed embarrassed they were caught violating my space.

As was said previously, the Asian games were a more pleasurable experience.  They had the cute cheerleaders that showed up for the night games when the Lions played.  The organizers also bent over backwards to help you buy tickets.  The only down side to the event was the inability to use a credit card to buy a ticket.  They were much more expensive than the tickets at Panama.  There was also the jet lag that was difficult to overcome.  The first nightgame felt like a hypnotic dream with a lot of drum beating accompanied by cheer stick pounding with crowds constantly chanting in unison.  It was a challenge keeping the eyes open.

The big upset was that Japan lost their first Asian series.  All the previous Asian series had been played in Japan prior to this event.  The Japan champion had won them all.  In the championship game the Samsung Lions, who had lost to the Hawks 9-0 in pool play, upset the Hawks 5-3 in the championship.  Since it was played on a weekday, the weekend crowd of Japanese fans had returned to Japan.  The Japanese contingent for the final game was sparse and since Taiwan was not in the finals there was plenty of seating.

Another down side to the series is that a number of the more talented players did not committ to playing in the event.  All the foreign players except those from Taiwan did not participate in the Series.  Two of the Hawks top pitchers, Tsuyoshi Wada, who knew he would be a free agent and did not want to hurt his arm in these games and Dennis Houlton, who had gone back to the United States, were not participating.  It is interesting karma that Wada has been unable to pitch in a major league game after signing his free agent contract because of an arm injury.  Perhaps he was aware of this injury prior to signing his major league contract with the Orioles and did not want to aggravate it by pitching in the series.

The final thought is eating was a challenge in Taiwan.  All the signs identifying the restaurants and the menus were in Mandarin.  Few of the menus had pictures.  None of the waiters or waitresses we encountered spoke English so the meal for dinner was usually a mystery.  If there were a Mexican place out there it would have been announced in Mandarin and I would not have found it.  Most of the places I passed seemed to be noodle places.  Since there was a free buffet breakfast meal at the hotel we gorged ourselves in the morning to keep ourselves fueled for the rest of the day.

Series del Caribe - Champion Escogido Lions Dominican Republic

Another disappointing experience.  Fearing sellouts myworld tried to buy tickets in advance for the games, but the process was not too helpful.  The next day I arrived early to make sure tickets were available.  The lines were long and the processing was slow.  Unfortunately, most of the people waiting in lines were not there to buy tickets but to sell their place in line for those people who arrived late to buy tickets.  When you bought a ticket you were also forced to buy tickets for both games that day.  So an advertised ticket price of $20 for a game actually cost $40 since you had to buy a ticket for both games, even though the only game that day you were interested in was the night game.  They did accept credit cards, but the machine for processing the cards rarely seemed to work.  People were allowed to go into the stadium to use the money machne when that happened, but sometimes they never came back out.

When myworld thought we had bought a ticket for the first day we were sold a ticket for the fourth day.  They wouldn’t let us in with the fourth day ticket.  So we had to wait in line again for an hour and a half to buy a ticket for the first day.  They were willing to exchange the fourth day ticket for day one but since we planned on attending the games for day four we kept the ticket.  By the time we bought a ticket for day one to get in the stadium the game was already in the fifth inning.  After the first two days of the series the lines were almost nonexistent.

The big objection for this series is the fact that they charge major league prices for a collection of teams composed primarily of AA and AAA players.  At least the Asia series is composed of professional players in their league.  They may be equivalent to AAA.  The best player in the Series was probably Andy Dirks.

The day games were sparsly attended so it was easy to move from the general admission seating to the more shaded area of the reserved seating that was usually empty.  The night games when the Dominican Republic played was more heavily attended.  The attendance may have been greater if the more popular team in the city, the Licey Tigers had made the playoffs rather than the Escogido Lions.  When you left the day game there were a number of kids outside asking you to give them your ticket so they could attend the night game, or sell the ticket to some other fan who wanted to see the night game.  Capitalism at its finest.

The first game was won by Puerto Rico 3-1.  The games were usually low scoring.  The first homerun of the series was not hit until the next to last day.  That homerun was hit by Venezuela, who hit the only three homeruns of the tournament.  The other downside is that the Domincan Republic clinched the series early.  By the fifth day in the seven day tournament they had already clinched first place in the pool pay, which made them champions.  The games played on the final three days were virtually meaningless.  A playoff format for the last day could have made the last games more meaningfull as teams fought for second place.

The cheerleaders for Escogido performed over the first base side of the dugout.  That was entertaining to watch.  The fans who came from Mexico were also very entertaining to watch.  They came with their own band.  They liked to gather on the Mexican side of the dugout to create a party atmosphere.  Next year the Series del Caribe will be played in Mexico and there are already negotiations to include Cuba and Korea in the games.  That would certainly make the games more competetive, especially for the Dominican Republic, who easily had the best players for the series.

The hotel I stayed at was within walking distance to the stadium.  The night walk appeared a bit dangerous so we took a cab back to the hotel.  The first cab charged a $5 fare which seemed reasonable.  We used that as a base for all future fares.  The cab drivers would usually try to charge us more, or take us in the opposite direction of the hotel to make the trip seem longer, but they were only paid $5 even if they asked for more.  One cab driver tried to charge us $40 even though he went in the wrong direction to the hotel twice to try to lengthen the ride.  When we gave him $5 he did not object.

Spring Training - Orlando, Florida

For the first time in March myworld went to spring training for the whole month.  It was a little disappointing that the weather up north was sometimes warmer than the weather in Florida.  One of the purposes of the trip was to avoid the cold.  That did not happen.

The base of operations for this trip was in Kissimmee where we purchase season tickets for the Astros, a total of about 13 games.  On days that the Astros were on the road we traveled to other nearby stadiums.  The two days in which we didn’t have a spring training game scheduled was spent watching Central Florida play baseball.  There was no visit to Disneyworld.

The best thing to do on these extended trips is to rent a condo from one of the many realty agencies they have in Florida, rather than stay in a hotel.  That way you have a fridge, oven, washer/dryer and other amenities that do not typically exist at hotels.

The spring can be basically broken into two phases.  The first phase appears to be the manager trying to identify those players for the active roster.  Based on their early performance the player is tagged to stay with the major leaguers for the rest of the spring to continue his battle for a major league roster spot or he is sent to minor league camp or released.

The second phase of the spring is to whittle the roster to the final 25 players.  It is during these games that you see the appearance of what to many are obscure players that the casual fan is unfamiliar with.  These players usually enter the game around the seventh inning.  At this point you usually see a mass exodus of fans from the stadium.  These obscure players usually have no chance to make the roster but managers use this opportunity to see them compete in the major league game, even though by the time they enter the game most of the major league players have left.  This is one reason why managers like to bring in their closers before the seventh inning, so they have a truer test of their stuff by facing major leaguers.  If you like to watch developing prospects play the second phase or third week of spring is probably the best time to go for spring training.  If you want to see some of the spring invitees compete, you might want to come early to see them play.  By the third week they could be released or sent to minor league camp.

it is critical for fans to buy tickets to spring training games in advance, especially for the weekend games, or when the Yankees, Phillies or Red Sox are in town.  Even the Rays seemed to be a popular gate attraction this year.  Myworld loves the late inning action for this second phase of the spring because it allows us to see many of the players one can only read about in Baseball America.  Once you see them play in person you can form your own opinion on them.

Myworld usually drives to Florida.  If we flew paying for a rental car would be attached to the price of an airline ticket.  It is nice having your own car to drive you to places, rather than rely on the cabs to charge you an arm and a leg to take you some place.  It is also nice to see the restaurants with english menus so I am confident in what I am eating.  So from that aspect spring training was enjoyable.

Myworld has no international travel on the future schedule.  Perhaps in June/July we will travel to Netherlands to watch the Honkball tournament if airline costs are reasonable.  If airline ticket prices are not reasonable for Europe we could substitute Japan or Korea.  A trip to Jupiter, Florida in November for the WBC qualifying is also a thought.  Traveling the world six months at a time to watch baseball.

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