FORT MYERS, FLA. – We were in the dusk of the Golden Era for sports writing travel with American newspapers in 1997, when I was able to convince the bosses at the Star Tribune it would be a fine idea to cover the Ryder Cup.
This wasn’t a routine request, as it was being held at Valderrama Golf Club in southern Spain.
Yet, the stars were aligned for a sales pitch:
Our guy Tom Lehman was at his peak and would be playing in his second Ryder Cup. Tiger Woods would be playing in the event for the first time. And it was the first time the Ryder Cup was being held on the Continent, as an honor to Seve Ballesteros, the European captain.
“It’s historic, boss,” I said. “We should be there.”
There was some vacation tossed in beforehand and costs were split, but being at Valderrama to witness Seve’s manic racing around the cork trees to urge Europe to a 14½-13½ upset remains the travel triumph of a long sports writing career.
We had an overnight in London on the return trip and I purchased a half-dozen newspapers to check the coverage. The glory that England’s sports writing stars found in this narrow victory over the Yanks was astounding.
It was while reading those sentences of over-the-top tributes to Seve and his squad that it was emphasized to me how much more important international sport is to Europe and the rest of the world than it is to the United States.
We can get worked up over the Olympics, and Minnesotans did have a good time drinking high-priced beers and taunting European players during last fall’s Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, but we Yanks are inwardly focused to the point we declare the winners of our pro leagues to be “World Champions.”
The current example of our chauvinistic view of sports is baseball’s fourth attempt to get the American sporting public to take an interest in the World Baseball Classic. Then again, you can’t blame the public for not caring when the top echelon of U.S. players seems to have the same attitude.
Curacao, a Caribbean island of 153,000, provided more outstanding infielders to the Kingdom of the Netherlands roster than Team USA could come up with in this country of 324 million.
St. Maarten, Aruba and Curacao are islands with full citizenship with the Netherlands, and Curacao provides an excellent infield: Andrelton Simmons, Jonathan Schoop and Jurickson Profar, along with Xander Boegarts from Aruba and Didi Gregorius, born in Amsterdam.
The Dominican Republic, the defending champion from 2013, still has most of its stars. So do Venezuela and Puerto Rico. Justin Morneau doesn’t have a big-league team but he’s playing again for Canada.
On it goes.
Jason Marquis found enough Israeli heritage to be the ace pitcher of a team that’s already the surprise of the WBC. Super Sam Fuld also was diving across the outfield to make catches, and Israel joined Netherlands in advancing in pool play in Seoul.
That’s the fun of the WBC: two countries without a baseball background advance, and the embarrassed Korean hosts and Taiwan are left behind.
Team USA scheduled two exhibitions in Fort Myers — the Twins on Wednesday, Boston on Thursday — before bussing to Miami for Friday night’s WBC opener vs. Colombia. The Dominican Republic and Canada are the other teams in the pool.
Will we Yanks be embarrassed if the U.S. joins Korea as a host being bounced in the first round? Heck, if you’re not working for MLB Network, you probably won’t notice.
Mike Trout and Bryce Harper chose not to play. Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, Noah Syndergaard and Chris Sale, to name a few, chose not to pitch.
If they don’t care, why should you?
Glen Perkins pitched in 70 games for the Twins in 2012 and became the closer in midseason after the failure of Matt Capps. He was then asked to join Team USA for the 2013 WBC.
“I kind of jumped at it” Perkins said Wednesday. “I enjoyed the uniqueness. It’s not the pitching you see in the regular season, obviously, with the starters only going three or four innings.
“It’s not an issue now, of course, with me still rehabbing, but I don’t think I would want to do it a second time. I guess that’s what I would recommend: Everyone should do it once.
“Trout, Harper and a few other guys, it would be great for Team USA and the event to have them. You have to do what you think is best for your career, but if they play some day, I’ll bet they would enjoy it.”
There are five U.S. players back for the second time: Eric Hosmer, Adam Jones, Jonathan Lucroy, Giancarlo Stanton and Luke Gregerson.
As the ad used to say, “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet.” Those five guys are patriots.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. firstname.lastname@example.org