LoanDepot Park in Miami, Florida hosted play in Pool D of the 2023 World Baseball Classic, featuring Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Israel. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
By Leif Skodnick
World Baseball Network
Miami- The atmosphere began building before the game between Israel and Venezuela had finished; as the early game ended, there were already fans in Dominican Republic camisetas and Puerto Rico gorras in the parking lot across the street from LoanDepot Park drinking cervezas and snacking on pincho de pollo and arepas and Garcia sausages while salsa – or perhaps merengue? – blared from car speakers, stereos, and the stadium plaza.
Clouds in the Florida sky sprinkled a light rain that merely dampened the revelers, but not the spirit, hours before el partido between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico at the 2023 World Baseball Classic, and in this clash of Caribbean baseball titans, the stakes could not be hire.
National pride. Bragging rights. And a chance to move on to the quarterfinals of the World Baseball Classic.
Puerto Rico manager Yadier Molina had a succinct answer following the 10-0 combined perfect game against Israel when asked about Wednesday’s showdown.
“This is going to be the most important game in the tournament. We are going to be ready for that,” he said.
“I think everyone is available for tomorrow,” said Dominican Republic manager Rodney Linares after the D.R. drubbed Israel on Tuesday. “Of course, the young pitchers that pitched today, they are not available, but everyone is available, including Neris that pitched today. Abreu was warm, but we told them, if you pitch today, you will pitch tomorrow as well.”
It’s going to be all hands on deck when starter Johnny Cueto and the Dominican Republic hit the field, and it’ll be the same way for Fernando Cruz and Puerto Rico.
Pool play here in Miami has been a whirlwind, five days of split doubleheaders that moved to a Latin beat. Venezuela, 4-0, won the pool round and will face the runner-up from Pool C in Phoenix, which will be determined tonight following the game between Team USA and Colombia.
“I’m very happy for qualifying to the quarterfinals. We achieved the first goal, that is to qualify for the next round and then continue playing, playing good baseball, to be focused,” said Venezuela manager Omar Lopez before Venezuela’s game against Israel Wednesday. “We delivered this team to God so that He guides us in this Classic, and that’s why we are so happy. People ask me, are you feeling okay? Are you guys okay? You are flowing. You are so natural.”
Venezuelan fans stuck around after their 5-1 victory over Israel to enjoy this continued celebration of baseball.
The pasión for the game and its place in Latin American culture is on display here as much as the talent of the players on the field.
Looking across from West Parking Lot No. 1, the Bowl Bar on NW Seventh Street has a mural painted on the wall facing the thoroughfare,“Freedom For Cuba! 62 Years of Dictatorship!” is painted in red letters around a boot with the heel stomping on the eastern part of the island.
After beating Australia in a quarterfinal at the Tokyo Dome, Team Cuba will be arriving here in Miami, a city full of Cuban exiles, for the semifinals around 2 a.m. from Tokyo.
In a few hours, pool play will end here in Miami.
But the celebration of la vida beisbol will continue.