International baseball players expect the unusual
BEIJING (AP) Jake Arrieta once pitched through a thunderstorm in Cuba as the mound turned to mud and lightning lit up the sky. His U.S. baseball teammate, Stephen Strasburg, danced the conga with his countrymen to entertain the crowd during a rain delay last month in Amsterdam.
"We gained some fan support just like that," recalled Strasburg, the lone college player on the U.S. team. "They play this Dutch music so we just started dancing with them during the rain delay. It was a big scene."
When it comes to international baseball, such crazy moments are the norm. Players are pretty much prepared for anything, and who knows what might take place when the final - at least for now - Olympic baseball tournament kicks off Wednesday at Wukesong Stadium.
"This is going to be interesting just because the culture is so different," said Dick Cooke, one of the U.S. coaches who has nearly a decade of experience with the national team.
Take the 2003 Pan Am Games in the Dominican Republic, where cows grazed the outfields on the practice diamonds. Or the following Pan Ams last summer in Rio de Janiero: The grounds crew set the baselines on fire to dry them off following a hard rain. Then there's Canadian second baseman Stubby Clapp, with one of his country's longest international baseball resumes. Leading up to the Athens Games four years ago, he had to toss luggage in the back door of a bus in Nettuno, Italy, because the vehicle had no cargo area for players' belongings.
"That was a horror story," Clapp said. "The bus was probably three to four times the size of a regular transit bus. Just packed it all in the back, just stacked it, everybody scooted up to the front, 'Get up tight, get closer together!'"
Beijing hosted China's first two major league games this past spring, two exhibition contests between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres, so the country has prepared to host baseball on the biggest stage.
During that series at Wukesong, Major League Baseball officials Pat Courtney and John Blundell did their part to contribute.
"We scrubbed and mopped and swept for six hours in the press room," said Blundell, Team USA's press officer for these games.
Before one game, dozens of elderly Chinese could be seen practicing tai chi near the ballpark entrance.
The crowds for this eight-team Olympic field certainly will be entertaining, too. At the first World Baseball Classic two years ago, fans bounced beach balls through the stands at San Diego's Petco Park, not to mention their use of numerous noisemakers. A regular tradition at the Caribbean Series each year is scantily clad women dancing atop the dugouts between innings.
"It feels like a carnival or a festival going at all times - bands playing, mariachis going. It's more than just baseball," Arizona Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin said. "It's an effervescent feel that was enlightening for me."
In Venezuela, it's a bit wilder. Fans throw beer in the air each time their home team scores and many leave soaked.
D-backs third baseman Mark Reynolds was on the '06 U.S. team that played in Cuba, where the Americans initially stayed at a hotel that had finished only the first 15 floors.
"The rest of it was like old ruins, blown out old stuff with no windows or anything. They raised some Cain and got us moved to a better hotel in downtown Havana," Reynolds said. "The elevator took 30 minutes to go up two floors. It makes you appreciate America that much more. The fans were great. It was packed every game. They appreciate baseball. It was really nice to see that kind of stuff. If you made a nice defensive play, they'd stand and give you an ovation."
Arrieta was on the mound during a downpour against the Netherlands back in 2006.
"We experienced some extremely bad rain and thunderstorms, like right in the middle of our games, which is pretty unusual," Arrieta said. "The funny thing was we played right through it. They didn't call the game so we just had to play through it. It's extremely tough to throw with a wet ball. To have to do that for a couple of innings was very challenging. It was a good experience. You get to experience how other countries' rules are and how they play the game. I wasn't going to complain."
And how about those cows in the outfield?
"It wouldn't surprise me," Melvin said.
AP Sports Writers Ricardo Zuniga in Beijing and Joedy McCreary in Durham, N.C., contributed to this story.