Having attended the final rounds of the second-ever World Baseball Classic held at Dodger Stadium in 2009, I can tell you first-hand that the overall feeling at Blue Heaven on Earth was pretty much … meh. Oh sure, in the semifinal round between Team USA and Team Japan there was a lot of energy in the ballpark, but after longtime Houston Astros right-hander Roy Oswalt allowed five runs (four earned) in the bottom of the fourth inning, he was chased from the game with a final line of six runs (five earned) on six hits with a walk and one strikeout in his 3.2 innings pitched. After that, the thrill, as they say, was pretty much gone from the Team USA-biased crowd of 43,630 in the eventual 9-5 loss to Team Japan, who would go on to win their second consecutive WBC title.
During the 2013 WBC tournament, Team USA never made it past their Pool-2 elimination round. As such, the overall interest of the 2013 tournament never really got off the ground in the US. In fact, the attendance at the actual championship game between Team Dominican Republic and Team Puerto Rico at AT&T Park in San Francisco on March 19, 2013 was 35,703, a full 15 percent less than the 41,915 seating capacity.
Lo and behold, here we are on the eve of the 2017 WBC semifinal rounds, which will be held at our very own Dodger Stadium on Monday and Tuesday evenings, March 20 and 21. And because of an absolutely brilliant – if not impossible – catch by Team USA (and Baltimore Orioles) center fielder Adam Jones in the bottom of the seventh inning of Saturday night’s elimination round to rob his Orioles teammate Manny Machado of a sure home run, Team USA very well might have been eliminated from yet another WBC tournament. But instead, Jones made a spectacular home-run-saving catch that could arguably be among the greatest catches in the 11-year history of the WBC and perhaps even in the 148-year history of Major League Baseball.
“I’m still in kind of shock that I even got to that ball,” Jones told reporters after the game. “I mean, off the bat I’m just like, ‘This ball’s hit really far, so just keep going. Keep going.'”
What makes Jones’ catch all the more special is that the 31-year-old Orioles center fielder was born, raised and attended high school in San Diego. In fact, he was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the first round of the 2003 MLB First-Year Player Draft out of Morse High School – a mere eight miles from the Padres home ballpark.
“You know this California air’s going to slow it down,” Jones said. “And just never quit … I don’t mind running into a wall or two.”
Team USA (2-1) will most certainly have their hands full when they face Team Japan (3-0) in the semifinal round at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday evening. Should they prevail, they would then square off against the winner of Monday night’s semifinal game between Team Puerto Rico (3-0) and Team Netherlands (2-1). And while it is safe to say that Team USA is clearly the underdog heading into Tuesday night’s (and then hopefully Wednesday night’s) game, should they indeed win the 2017 WBC Championship, it will be impossible to argue that Adam Jones’ remarkable catch in the elimination round on Saturday night wasn’t the momentum changer.