Tens of thousands of baseball fans from around the world filled AT&T Park in San Francisco Sunday for the first semi-final round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
As fans streamed into Willie Mays Plaza and throughout the concourses of the ballpark, dialects and languages representing countries spanning the globe could be heard, as people excitedly chattered and cheered, fueling an internationally festive atmosphere.
Fans wore not only donning the colors and apparel of Japan or Puerto Rico, or the Netherlands or Dominican Republic, who are facing off in Monday’s semi-final, but many of the teams that have now been eliminated, such as the United States and Mexico.
“It’s great to see all of these baseball fans from around the world gathered here in San Francisco,” said Bob Hamilton of San Jose, who was wearing a 2012 San Francisco Giants World Champions T-shirt.
“And it’s a great chance to show off the Bay Area and our home ballpark to people who might not otherwise ever see it.”
As players from Japan and Puerto Rico took to the field for pre-game ceremonies, they lined up on the first- and third-base lines for the national anthems of both teams, along with the “Star Spangled Banner,” for the hosting United States.
San Francisco Giants legend Orlando Cepeda, wearing the uniform of his native Puerto Rico, welcomed two luminaries of Japanese baseball, Sadaharu Oh and Tatsunori Hara, for the ceremonial first pitch.
Oh played for his country’s Yomiuri Giants from 1959-1980, and managed the team from Japan to victory in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, while Hara managed Team Japan in 2009 and is the current manager of the Yomiuri Giants.
Afterwards, Hara said, “To be on the international baseball stage of the World Baseball Classic and then throw the ceremonial first pitch with Mr. Oh has been the single best pitch for me ever.”
“I was really happy standing on the mound on the field, it’s the best feeling to stand on it like this. I’m cheering for Samurai Japan and hope they win,” added Oh.
Up next, Tom O’Doul, nephew of iconic Giants player–and longtime unofficial baseball ambassador to Japan–Lefty O’Doul, was introduced to say the customary “Play ball!”
San Francisco Giants outfielder Angel Pagan hit the field for his native Puerto Rico, and led off to start the game, drawing a loud roar of applause from his adopted hometown crowd.
While Giants announcer Renel Brooks-Moon shepherded the opening ceremonies and items between innings, a Spanish and Japanese announcer made the player introductions during the game.
In addition to the foreign languages, the style of cheering had a decidedly different flavor as well, with fans leading different chants, banging on drums, and rogue horn sections popping up throughout the stadium.
Japanese supporters waved traditional fans emblazoned with their country’s flag, while backers of Puerto Rico unfurled banners from their seats.
Between innings, entertainment representing the two countries was featured on the scoreboard screen, including an Emeryville Taiko group, Latin-infused Orquesta Borniquen and, in honor of it being St. Patrick’s Day, a trio of Irish dancers.
Giants mascot Lou Seal also alternated costumes in honor of the different cultures, ranging from a green shirt for the holiday, a sumo outfit for Japan, and an orange luchador-style wrestling mask for Puerto Rico.
During the game, in which Puerto Rico eventually defeated Japan 3-1, sending them to the championship game on Tuesday evening, Susan Rawlings of San Francisco was soaking in the international flavor.
“It has the same feeling and energy that the postseason had here with the Giants last year. It’s infectious,” said Rawlings, who was wearing a team USA hat.
“I’m disappointed that the United States didn’t make it this far in the tournament, but I’m still excited to be here. It’s still world-class baseball, and it’s really interesting to see the different fans and cultures that are here.”
The 2013 World Baseball Classic continues at 5 p.m. Tuesday at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Dynamic pricing applies to tickets.
Sean McCourt, Bay City News