PHOENIX, Arizona -- There were Cubs and former Cubs everywhere to be seen in the World Baseball Classic matchup between Canada and Italy at Chase Field Friday afternoon -- Anthony Rizzo and former Cub Dan Serafini as players for Italy, and former Cubs manager Tom Trebelhorn as a coach (no firehouses in sight, though). For Canada, former Cubs minor leaguer Chris Robinson was the starting catcher.
A loud and boisterous crowd of Canadian fans waved flags and chanted "Let's Go Canada!" as often as they could behind the first-base dugout, but it was for naught -- not only did Canada lose to Italy, but by slaughter rule; when Mario Chiarini singled with runners on second and third in the bottom of the eighth, Italy took a 10-run lead and won the game 14-4.
A smaller, but just as boisterous group of Italian fans seated behind the third-base dugout erupted in joy; they had been chanting "Italia! Italia!" throughout, and their countrymen (and "passport players") came through. In fact, the only player for Italy who didn't get a hit was Rizzo, who walked twice and scored twice. Rizzo also boomed a long fly ball to center field in the seventh inning that would have been a home run at Wrigley Field; at the much-bigger home of the Diamondbacks, it was a 400-foot out.
That didn't stop the rest of the Italian team from bashing six Canadian pitchers; only Dustin Molleken (a minor-league veteran of the Pirates and Rockies systems who pitched in Japan in 2012) emerged unscathed. The biggest hitters were Chris Colabello (longtime indy-ball player who was in the Twins' system at Double-A in 2012), who smashed a three-run homer, went 4-for-5 and drove in four runs, and Mike Costanzo (Reds system, at Triple-A Louisville in 2012), who hit a pair of doubles and drove in two.
Four big-league players were in the Italian lineup: Rizzo, Nick Punto, Chris Denorfia and Alex Liddi, and they played like a major-league team. Meanwhile, the two big hitters in Canada's lineup, Joey Votto and Justin Morneau, went 1-for-4 with a pair of walks. Votto struck out twice and didn't look anything like the MVP candidate he is. Michael Saunders, who had a pretty good year for the Mariners in 2012, put Canada back to within 6-4 in the seventh inning with a two-run single, but that's as close as the game was; Italy's three-run seventh put the upstart Italian team ahead to stay. Just before the slaughter rule was invoked, Costanzo hit a ball that was at first ruled a grand slam, which would have ended the game with a score of 15-4. The umpires reviewed the play and called it a ground-rule double, which scored two runs to make it 13-4 and brought one more hitter, Chiarini, to the plate. His hit into center field went far enough to be a double, but since just one base was needed to get to the 10-run lead, it was ruled a single (much as you'd have in a walkoff situation). So the Italian team raced out of the dugout to celebrate their win twice, once after each of those hits.
Attendance was 5,140, which is a very good showing for a game not involving the USA or Mexico in this pool, and also considering that the venue was changed less than 24 hours before game time. There was a steady stream at the box office, because it was announced that anyone holding a Cactus League ticket for today could come into this game and sit anywhere for $5. That deal applies to Friday night's USA/Mexico game, too, and there were lines at the box office again when I left Chase Field about 3:45. All the afternoon Cactus League games were cancelled due to heavy rain and thunderstorms and temperatures that dived into the upper 40s -- I was surprised they even started those games. As of this writing the Cubs/Reds game is still on for this evening, so I'll post a game thread for it soon.
Employees at Chase Field were friendly and accommodating on short notice; several of them told me they had been scheduled to work the night game, but were called to work the afternoon game as well, likely posting a 12+ hour day. You could sit anywhere, depending on what kind of ticket you had bought for Chase Field; mine, a "view reserve" seat, entitled me to sit anywhere behind the first 10 rows. So I chose a seat in the third row back from there, behind the Italian (third-base) dugout, roughly equivalent to where I would have been sitting at Talking Stick.
One nice thing was the lack of advertising bombarding us between innings; they did do a couple of the usual scoreboard races and the kiss cam, but very few ads. The only ads visible apart from the permanent ads at Chase Field were from the WBC sponsors -- and, apart from Delta Airlines, I couldn't tell you who any of them are. While the large bulk of fans were rooting for Canada, a small but enthusiastic group cheered for Italy, and some, like me, had no real favorite but just wanted to see good baseball (I cheered for Italy, largely because of Rizzo's presence).
The WBC is definitely fun, and definitely something I hope gets more attention from American baseball fans in the future. It'd help if the USA team would win a few games, or maybe even take the whole thing. They'll start Friday night at 8 p.m. CT against Mexico. And then they'll have to get past the Italian juggernaut -- Italy is now in prime position to move on to the next round, and of course that means Anthony Rizzo away from Cubs camp for possibly another week. He looks like he's having the time of his life.