Wednesday night after Puerto Rico’s thrilling 5-2 win over the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rican relief pitcher and New York Mets star Edwin Díaz injured his knee during the postgame field celebration. What should have been a joyous occasion for Puerto Rico, whose win advanced it to a quarterfinal Friday against Mexico, turned into sadness and shock for everyone who, like me, proudly supports the team. Not long before the freakish injury, Diaz had signed a $102 million deal to stay with the Mets, the largest ever for a closer; the team announced Thursday that he had torn his right patellar tendon and will miss the entire season.
Because Diaz wasn’t playing for the Mets or another professional American baseball team, arrogant American fans have decided he hurt himself in a “meaningless” game.
Because Diaz wasn’t playing for the Mets or another professional American baseball team when he hurt himself but instead was playing for the place where he was born, arrogant American baseball fans have decided he hurt himself in a “meaningless” game being played in an equally meaningless tournament.
How colonial of them.
There may have been no uglier response to Diaz’s injury than the one from Keith Olbermann, a longtime former MSNBC host, who tweeted: “The WBC is a meaningless exhibition series designed to: get YOU to buy another uniform, to hell with the real season, and split up teammates based on where their grandmothers got laid.”
He pretended to apologize. “Ok, it reads sexist and for that I apologize,” he tweeted Thursday afternoon. “Make it ‘where their ancestors got laid.’ That blunt description of the artificiality of the team assignments is also trivial and for that I apologize.”
There’s no need to explain why those remarks are awful, but some may believe Olbermann’s tweet was offensive only because of the vulgarity and agree with him that the World Baseball Classic is meaningless. Such a view betrays no understanding of what baseball and the WBC mean to Puerto Ricans. And not just to Puerto Ricans, but also to Dominicans, Cubans, Mexicans, Venezuelans, Japanese, Taiwanese and Koreans.
In addition to the Caribbean joy we have witnessed from WBC fans in Miami, the crowds in Tokyo and Taichung were also electric. Playing for one’s country matters. Rooting for one’s country does, too. Some major-league baseball teams prohibit their players from participating in the WBC, but there is an immense sense of respect and admiration for those who do play, particularly those from the Caribbean and Asia who choose to play for their countries because they understand that they would never have reached these heights without the love of the people where they came from.
Yader Molina, the manager for the Puerto Rican team, seemed to dismiss the idea that Diaz, who didn’t appear to have hurt himself during the game itself, could have done something to have avoided being injured. He told The New York Times: “If anything is going to happen, it will happen. Celebrations exist ever since I was born. It’s God’s will. I just hope that Edwin is going to be OK, that his family is OK, and we are praying for him.”
Love of baseball in places such as Puerto Rico gave birth to the international stars who’ve helped resuscitate major-league baseball.
Marly Rivera of ESPN reported Thursday that Francisco Lindor, the captain of the Puerto Rican team and Diaz's Mets teammate, said this about the criticisms of Diaz playing, "I understand how Mets fans are hurting. But while for so many people the regular season is what counts, playing in the WBC means just as much to all of us.
"It is the dream of every Puerto Rican ballplayer to wear Puerto Rico’s colors and to represent our country. And not only Puerto Ricans, but every player in the WBC considers being here the ultimate honor.”
Love of baseball in places such as Puerto Rico gave birth to the international stars who’ve helped resuscitate major-league baseball. At the start of the 2022 season, more than 28% of major-league rosters were made up of players who were born outside the U.S., including the Caribbean, Latin America and Asia. In addition, the world’s best player is Japan’s Shohei Ohtani, who has dazzled WBC fans with brilliant power and a 102-mph fastball. If it weren’t for players born elsewhere, American baseball would have died years ago.
My love of baseball started in Puerto Rico. My father claims the great Roberto Clemente once played pool with him, and my late abuelo was the biggest béísbol fan ever.
Contrary to what Olbermann says, I wasn’t duped. I proudly purchased 2023 WBC Puerto Rico baseball caps for me and my dad before the tournament. Maybe instead of describing those of us who support WBC teams as suckers, he should think of us as the folks who seem to care more about America’s pastime than people who were born stateside do.
My love of baseball started in Puerto Rico. My father claims the great Roberto Clemente once played pool with him, and my late abuelo was the biggest béísbol fan ever. When the WBC started in 2006, rooting for my team strengthened my connection to the island. Given that Puerto Rico has had two second-place finishes and this year has a chance to win it all, it has never been just an exhibition team to me or to most Puerto Ricans. The team embodies our sense of national identity. Even as Puerto Rico continues to struggle to get free of its colonial relationship with the U.S., a team made up of some of the game’s biggest stars makes us deeply proud to be where we’re from.
Like that scrappy team of Puerto Rican basketball players did in 2004 when it defeated the USA’s Dream Team in the Olympics. Or like Monica Puig did in 2016 when she won Puerto Rico’s first Olympic gold medal.
As the colonized in this colonial relationship, Puerto Ricans are used to insults from arrogant Americans, but if everything goes the way we want it to go, Team Puerto Rico and Team USA will meet in the WBC finals Tuesday. My money was already on Puerto Rico, because winning the tournament means something to those players. It should mean even more to them now because they won’t just be playing for Puerto Rico. They’ll also be playing for Diaz.
CORRECTION (March 17, 2023, 12:21 p.m. E.T.) A previous version of this article misstated when Puerto Rico and the U.S. teams could meet in the World Baseball Classic. It’s only possible for the two teams to meet in the March 21 finals, not the semifinals this weekend.
CORRECTION (March 17, 2023, 1:09 p.m. E.T.) The article also misstated the name of the tournament. It is the World Baseball Classic, not the World Baseball Championship.