I thought I'd take a break from our position analysis series (which we will continue tomorrow with third base) to touch on a few things. I attended the Kirby Puckett memorial at the Metrodome last night, and it was a pretty nice service. The organization was nice enough to offer free admission and free beverages, and parking was also free.
I thought it was a nice tribute, with a lineup of prominent speakers who mostly did a good job. Harmon Killebrew, Cal Ripken, Kent Hrbek, and Dave Winfield all gave really nice speeches. Former Twins manager Tom Kelly was the last speaker, which I found to be a poor decision. His speech wasn't really a tribute to Kirby, instead he made all the guests line up and noted that there were a lot of talented players there and encouraged people to photograph them; this seemed a little distasteful considering that this event was a tribute to Puck and not to the guests who had come to pay respect. At the end of his speech time, Kelly awkwardly said, "I'm done," and walked away from the podium. I hope that Kelly's struggles to speak were due to sadness at the loss of Puckett, but he just didn't seem to be tuned in. Not sure if it seemed as bad on TV as it did in person, but I was unimpressed and I thought one of the other guys who did a much better job would have been a better choice as a final speaker. That's not really intended as a criticism of Kelly, as obviously it is a difficult position, but maybe more a criticism of the decision to have him go last. Perhaps he would have fared better without the added pressure. Then again, T.K. has never been much of a public speaker or media guy.
Still, overall the event was well done. Highlights of the service included a clip from Kirby's appearance on The David Letterman Show, Jim "Mudcat" Grant performing Louie Armstrong's classic "What a Wonderful World," and at the end of the show when they turned off all the lights in the Dome and had a spotlight focusing on Kirby's jersey in the center field grass.
Anyone else who attended or watched on TV have any thoughts? Feel free to leave a comment, I'd be interested to hear.
Now a few notes on the World Baseball Classic, which had a crazy day yesterday.
* Johan Santana absolutely cannot catch a break. Last season he got screwed out of several wins by a lack of any run support from the Twins' wimpy offense. Yesterday he pitched five great innings for Venezuela against Cuba, allowing only one run on two hits while striking out 5. Unfortunately, after he left the game, Giovanni Carrara entered the game for Venezuela and got hammered for 5 earned runs while recording only two outs. Since Cuba was up 1-0 when Santana exited the game, Johan got charged with the loss after Cuba ended up winning 7-2. Santana threw 67 pitches.
* The United States beat Japan yesterday in what is sure to be a controversial game. With the score tied 3-3, Joe Nathan came in to pitch the 8th and struggled, loading the bases with only one out. He got Japan's Akinori Iwamura to pop out to medium-deep left field, but Randy Winn's throw wasn't even close to being in time to catch Tsuyoshi Nishioka at the plate after the tag-up from third. USA appealed and said Nishioka left third base early, but the third-base umpire upheld the call. Then, in an unusual twist, the home-plate umpire deliberated and overruled the call, saying Nishioka left early and was out. That erased the go-ahead run and ended the inning, allowing the United States to eventually win the game on an RBI single by Alex Rodriguez in the bottom of the ninth.
When they showed Winn making the catch and the runner waiting to tag up simultaneously in the replay, it was clear that the call was botched. Nishioka did not leave early. Japan cannot be happy about this.
* With all the talk about the star-studded lineups of the United States and the Dominican Republic coming into the tournament, one team that kind of slipped under the radar was Puerto Rico. Thus far they have definitely looked like the best team. They are 4-0 after crushing the Dominicans 7-1 yesterday. Javier Vazquez and the Puerto Rico pitching staff held the high-powered D.R. lineup to only 6 hits, and their only run came on an Adrian Beltre solo home run in the fourth inning.
Today was the first real opportunity I had to watch WBC action outside of the opening games in the Asian pool, but I really enjoyed it. The USA/Japan game was really great baseball. I am excited to continue to watch the games in this tournament.