MIAMI — I've had the good fortune of experiencing some amazing sports crowds.
I was in Madison Square Garden for the famous "Cardiac Kemba" buzzer beater. I was at Dolphins Stadium when Prince stole the show at the Super Bowl XLI halftime show. I was in the press box when the New England Patriots won their sixth and final Super Bowl title and for the Boston Red Sox entire 2021 postseason run.
But I have never, ever, experienced anything like what I saw at Miami's LoanDepot Park on Saturday night.
This weekend's World Baseball Classic opener between the Dominican Republic and Venezuela was a spectacle of international proportions. The sold out crowd was supercharged from the opening pitch, and when Julio Rodriguez and Juan Soto led off the game with back-to-back hits to put the Dominican Republic ahead 1-0, the massive Dominican fan contingent practically blew the retractable roof off the building.
It looked like a scene out of Game 7 of the most dramatic World Series you can remember, and neither side ever let up.
Played without a pitch clock the game itself dragged at times, lasting 3:19 in total, but there was never any semblance of a lull in the eventual 5-1 Venezuelan win. The chants, drums and horns were omnipresent, and it felt like almost every single person in the building was decked out in either Dominican Republic or Venezuela uniforms and had a flag draped around their shoulders. Dance parties were constantly breaking out in the concourse, and the Budweiser viewing deck in left field was just a delightful madhouse.
Think of the rowdiest student section at the best college football game you've ever attended. Now imagine that only it's an entire MLB stadium, for three hours, nonstop.
It was a cacophony of pure sporting joy, and frankly, they put us Americans to shame.
We in Boston like to think of ourselves as being pretty passionate, but this was a totally different ballgame. This crowd, both the Dominican and Venezuelan fans, were locked in and engaged in a way we rarely see at Fenway Park, and it was plainly evident just how much this game, and this tournament, matters to both countries.
It was the same story Wednesday night when Puerto Rico's fans took over the Red Sox spring ballpark, and the footage out of Tokyo and Taiwan has been nothing short of awesome.
That extends to the players, who fed off the energy to deliver an instant classic. All you had to do was look at their faces when Anthony Santander took reigning Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara deep with a game-tying solo shot in the second, or when David Peralta KO'd Alcantara with a go-ahead two-run single on his last pitch of the day.
And when the Dominicans made one last push in the top of the eighth before Venezuelan reliever Jose Quijada struck out Francisco Mejia to end the threat, Quijada almost tore his jersey off in one clean rip. Somehow that was still one of the least demonstrative parts of his celebration.
Watching it all unfold you almost forget it's only March. Normally these players would still be in camp, and the contrast between this scene and the relaxed vibe playing out at spring training sites across the state couldn't be more stark.
Instead of another sleepy split squad game, fans were treated to a showcase of baseball at its very best. Two of the most talented teams on the planet playing in front of an audience worthy of their gifts, all sharing an experience nobody in the building will forget as long as they live.
I know I won't.
Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @MacCerullo.
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