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MLB Brights: Rio’s grand moment and a World Baseball Classic ‘plus for baseball’

World Baseball Classic

MIAMI — A New York Mets fan got stopped Monday as he waited to access the grandstands during Miami Open tennis qualifying, barely 15 miles from where the World Baseball Classic has played out for Pool D and the final, eight-team elimination rounds the last two weeks.

At least he looked like a Mets fan, decked out in a Mets cap and $150 Mets jersey.

“I bet you hate the WBC,” one wise guy said after sizing him up.

“Are you kidding? I love it,” he said.

“Even after Edwin Diaz [suffered a season-ending injury]?”

“That could happen anywhere,” he said. “The atmosphere is amazing. You wouldn’t believe it. I’ve been to playoffs and the subway series. And the excitement at a WBC game is at another level compared to than any of those.”

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A nearby tournament staffer, who identified as an avid Houston Astros fan, was similarly accosted by the same World Baseball Classic skeptic, who brought up the broken thumb Jose Altuve suffered when he got hit by a pitch during the tournament.

“It’s great for baseball,” Astros Fan said. “Other than the timing. But you don’t really have a good time for it. The WBC does get you excited, though. I do think it’s a plus for baseball.”

Not to suggest this is exactly a scientific survey. But if the first two, first-hand opinions of the teams most negatively impacted by this year’s event mean anything, maybe the hand-wringing in some circles about rethinking the value of the every-fourth-year tournament isn’t as reflective of at least public opinion as some might have you believe.

For now it stands as fitting, glass-half-full segue into this week’s baseball brights, the weekly feel-good counterbalance to all the other stuff coming from these corners of coverage the rest of the week:

Son Rise

The sentimental highlight of the World Baseball Classic might have come in the sixth inning of an otherwise nondescript game at the end of pool play last week in Phoenix between Team Colombia and Team Canada.

Boston Red Sox prospect Rio Gomez, a left-hander drafted in the 36th round out of Arizona in 2017, took the mound for the first time in the World Baseball Classic, in a one-run game, and then retired four of the five Canadians he faced, including two strikeouts, in a scoreless relief outing.

His mother, Sandi Gomez, who is from Colombia, was in the stands celebrating; his father, in his heart.

Pedro Gomez, Rio’s dad, was the longtime ESPN baseball reporter and broadcaster, who died of a heart attack two years ago at their home near Phoenix.

Beyond the family, Rio’s World Baseball Classic moment was felt by many in the MLB and baseball-media communities who knew Pedro well and listened regularly to college and professional updates on Rio from the proud father.

“I think the one thing he truly passed on to me was self-confidence,” Rio said in an interview with masslive.com‘s Christopher Smith last year. “For the longest time, I didn’t always possess that self-confidence because of my past. … There was a lot of times I doubted myself. But he was able to bring that confidence for me. After he passed, I finally had been able to develop and create my own self-confidence. And I think that was the biggest gift that he was able to pass on to me.”

Dog Days of Spring

Show up early enough before a Grapefruit League game in Sarasota, Florida, and you might be treated to the happy sight of best four-legged grounds crew member in the game — the top dog in the business. Literally.

That would be Thatch, the mixed-terrier sidekick and unofficial Orioles mascot adopted from a Sarasota shelter a year ago by Drew Wolcott, the Orioles head spring groundskeeper. 

Gordon Wittenmyer, MLB expert and former beat writer for NBC Sports Chicago and the Chicago Sun-Times. Get Gordon’s latest Sportsnaut Exclusive today!

Apparently, he’s been a natural personality fit for the crew, quickly learned to do his own turf “watering” away from playing surfaces and has even been known to guard home plate while crew mates work on the diamond, according to a feature on the pooch by The Baltimore Banner’s Andy Kostka.

“He has a lot of energy,” Wolcott said. “It’s good exercise for him, a good atmosphere, to be able to come out here and run the fields, hang out with the crew and just kid of having almost the ultimate life.”

Ray of Sunshine

For anyone who doesn’t see a lot of the Tampa Bay Rays (so, like, most of us), outfielder Randy Arozarena is a whole lot of what’s fun about the game today with many of the younger players.

The Rays outfielder, playing for Team Mexico in a semifinal loss to Team Japan this week, made a home-run-saving catch with a leap at the wall, then landed and stood, still and stone-faced, for a few beats for hilarious effect.

He later made another nice catch for the third out of an inning and flipped the ball back over his head into the stands as he ran off the field with a huge smile. And later even signed autographs for fans in left field — during the game, as Japan made a pitching change.

“I leave with much joy because of all the love I received from the fans,” Arozarena said after Mexico’s elimination. “It was a beautiful experience for me.”

Gordon Wittenmyer covers Major League Baseball for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @GDubCub.

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