06/26/10 6:54 PM ET
Baseball world follows World Cup saga
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
In Kansas City, reliever Dusty Hughes warmed up on the mound in the middle of the ninth inning, and all four infielders gathered together behind the mound and watched as the World Cup game was aired on the Royals' CrownVision for all 38,457 fans to see.
In Philadelphia, Cole Hamels had a U.S. soccer jersey hanging in his locker before heading out onto the field to pitch against the Blue Jays.
At U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, the White Sox were letting out audible groans as they took batting practice before what they hoped to be an 11th straight win. They had just seen Asamoah Gyan's mighty blast for the fateful goal.
These were the scenes that unfolded all across the Major League Baseball landscape, as players and fans alike shared their attention on sporting events. The Americans' run is over, one that captivated so many people throughout the National Pastime.
"I'm sad. I was hoping they would pull it off. It's over," Hamels said on the same day he allowed five earned runs. "You know what? I think it was exciting. I guess we've got four more years."
Hamels said he was "able to catch the first half. Then it's game time. I saw Ghana score the first goal in the first five minutes and thought, 'Here we go again.' After that I had no clue what the score was. Somebody told me the score after I was done. Oh, great. Two negatives."
"I don't think anybody expected the U.S. to get to the semifinals or the finals," Indians reliever Joe Smith said, before joking, "The other countries would have paid the referees off to make sure that didn't happen. We're not supposed to win in soccer."
Landon Donovan expected it, especially after tying the score with a penalty kick in the 62nd minute, but "it was not our night. It's frustrating considering all the work we put in. Soccer's a cruel game sometimes. One minute you're on top of the world, the next minute you're at the bottom of the mountain."
When Donovan scored, the crowd back at Kauffman Stadium went into delirium, chanting "U-S-A! U-S-A!" One of those fans cheering was Cardinals fan Brian Dopplick, there for the Interleague Play I-70 rivalry between his team and the Royals.
"I actually emailed the Royals ticket office when I found out there was going to be a conflict with the games and asked them what they were going to do," Dopplick said. "My friends were coming in town for the game and we debated selling our tickets so we could watch the World Cup. But when the Royals said they were going to have the game on TVs, we decided to do both."
Brewers pitcher Yovani Gallardo played soccer until his junior year in high school in Mexico. The Seattle-Milwaukee game started at about the same time the U.S. team was eliminated, and Gallardo was doing his best to stay on top of it.
"It's one of the only sports that's played all over the world," he said. "I think most of the guys in here are fans. We play with the soccer ball in here just kicking it around. It's fun to play and it's fun to watch the games and just be a fan of another sport."
In his case at least, there is still Mexico for hope. They play Argentina on Sunday.
White Sox reliever J.J. Putz was one of those who was making a special case of following the World Cup because his team was still alive.
"I can't stand listening to it with those vuvuzelas. It's just so annoying," he said before the elimination. "But USA is on and I like watching it when we are on. When Germany is playing France, I (don't care). But it's exciting. It's USA."
Aaron Laffey of the Indians said he felt the U.S. didn't capitalize Saturday. That pretty much echoed the sentiments of Donovan, who said the Americans were "naive."
"They had three legit chances to score, on top of the penalty kick," Laffey said. "Wide-open opportunities."
It was a dark day for more than just the American team. Shin-Soo Choo's native South Korea fell to Uruguay earlier in the day. Choo turned the game on just in time to see Uruguay score the winning goal in the 80th minute.
"They did a good job," Choo said of the South Koreans, who advanced from the group stage of the World Cup for the first time ever on foreign soil. "Sports. You never know what can happen."
To Royals pitcher Brian Bannister, the World Cup is a special event that only happens every four years, so he wanted to soak it in while he can.
"I just think it's a great event," he said before both events got under way. "It's like the Olympics. It only comes around every few years and I just love how the countries get involved. You just get that home-country pride. The matches are incredible, just the amount of people who attend. I think it's the best sporting event in the world."
Added teammate Billy Butler: "It's always good to see America in there. You like to see them win, and they're definitely up for a challenge. I enjoy watching them, it's my home country and I'm very proud of my homeland. Any time you see the United States, you want to see them win."
Anticipating the big match in Pretoria, Brendan Ryan of the Cardinals was decked out in a brand-new U.S. soccer jersey, adorned with his own name and No. 13. He ordered it directly from Nike and was thrilled it arrived on time.
"I didn't have any [soccer jerseys] with my name on it, so I was like, all right, I'll get a Ryan one and put my number on it," said Ryan, who has been known to sport various jerseys from other sports. "The other ones are all silly names. I was like, 'I've got to get one.' I couldn't believe how fast it came in. I was hoping it would get in before the Ghana game."
Ryan, who played soccer in his youth, found himself half-wishing he could serve as the Cardinals' designated hitter on Saturday, so he could check in periodically on the U.S.A. game. But he was still happy to make the 'sacrifice' of playing in a big league game even if it meant missing the soccer.
But he almost missed the U.S.'s previous game as well, a Wednesday morning contest against Algeria that was punctuated by a memorable goal in extra time.
"I had forgotten," he said. "For whatever reason, I had forgotten. So I woke up, and it was the 90th minute. I woke up and I thought it was a highlight. It was like, dribble, dribble, shot, rebound, shot goal. And I was like, 'Oh, it's the highlights.' And it turns out it was the biggest moment in U.S. soccer in a while. So that was pretty cool. But I wish I'd woken up in the 80th minute or something."
Ranger shortstop Elvis Andrus is a Venezuelan who said he is rooting all the way for Brazil.
"It's the way they play. Our country hasn't had the chance or the opportunity and hasn't been lucky enough to be in the World Cup," he said. "Brazil, Colombia, those are countries that are right next to us. And Brazil is having such success and has the whole history."
But Andrus said he picked USA over Ghana in the brackets that teammate Darren O'Day circulated in the Rangers clubhouse. O'Day has been totally into this. He downloaded the familiar vuvuzela sound app on his iPhone and plays it often on the team plane. He has been running up and down the aisles to "get everyone excited. They really don't like it at all. It gets pretty loud." But that, he said, is all part of this World Cup.
"Yeah, there's a fever," O'Day said before the loss. "It only happens every four years."
At Sun Life Stadium in Florida, several of the Padres were glued to their clubhouse TVs -- none moreso than Tony Gwynn Jr. The Padres center fielder might be the biggest soccer fan of the bunch.
"That was a good one right there, I thought that was going in," Gwynn said late in the match when a U.S. shot sailed wide.
Gwynn, sitting in a clubhouse chair, appeared crestfallen after the final whistle blew, signaling the end of the run. But he said what happened in South Africa ultimately helped the longtime visibility of the sport in the U.S.
"I think they needed to get out of the first round for it to be a success," Gwynn said after watching them advance out of the Group C. "I feel like if you get to that second round, then you've done something."
Len Troupe, 42, of Franklin, Tenn., was at Turner Field for the Braves' home game against Detroit, and said he hopes this leads to bigger things for American soccer globally.
"It's U.S. We're getting better every year and we're going to be champions within 10-12 years," he said. "I've got a 4- and a 6-year old who are with my wife right now. We stood in front of a TV for two minutes and they were like, 'We have to get food.' We took care of them and then we just watched.
"It was fun to see the ride and see how hard they fought in the entry level group and get to where they are. This is where I want to see them turn it around and really get interested in the U.S. Hopefully we get the tournament in 2022 and see where we go from there."
White Sox fan Joe Woltman of Romeoville, Ill., said rooting for Team USA just made it even more fun to be a sports fan this summer.
"Team USA, well it's good to get fired up behind something, like Landon Donovan, coming to play every four years," he said. "Why not get excited."
Joe Espinosa of Geneva, Ill., chimed in: "When the Blackhawks win, the Sox, Bears, Super Bowl, Chicago's year, baby."
Jack Wilson of the Mariners said he can understand why everyone jumped on this train, including so many who normally just talk about baseball standings.
"I think it's something to root for that's patriotic," Wilson said. "People are behind their country. I've followed it my whole life, and as the World Cup's gone on, our team has gotten better and better and better. Even four years from now, we're going to be even better than we are, by far. We have a very good under-21 team, under-18 team, very good players coming up. It's really something that gives people something to root for."
Wilson gave props to ESPN for "showing every single game and (getting) people into it. People are starting to learn the rules a little bit. It's never going to be a mainstream sport in this country, but it's awesome to see that people are really paying attention. People don't know how unbelievably talented these guys are."
People got to know more about Landon Donovan, even while they were paying attention to American stars like Ryan Braun, Josh Hamilton and Ryan Howard.
"It's unfortunate because we put so much into the game," Donovan said. "But I'm still real proud of these guys."