On Wednesday night the U.S. beat Puerto Rico 8-0 to win the World Baseball Classic, but before the game began, comments from Team USA second baseman Ian Kinsler had people talking.
Here’s part of what Kinsler had to say:
“I hope kids watching the WBC can watch the way we play the game and appreciate the way we play the game, as opposed to the way Puerto Rico plays or the Dominican (Republic). That’s not taking anything away from them. That just wasn’t the way we were raised.
“They were raised differently and to show emotion and passion when you play. We do show emotion; we do show passion. But we just do it in a different way.”
The problem with that statement is it makes it sound like there’s a right way to play the game and kids should emulate the American style of play. But later, Kinsler modified his statement:
“What I said was that American kids can watch American players play, Puerto Rican kids can watch Puerto Rican players play, Venezuelan kids can watch Venezuelan guys play, and that’s who they emulate. That’s who they watch. That’s who they want to be like. There’s nothing wrong with an American kid watching a Puerto Rican player and wanting to be like them, or a Puerto Rican kid watching an American player and wanting to play that way.
“You should play the way you want, and the way you feel will put you in the best position to win — the way you feel the best and perform the best. Everybody is different. I play differently than a lot of my teammates on this team; I play with a little more emotion than most players during the season. Everybody has their own style! That’s all I was saying.
“This is what this tournament is for, to demonstrate the game in all walks of life, all over the globe. You saw the way Japanese players play; they play different than us. The Latin teams play different than us. Everyone should be celebrated. That is what this tournament is about, and that’s why everyone loves it, because you get to see people play (in front of) people from their own country and the different styles of baseball. One is not better than the other; they are just different.”
Different cultures produce different players
On Wednesday afternoon, the Royals played the Padres and afterward infielder Christian Colon and catcher Brayan Peña sat at their lockers, so I walked over to ask their thoughts about the Latin style of play. Both of them had plenty to say and pretty soon a small crowd gathered around to listen.
Kinsler alluded to it and Brayan and Christian agreed: different cultures produce different styles of play. And Brayan also thought different cultures produced different kinds of fans.
Watch a game in Latin America and you’ll probably see — and hear — fans blowing horns, beating drums and waving flags. Brayan compared Latin baseball fans to English soccer fans; they make noise and support their teams.
American crowds — at times — can be more reserved. I say “at times” because I was there when the Royals made the playoffs in 2014 and 2015; I’ve never been to a ballgame in Latin America, but it’s hard to imagine any crowd could be louder than the Kansas City crowd during the playoffs.
You can always find exceptions, but players tend to reflect the cultures they come from; a lot of U.S. players strive for a cool, been-there-before demeanor, while a lot of Latin players like to celebrate big moments.
But culture isn’t the only thing that can make a difference.
Christian and Brayan talked about the WBC and the difference between playing for a country and playing for a team. Latin players might tone it down when playing for a big-league team, but let it fly when playing for their country.
During the WBC you saw players celebrate by making a motion across their chest, they were pointing out the name of their country on the front of their uniforms: this is where I’m from, this is who we are.
And Latin players weren’t the only ones doing it.
If a celebration is aimed at your teammates, is it different?
If a player celebrates a home run and aims that celebration at the pitcher who gave it up or the opposing dugout, that’s showing up an opponent.
If a player celebrates and aims that celebration at his teammates, that’s different. Celebrating a teammate’s accomplishments is part of what defines a team: we are in this together, your accomplishment is my accomplishment.
Latin players say they’re not disrespecting the game when they celebrate, but some people don’t see it that way; any celebration, no matter where it’s aimed, is showing up the opposing team.
How you view in-game celebrations might be influenced by the culture that formed you.
The problem with generalizing
Talk about race and culture and you run the risk of being ticketed by the PC police, so smart people tend to avoid those subjects (and I’m pretty sure I just proved I’m not that smart).
Knowing that I was wading into the swamp of political correctness, I’ve tried to use words like “tend” or “might” and “probably,” because it’s dumb to assume everyone from a Latin culture or an American culture feels the same way.
Kinsler prefers a cool style of play; Bryce Harper wants to celebrate.
Plenty of American ballplayers indulge in “signaling,” which is celebrating a hit by making a signal to your teammates in the dugout; other American ballplayers — and a lot of coaches — think signaling is dumb.
But our differences shouldn’t be condemned; they should be celebrated.
According to Peña — a guy born in Cuba who became a U.S. citizen — what makes America great is the fact that everyone gets to have his or her own opinion. Kinsler gets to say what he wants and Colon and Peña don’t have to agree with him.
The United States is going through a period where people from other cultures are viewed with heightened suspicion, but it seems to me those cultural differences have made our country better, not worse.
That’s only my opinion, but I get to have one.