In loving memory of honkbal and the underdog

USA TODAY Sports

Honkbal-mania is dead. Long live honkbal-mania.

SAN FRANCISCO -- It should have been a good omen for the Dutch. All Monday night, in the cold wind, rowdy fans honked air horns.

HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK

Even though the horns were being honked by Dominican fans, you would have been excused if you thought they were ushering in a new era of honkbal.

HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK

Like Ian Miller of Baseball Prospectus, I would have pulled for the Dutch for their name of the sport alone. Another round of this, and we all would have been sick of people pointing it out. As is: honkbal. It's funny because of the word "honk." If Clark Gable grabbed Vivian Leigh's nose at the end of Gone With the Wind and simply said, "Honk," the movie would have been even better. Try it with the ending of your favorite movie. Casablanca, Chinatown, Saving Private Ryan ... they all would have been better with a nose grab and a honk.

HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK

Eventually, though, the Netherlands were out-honked. That damned horn beat a lot of us into submission. It should have been a good omen for the Dutch, but in the end, the horn was just a reminder that the Dominican Republic was a team coming from a much richer and deeper baseball tradition. The kind of tradition that partially fills a ballpark with fans who brought air horns, which tend to suck all of the funny out of the word "honk" by the second inning.

It was easy to overstate the idea of the Dutch as supreme underdogs -- this is the first time they've lost to the Dominican Republic in the WBC, after all, having beaten them twice in 2009. The Netherlands won the 2011 IBAF World Cup, too. Andrelton Simmons, Xander Bogaerts, and Jurickson Profar are three of the brightest young infielders in the game. This wasn't Israel or South Africa stumbling into the semifinals without any real understanding of how they did it.

If you wanted a good indicator of how much of an underdog the Netherlands were in Monday's semifinal, though, Diegomar Markwell is a good indicator. Last year, Markwell was 11-1 with a 1.34 ERA for Neptunus Rotterdam. He also throws 83-85 miles an hour -- Barry Zito without the curveball. The juxtaposition of the success and the stuff tells you what you need to know about the level of competition featured in the Dutch League. The pitching staff for the Netherlands had Kenley Jansen, two Triple-A pitchers, an A-ball pitcher, a pitcher who had a 7.06 ERA at the the University of Maine, and several Dutch League pitchers. There wasn't a single starting pitcher on the roster with success above A-ball.

There's a limit to the idea that baseball is unpredictable. Watch any professional team during batting practice, and you get a sense of what they would do against a pitcher throwing 60 m.p.h. down the middle. Between that hypothetical scenario and Justin Verlander, though, there's a tipping point where baseball can get weird, and the underdogs can topple the overdogs with an unexpected pitching performance or a few well-timed and well-placed hits. The Netherlands are in that zone of weird baseball, where Diegomar Markwell can flummox an All-Star lineup for a few innings.

One of these years, a team like the Dutch will win the whole thing. Or if not the Dutch, another team with a combination of just enough major-league talent and experienced professionals. Australia is a good candidate. Chinese Taipei is another. If Panama can make it past the qualifiers, or if Mexico can leverage the superstar power of Karim Garcia ... one of these years a completely underwhelming team will take the WBC finals, and it will highlight one of my favorite things about baseball: its utter unpredictability.

A Dominican Republic/Puerto Rico matchup should be a much better final, at least as far as the baseball is concerned. It should highlight one of my other favorite things about baseball: watching two good teams play good baseball. Most of the time, this will be the kind of final matchup we'll get treated to. Japan/Cuba, Venezuela/United States, Canada/Dominican Republic. There are a ton of permutations for good baseball in the WBC's final round.

I'm a little sad that we aren't going to get a chance for unexpected baseball, though. There was a chance that the Kingdom of the Netherlands was going to be one of the teams in Tuesday's championship, with a roster made up of players from either a) a relatively random European country, at least by baseball standards, or b) an island with the population of Amarillo, Texas. Even though we're well over 50 years into the idea that baseball is an international game, that still would have been fascinating. It's probably too much to ask for a Brazilian run, or for China to inspire a billion people who previously didn't care a lick about the game, but there are a number of just-talented-enough teams that could use the international stage to remind us of the silliness of baseball.

The Netherlands came close, man. The Netherlands came close. Therefore, send not to know/For whom the horn honks/It honks for thee.

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