Talk about fun at the ole ballpark – what a start to the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Netherlands shocked the Dominican Republic – TWICE! Italy bounced Canada from the tournament. And Australia upset Mexico in Mexico City.

Of course, one explanation is that the Dominicans were without many of their top stars. Another is that anything can happen in one game – well, not necessarily with the Dominicans. But fans in Netherlands, Italy and Australia would like to remind all that baseball is getting better throughout the world.

The Netherlands eliminated the WBC favorites Dominican Republic from the tournament with a come-from-behind 2-1 victory in 11 innings in a win-or-go-home game to reach the Second Round. The Dutch will next face Puerto Rico for the top seed from their Group D play. But the Netherlands have already given European baseball a shot in the arm – not to mention a boost in respect to be demanded.

That actually came already on Saturday when the Dutch shocked the baseball world by upsetting the Major League Baseball All-Star-laden Dominican Republic for the first time 3-2 in Puerto Rico.

And a breakdown of these two opponents shows just how large the Netherlands’ David was to the Dominicans’ Goliath. Two of the Dutch players are currently on MLB roster compared to 23 of 25 for the Dominican Republic. In addition, the combined MLB salaries for the Dominicans totals 83.4 million dollars compared to 0.4 million for the Dutch, who have a handful of decent prospects at the Double-A level of the minors.

The Netherlands’ team’s biggest name is actually the pitching coach, former Minnesota Twins pitching legend Bert Blyleven.

Still, baseball fans cannot downplay the fact that the Netherlands is a baseball powerhouse – at least in Europe. Holland, where baseball began in 1911, has captured the last five European Championship titles and 20 of the total 30 events competed. The Dutch have also finished runners-up seven times, meaning they have finished first or second in 27 of 30 tournaments.

But the Netherlands have not only done it in Europe. At the 2006 World Baseball Classic, Shairon Martis threw a seven-inning no-hitter in a 10-0 mercy-rule victory over Panama.

And at the 2007 World Cup in Taiwan, the Netherlands beat Venezuela, South Korea and Cuba in the first round and then beat Chinese Taipei in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, Holland was beaten by eventual winners United States and then by Japan as well in the game for third place. But impressive was the victory over Cuba, which had won the last nine World Cups and 20 of the last 24 events since 1952.

Taking a quick look at Italy and Australia …

The Italians bounced WBC title contenders Canada from the tournament with a 6-2 victory in Toronto. Italy, whose roster included a number of MLB players with Italian descent, is the other powerhouse in Europe, beating the Netherlands for seven of their eight European championship titles and finishing second to the Dutch 15 times.

But Italy’s mark on the 2009 WBC will be having eliminated Canada after the Europeans were pounded by Venezuela 10-1 to bid adieu to the Classic.

Australia meanwhile trounced heavily-favored and WBC darkhorse candidate Mexico 17-7 in an eight-inning mercy-rule victory, which included a new tournament record 22 hits.

When asked after the victory if the Aussies could take the title, Australian catcher Andy Graham said: “Of course we are. We always have been. We came into this tournament knowing that we can win this. It’s not back 10 years ago where we were just trying to gain respect. We’re a force, a team that’s going to bring some force. We’re going to try to win every game we play.”

Just like every team. The thing is, the talent pool is growing larger and larger throughout the world, meaning such upsets soon must not be considered upsets.

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