Team Canada's Tim Smith revisits the 2013 World Baseball Classic bench-clearing brawl with Mexico.
"Smitty, grab a bucket. You'll be on first. Head to left for the bottom of the inning." Ernie Whitt, our manager, let me know as he shuffled through papers trying to figure out what the hell to do after a pile of ejections.
"They're chanting some funny stuff, man," Adrian Gonzalez said to me with a smirk across his face. Oh, and Larry Walker was there, too. Two decent left-handed hitters to be kicking it with. But I don't know where to look, or who to listen to. There's a stadium full of fans screaming in Spanish. My foot is on first base and I'm having this moment where I'm questioning myself where the hell I am. I take a deep breath and press the refresh button. The first thing that comes to mind is, 'Dude, you should totally ask Gonzalez about his hitting approach.' But then I snap out of it, and realize I shouldn't be chit-chatting with an opposing member all too much, especially after our countries just dropped the mitts.
Wow, this delay is going on for a while. I take a quick 360 degree turn to take it all in. A stadium full of alcohol-induced Canadian and Mexican fans. In the midst of Phoenix, we were more than slightly outnumbered. Needless to say, that didn't put the fan fights to a hold. Bench clearer, flying objects from the stands, fans going insane... this is just too awesome. The umpires are making their final decisions, security guards are dragging out the last hooligans, and we're seconds away from playing ball again.
OK, let's take a couple steps back here. Most baseball fans have an understanding of why we cleared the benches with Mexico during the 2013 World Baseball Classic, but for those who watched the video and were like, 'Ugh, why are they throwing the ball at him?' let me drop some baseball knowledge on you.
We pissed away a game against Italy. Plain and simple, we let in too many runs and if the round robin were to end in some sort of tie, one of the rulings came down to run differential. Think of it as plus/minus in hockey. That being said, it doesn't sit well with baseball's historical etiquette. For the majority of sports, there's unwritten rules about running the score up. When it's late in the game and the fat lady is signing, bunting, stealing, taking extra bases, pickoffs, 2-0 changeups, little details like these, they go straight to the trash—finish the game respecting your opposition, is the line of thinking. But let's take a big time out here. What are you supposed to do when the runs matter in tournament-style play? You play every inning equal. This is a no-brainer. If you can score 20, go ahead and score 20. So that's what we tried to do.
Here's how it all began. Robby [Chris Robinson] drops down a nasty bunt in the 9th inning with us up six runs. I mean nasty. Like moonwalk-to-first nasty. A veteran catcher who is not known for speed, it was a surprise tactic and worked beautifully. Mexico's third baseman Luis Cruz casually walked to the ball, accepting that it's a hit. I'm kicking it next to my boy Brett Lawrie on the front rail of the dugout. He gives me a shove in the ribs and said something along the lines of, "That wonderful gentleman playing third base for Mexico just pointed at [Rene] Tosoni." OK, I might have cleaned up a little language there, but you catch my drift. I didn't see it, but obviously saw it in the video later on. Dude full on pointed at Tosoni without any intention of hiding the message that he feels the next hitter should be drilled. This is a classic tradition in baseball if etiquette is broken. I know we would have gracefully worn a pitch in the back if we were in the wrong, without any form of retaliation. Two problems here: We weren't in the wrong, and we weren't ready for our players to be thrown at over a situation that didn't take a rocket scientist to dissect.
Tosoni steps in the box, probably as blindsided to the situation as anyone. First pitch rides in real tight. OK, we all kind of clue in. Confused, but we clue in. Everyone on the bench now comes to a stand. Everyone has two hands on the rail. Eyebrows getting firm, death stares and an all-you-can-eat serving of chirps are coming from our direction. Tosoni glares at the pitcher, digs right back in the box. Next pitch, misses him by an inch. Tosoni spits in the direction of the pitcher and lets him know he isn't scared of the muffins he's tossing and that if he's going to hit him, go ahead and do it already. It's already getting somewhat bush league. There's etiquette to hitting a guy, as well. You miss once, you missed your chance. If you can sneak in a second attempt, it's frowned upon, but so be it. Three attempts? No way. No way he's going to try again.
The umpire now issues warnings to both teams. The nerves are kicking in as we anticipate to see if this pitcher really has the balls to go for No. 3. You can feel the energy building up all throughout the stadium. I think everyone is on their feet at this point. Players, fans, security.
Side note on the bullpen troops down the right-field line. Soon to have his 15 seconds of fame, small-town lobster fisherman Jay Johnson, who would later be known as "The Southpaw" by Don Cherry, is warming up tossing 93-95 mph 3/4 lefty biscuits. He gets his attention grabbed by one of the team's most respected members, Dustin Molleken. Nicknamed The Beauty, Molly was born with a pretty severe speech impediment. As part of our family and brotherhood, he's comfortable around us with it, and that makes it more lighthearted when he starts to stutter. He hollers at JJ: "Yo, JJ! I th-th-th-th-think its about t-t-t-to p-p-p-p-p..." WACK. Tosoni gets drilled. JJ finishes Molly's sentence, "It's about to pop off! Let's gooooo." Full charge, JJ leads the crew of bullpen hammerheads right through the innocent security guard trying to hold up the bullpen door. JJ later told me he gave the security guard this look, kind of like, 'Sorry, man, but there's nothing you can do to stop me from moving forward.'
I hop the rail and run out to the middle of the commotion. There's two things I notice right out of the gates. One, both teams are wearing red. We have red jerseys, and their pullovers are red. You can't tell who is who out of your peripheral and the vulnerability of a true sucker punch now becomes super risky. Two, I consider myself a big man at 6'3" and 230 pounds, although I'm being dwarfed out there by my teammates who now suddenly feel like Monstars from Space Jam. I take a quick note that I'm surrounded by 6'7" monsters. Life is good. Verbal threats and lead-up pushes are now starting to go down right between home plate and the mound. The butterfly comes into effect. Scott Matheson, yup, he's the butterfly. No one suspects the butterfly. Probably one of the most moral, well-rounded, all around good guys on that team. Basically the last person you would expect to get violent. Insert old-school Batman noise here. POWWWWW. Scotty let's one rip and initiates the fisticuffs.
Tyson Gillies is running around like a velociraptor. I catch a glimpse out of the corner of my eye. He full on picks up Mexican pitcher Alfredo Aceves and body slams him to the ground. I almost want to laugh because Tyson is one of those guys who just makes you laugh no matter what he's doing. He goes old-school WWF with it, then jets off to his next target. The dude he slammed didn't seem too thrilled, and gets up and goes for the chase. He is soon to cross paths with Mr. Johnson.
JJ and Gillies are boys for life. They came up in the Phillies system together. What's funny about this is that JJ swears he never saw Gillies. Aceves was chasing Gillies and ran right into the last guy you want to run into. We all think JJ is protecting Gillies when he gets a hold of Aceves, but it just ended up being a total fluke. JJ is a cross between crazy and bad ass. He's the type of guy who doesn't say it, he does it. He'll tell you a story that sounds so unbelievable until he does something crazier five minutes after telling you, then you believe it. He has meat hooks for hands and I'm going to let you know that you'd have to kill him to stop him. In the middle of my scrum about 20 feet from JJ teeing off on Aceves, my pile starts to collapse.
I'll be honest—I've never been in the bottom of a dog pile until that moment. As I felt the slow fall happening I grabbed the closest Mexican jersey I could find to squeeze onto and, you know, gracefully take the fall for me. People start to really panic when they're stuck. I find this out quick. Everyone is wiggling in opposite directions to get up. Cheap shots are going on. Cleats are scraping fingers. I'm starting to feel claustrophobic because I literally can't move. Bad choice. It would have been way cooler and less stressful to just throw down on the feet. You win some, you lose some.
Back to JJ, who eventually makes a new friend. Barely avoiding a sucker punch, he hockey-style grabs the jersey of an opposing player, gives him a swift left to the side of the head, dragging him down to kind of put the cherry on top of the victory. At this point, no one knows that JJ, like myself, was getting his first "big league" taste. He wanted to pitch so badly that he actually jogged back to the bullpen to finish his warm up as the fight was still being settled. He was the main culprit! Everyone in the stadium knew it was obvious that he'd be ejected. But no, he's down in the bullpen getting the wing going again, actually believing that he'll be making an entrance to this game shortly. I love you, man, but my God are you dumb.
Players slowly start going opposite directions. This mess is finally about to be cleaned up. Nope. SMACK. Our pitching coach, Denis Boucher, gets clipped in the face by a bottle thrown from the stands. Here we go again. Cale Iorg, our shortstop, grabs the bottle and fires a 90-mph seed back into the stands at whom he thought was the culprit, only to later find out that he drilled a fan in the chest who didn't even throw it. To this day, I don't know how he didn't get in trouble for that.
After the game, which we won 10-3, we floated on Cloud 9 down the tunnel back into the locker room. The energy was high. We needed a win. Check. We needed to put up a big number. Check. We just cleared benches, and biased maybe, but honestly, totally dummied them in that fight. Check. "Started from the Bottom" by Drake starts cranking through Justin Morneau's speakers. Kind of the perfect line when it comes to our situation. Baseball Canada—a bunch of misfits who thrive off of team chemistry. So many different lifestyles, ethnicities, upbringings, you name it. But we are family. Taking that moment in as family was beautiful. Tons of Canadian celebrities sent their tweets and texts to the big dogs on our squad and Morneau would let us know about the support.
In a highly-populated Mexican area, our hotel was in the heart of Phoenix. Extra security was called in. You could feel the tension as we commuted through the city and got dropped off in front. A lot of stares. It was actually a creepy feeling combined with a proud feeling. Feeling like a bad ass strutting in because we just did our country proud, but that realization that we're not on our turf.
After sorting through the million texts and social media messages, I thought it was time to visit my boy Jay Johnson who just became this main frame person. I grabbed two beers, and made my way to his room. He opened the door and gave me a big hug. And for the first time that night there was silence. We tapped our bottles in cheers, and had a laugh to ourselves about the events that took place.
We would eventually get knocked out by the Americans in what was actually a thrilling game that the US broke open late. But that night vs. Mexico will be a staple for Canadian baseball forever. It showed the passion and brotherhood it takes to play this game with the Maple Leaf across the chest. What do you expect when you give a ball and bat to 25 meatheads who only know how to use a stick and puck?!?
Tim Smith was a 2007 seventh-round pick of the Texas Rangers out of Arizona State University, and played parts of six seasons in the minor leagues.