How do the World Cup quarterfinalists' baseball teams stack up?
The quarterfinal matchups in the 2014 World Cup are now set. We got to thinking -- if suddenly you replaced all the involved national soccer teams with their respective national baseball teams, how would the games shake out on the diamond? Given how this Cup has gone, it's probably as good a prediction method as any.
France vs. Germany
Nine MLB players have been born in France, including current Giants manager Bruce Bochy and Charlie Lea, who threw a no-hitter for the Expos in 1984. Each had a father serving in France with the U.S. military at the time. Despite his nickname, Jeff "Frenchy" Francoeur is as French as his El Paso Chihuahuas teammate Jorge Reyes is deaf. The French national team has been managed since 2013 by Quebec native and 2003 NL Cy Young winner Eric Gagne, who is not a citizen of France, but did only speak the French language until he reached college.
Forty-two MLB players have been born in Germany. Almost all of them are the sons of American servicemembers, like Cubs starter Edwin Jackson and current Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, or late 1800s/early 1900s German-Americans with ethnic nicknames like Pretzels Getzien and Dutch Schliebner. It wasn't until 2013 that MLB saw its first German-raised player, Reds utilityman Donald Lutz. Twenty-one-year-old Twins prospect Max Kepler also has a chance of making the Show. And the Berlin Tall himself, Dirk Nowitzki, hosts a celebrity baseball game for charity every year.
So who wins? Germany. More players born there + more players actually from there + Dirk = victory.
Brazil vs. Colombia
International soccer's most successful nation has seen baseball make small inroads in recent years. You can now find two Brazilians on MLB rosters -- Indians catcher Yan Gomes and White Sox starter Andre Rienzo. A large segment of Brazil's national team are Japanese-Brazilians (there are more people of Japanese descent in Brazil than anywhere on Earth but Japan). The squad also boasts a famous manager: Hall of Famer Barry Larkin. He's not Brazilian, but his daughter Cymcole is quite popular there as a pop singer.
Colombia's baseball tradition isn't nearly as robust as that of their Venezuelan neighbors to the east, but it's a bit more established than Brazil's. The current Colombian big leaguers are Julio Teheran of the Braves, Donovan Solano of the Marlins, Jose Quintana of the White Sox and Ernesto Frieri of the Pirates. They can also claim a 5-time All-Star and former World Series MVP in Edgar Renteria. Unlike Brazil though, Colombia has never participated in the World Baseball Classic.
So who wins? Colombia. Brazil is a soccer behemoth, but Colombia is the stronger soccer/baseball hybrid.
Argentina vs. Belgium
Argentina is a fascinating place. The eighth-largest nation on Earth by area, it was sparsely populated until liberal immigration policies transformed it into a crisol de razas ("race crucible," or melting pot) of mostly European, Middle Eastern and Asian influences. While that heritage has produced strong traditions in soccer, basketball and even polo, baseball has yet to catch on in a big way. A handful of Argentines have played in the Minor Leagues, and Argentina scored a surprise bronze medal in baseball at the 2010 South American games, but MLB is yet to see its first Argentine player.
Only one MLB player was born in Belgium: outfielder/first baseman Brian Lesher, who played parts of five seasons for the Athletics, Mariners and Blue Jays from 1996-2002. The first Belgian-born-and-raised Minor League player, Thomas De Wolf, debuted in 2009 and played three seasons in the Domincan Summer League and the Gulf Coast League in the Mets organization. Belgium's greatest success on the national level came in 1967, when they won the European Baseball Championship, which they happened to be hosting as well. Also the Belgians insist they invented French fries (there is some dispute on this matter), and what would modern-day baseball be without garlic fries?
So who wins? Remember the Group of Death? This matchup is the opposite of that, baseball-wise. We'll give the tiebreaker to Argentina since Belgium might not be around much longer.
Netherlands vs. Costa Rica
The Netherlands was the surprise team of the 2013 WBC, making a run to the semifinals before finishing fourth behind perennial baseball powers Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Japan. Eight active Major Leaguers are from the Kingdom of the Netherlands: Cincinnati's Roger Bernadina, Boston's Xander Bogaerts, Arizona's Didi Gregorius, the L.A. Dodgers' Kenley Jansen, Colorado's Jair Jurrjens, Texas' Jurickson Profar, Baltimore's Jonathan Schoop and Atlanta's Andrelton Simmons. All hail from the Dutch Caribbean -- Bogaerts is from Aruba while the rest are from Curacao. Also, while he grew up in California, Netherlands-born Bert Blyleven is the only Hall of Famer born in any of the quarterfinalist nations. And t's hard to root against a country who translates the name of the sport as "honkbal."
Unlike its Central American neighbors Nicaragua and Panama, there are no Costa Ricans in MLB today. While the Panama-born outfielder Ivan Murrell, who had a 10-year for the Colt .45s/Astros, Padres and Braves, spent most of his childhood there, no MLB player has ever been born in Costa Rica. But: Every ball that sees an MLB field today was. The Rawlings factory in the small city of Turrialba is the only official source of Major League baseballs on Earth.
So who wins? In that WBC run, the Netherlands looked like a legitimate baseball power, so it has to be them.