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Looking for hope at the World Baseball Classic

By JOHN LEMBO

jlembo@bradenton.com

The man who mauled a sausage wants a second chance.

So does the knight with the checkered past.

They’re getting one by going Dutch.

Randall Simon and Sidney Ponson will spend the next few weeks decked in black and orange, the color of the Netherlands baseball team, and take their chances with the World Baseball Classic.

I don’t like the WBC, the second of which got underway Thursday. It takes players and throws them into a competitive tournament during a time usually reserved for exhibition games, and puts a crimp into the big-fish, small-pond charm that is spring training.

If there is one redeeming factor of the WBC, however, it is giving guys like Simon and Ponson a shot to get back into big-league baseball, to take advantage of weeks of exposure.

Who knows if it will happen? But spring is all about hope, and as Simon and Ponson prepare to lead the Netherlands into Saturday morning pool play against the Dominican Republic, hope is what they’re clinging to.

“I think this is a great opportunity,” Simon said Tuesday, when the Netherlands played an exhibition game with the Pirates.

The Netherlands also played an exhibition against Manatee Community College last week, when some fans in the stands remembered Simon’s famous interaction with an Italian sausage. During a race between four folks dressed in sausage costumes during a summer night in Miller Park five years ago, Simon stuck out his bat and struck a participant.

One sausage fell. Then another. Sausagegate wound up getting Simon arrested, fined and suspended from baseball for three days.

It also made him famous.

“There’s the sausage man,” Simon said, cheerily imitating the fans at MCC. “Randall, we didn’t forget about you.”

“It was an accident, and it just went the wrong way,” he said, referring to what Wikipedia calls the sausage race incident. “But those are part of life.”

Ponson has his share, blemishing a promising career with run-ins with the law and off the field issues. But Sir Sidney has lost 20 pounds, and Bert Blyleven, the Netherlands’ pitching coach, said his fastball has been clocked in the 90s.

Hence Ponson’s crusade — he wants the Dutch do well. But he wants to land on someone’s roster come Opening Day.

“You never know,” he said. “I definitely don’t want to hang up the spikes yet.”

It was at the 2006 WBC where Daisuke Matsuzaka won MVP honors en route to pitching Japan to the championship.

Soon after, Matsuzaka was throwing his gyro ball for the Boston Red Sox.

So if guys such as Simon and Ponson play well, if they can impress the right people, perhaps they too can get back to the big leagues.

All they want is a chance.

The World Baseball Classic doesn’t offer much.

But it does offer that.

John Lembo, sports writer, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2097.

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