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Monitors Skeptical Belarus Vote Will Be Fair

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

Americans who were hoping to watch Team USA establish this country's dominance in the most American of sports at the World Baseball Classic, well, they'll have to wait until next time. Mexico beat the U.S. last night in the WBC. Fortunately, there is basketball, which was also invented here, albeit by a Canadian.

Wall Street Journal sportswriter Stefan Fatsis is with us now to help sort through all this. He joins us from Greensboro, North Carolina, where he's covering the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Good to talk to you, Stefan.

STEFAN FATSIS: Hey, Michele.

NORRIS: So, with the Americans out of the picture in the WBC, what happens now?

FATSIS: Well, we've got the semi-finals. The Dominican Republic will play Cuba in the first game tomorrow afternoon in San Diego, and in the same ballpark tomorrow night, Japan will take on South Korea, which has not lost a game yet in the tournament. They're 6 and 0.

NORRIS: So, Stefan, what happened to the U.S.?

FATSIS: Well, they didn't hit very well. And baseball is a sport in which one or two games usually don't mean very much. So anything can happen, especially in a short, multi-team tournament featuring a lot of great players like this one. But you have to say that elimination certainly was unexpected for the U.S. The American stars, just three hits last night in that 2 to 1 loss to Mexico. The real shame, I think, is that there's no shot now at a championship game between the United States and Cuba.

NORRIS: Now, that Cuban team roared up and surprised a lot of baseball fans. Is that because we've just never seen Cuba's best players compete against Major Leaguers?

FATSIS: Yes. We really don't know how good they are. But when you consider the lower level of regular competition that the Cuban players face at home, and then you throw in their lack of familiarity with the tendencies of individual big league players that they were coming up against, it's amazing how well they've done. Four wins in six games so far, and a chance to take on the Dominicans.

NORRIS: Just imagine if they win.

FATSIS: Big celebration in Cuba. And you can see how important this tournament is to them. It's a chance to prove something its baseball with the sub-text of its relationship with the United States, where so many Cuban players have defected, of course, over the last decade and a half. I think it's safe to say that we all favor a free and stable world. But the Cold War always made the Olympics more intriguing, and I think that's the same thing going on here.

NORRIS: Now, Cuba's manager, who has a lot to crow about right now, said the tournament should be held every other year, and that Cuba wants to host the games next time around. Does that idea have any traction?

FATSIS: Well, the idea that every other year would be instead of every four years starting in 2009, which is what the current schedule is. And Cuba hosting some of the games, well, that's a long shot because of the economic embargo on the country that the United States has imposed. But it's not out of the realm of possibility. There was even some doubt that Cuba would participate in this thing, and it's been a huge success having them here.

My prediction is that there will be progress, and that some time in our lifetime we're going to see a Cuban team playing in the top minor league in the United States.

NORRIS: Stefan, before we move on, let's talk about the tournament. How did this maiden voyage go?

FATSIS: I think pretty well. Some problems. Too many small groups of teams in the first round. That put too much emphasis on one or two games. The TV schedule was too erratic for my taste. I wanted to see Cuba play a lot because we never get to see them play. And when some meaningless game is on in the dead of summer in prime time, I'm going to miss that opportunity to watch the Cubans. Overall though, you have to crunch the numbers, but the attendance and TV ratings looked like they were okay. And this was a big step forward for baseball internationally. The players really got into it.

NORRIS: Now, before we say goodbye, you're talking to us from Greensboro, North Carolina. Who have you been watching down there?

FATSIS: Well, I've been keeping up with George Washington University. I had followed them all season for a story that was published earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal, and now I've successfully persuaded my editors, thanks to the internet, to let me continue to follow them for a little bit. Great team. Great game last night. GW erased an 18 point deficit in four minutes and beat North Carolina Wilmington in overtime. As a reward, they get to play top ranked Duke tomorrow.

NORRIS: And you'll probably be there.

FATSIS: I will.

NORRIS: Have a great weekend, Stefan.

FATSIS: Thanks, Michele.

NORRIS: Stefan Fatsis covers sports and the business of sports for the Wall Street Journal. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Greg Feifer