The Puerto Rican team’s performance in the World Baseball Classic (WBC), which earned them a spot in the finals against Team USA on March 22, generated baseball fever on the island. Although the team lost to the United States 8-0, Puerto Ricans still celebrated the team’s almost undefeated run with a parade in the streets of San Juan on March 23.
The island’s excitement about the tournament picked up as the team started winning every game. As the team progressed in the WBC, the enthusiasm increased. People became so invested in the tournament that whenever there was a game, the island was paralyzed—everyone was in front of the TV supporting their home team.
To make a statement, men and boys from all over the island dyed their hair blond in support of the team. This phenomenon originally started as a bonding ritual between the team members. As the tournament continued, men started to follow the trend associated with the team’s nickname, Team Rubio ( “blond” in Spanish). By the time the team reached the finals, pharmacies and beauty stores across the island were almost out of blond hair dye, and beauty salons were booked with appointments.
International competitions tend to bring out a sense of patriotism on the island, as many locals feel proud to see their island competing against other countries around the world. Third baseman Carlos Correa addressed this idea, expressing that the unification of Puerto Rico was one of the team’s priorities.
“There were no crimes, there were no assassinations back home while we were playing in this classic. Everybody was dyeing their hair blond, so we had our whole nation behind us that is going through tough times right now,” Correa said.
The fans’ support and the team’s passionate display of emotion produced backlash from Team USA. After the final game, Team USA center fielder Adam Jones told the MLB Network that his team heard about the parade and caravan that was planned for Team Puerto Rico before the final game.
“That didn’t sit well with us, so we did what we had to do,” Jones said.
Team USA second baseman Ian Kinsler also made comments concerning the way that opponents from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic played the game with high and exaggerated emotions. These comments reflect the cultural divide that exists between the two regions. For players from countries like Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, they do not only feel the pressure to play well, but they have the weight of their whole nation on their shoulders. For them, it is more about representing the country than winning the trophy.
The parade for Team Puerto Rico was not planned because they were confident they were going to win, but because Puerto Ricans felt so proud that no matter the outcome, they wanted to celebrate their team’s success.
As Correa stated, “It’s as simple as this: If you ask Angel Pagan, if you ask Yadi Molina if it feels better than a World Series, they would say yes. If you ask one of the American guys they will say, ‘No, not even close.’”