For the Love of the Game: Austin couple attends World Baseball ClassicPublished 9:45pm Monday, April 1, 2013
To say Paul and Vickie Spyhalski are big baseball fans is a pretty understatement.
Not only did the Spyhalski’s attend six games at the World Baseball Classic this past spring, they’ve been around the country to see many ball parks since they moved to Austin in 1996.
Vickie has been to 21 major league baseball parks in her life and Paul has been to at least 70 different total parks in his life. The couple also attended the WBC in 2009.
“I don’t know what started it,” said Paul on the couples’ love for baseball. “I kind of came to it late. The St. Paul Saints started in 1993 and baseball was fun. They sort of made it an event and you wanted to go to the park. Then you wanted to go to the next park and it spiraled.”
The Spyhalski’s went to San Juan, Puerto Rico to watch six games of pool play in this years’ WBC. They saw Puerto Rico, Spain, Venezuela and eventual WBC champ Dominican Republic.
The games were as intense as they come and Paul said that the Dominican fans brought their own band that played during contests.
Vickie said there isn’t a lot of baseball games that compares to the WBC — which features Major League Baseball players playing for their home countries’ teams.
“There’s nothing like it,” she said. “A Twins playoff game might be comparable, but it’s not even the same. There’s a sense of nationalism and you just don’t see that passion here the way you do there.”
The highlight of the pool round was when Dominican played Puerto Rico. Both teams had already advanced, but that didn’t change the intensity in the crowd or on the field.
“The games between Puerto Rico and the Dominican are so intense, because there’s a lot of people from the Dominican that live in Puerto Rico now,” Paul, who takes score at every game he goes to, said. “On every pitch half the crowd would cheer and half the crowd would boo. There were a lot of umpires in the crowd.”
The Spyhalski’s enjoyed meeting fans from other countries as much as they did watching the games. Some fans would even dress in flags of their home countries and all of them gave it there all when cheering.
There was one moment when things got real interesting. Hugo Chavez, the late President of Venezuela, had recently passed away when there was a moment of silence held for him during the Venezuela-Dominican Republic game.
“To have a moment of silence when you’re in Puerto Rico and you have people from all over the world there,” Vickie said. “I wondered what was going to happen. It’s one of those ways that history kind of imparts itself upon baseball.”
Vickie said that there was about four seconds of silence before some booing ensued and then the crowd fell silent again.
The Spyhalski’s are familiar with baseball history in Austin and they used to host players from the Minnesota Stars baseball team, including current Twin Josh Willingham. A lof of their travels to different ball parks have involved following Willingham in his baseball career, which has seen him play for four MLB teams over nine years.
Paul will be giving a presentation called Snapshots of Austin Baseball in the Austin Public Library April 10 at 6:30 p.m. The presentation will cover a couple of games in 1912 and go to 1950.
“I was in the library looking up some old box scores on microfilm and they asked me if I wanted to present something,” Paul said. “I can’t cover it all because baseball goes all the way back to 1870 in Austin.”