Thursday, March 12, 2009

World Baseball Classic

I must say, I’m rather indifferent to this whole tournament. I think most of it stems from the fact that, no matter what the title says, two occurrences doesn’t make it a classic. It doesn’t even make it an “instant classic.” Right now, it’s like starting a new college. You can name your college The University of the Ivy Leagues if you like. But, it’d be hard to call yourself an Ivy League school since none of your alumni have been president, or headed corporations, or even held a job. Sure, in the years to come your school could produce graduates that command respect, but that hasn’t happened yet. The same holds for the WBC. That’s one reason this week’s upset of the Dominican team might be a great thing. At least that’s a story someone may remember for next time. It all helps build the resume of the competition. To make it work, it needs big names, and big games. The names are there from the start. It’s the games it needs to get.

My other cause for apathy is the players they select. Most of the reason you cheer for one team over another is familiarity. You don’t find many Padres fans in New England because it’s hard to be one, although it’s getting easier. If you turn on the local news or read the local paper, it’s the Red Sox players that you’d see. Sure, it’s getting better with ESPN, and satellite TV broadcasting every game to your house. But, the hometown team is still the one that you have a connection with. In most international competitions, that holds true with team USA. You cheer for the US swimmers because they’re the only ones you’ve even heard of prior to the games. I couldn’t name a non-American beach volleyball player. So, if one of those games is on, I cheer for the US since I have the most vested interests. Even when the pros started playing Olympic Basketball, a vast majority of them played for the US. I still didn’t know any of the players on the Argentinean team. That’s not the case with the WBC. Sure, I still don’t know many of the players on the Netherlands, but the rest of them are pretty well stocked with players. Team Canada has Jason Bay. I “know” him, and would like to see him do well. Japan has Dice-K. Again, I have a “relationship” with him, and have an interest in seeing him pitch. I probably have heard of at least half of the Dominican team, starting with Pedro and Ortiz. How could I not have a desire to see them perform well? And, yes the US team has Pedroia and Youkilis. But, it also has Jeter. As far as familiarity with the players, there are a handful of teams with the same levels of recognition. So, it’s hard to watch a game pulling for team USA when I’d be just as interested in the other team winning. If I don’t care who wins, my dedication just isn’t there. I went to an IRL race once. I don’t know a thing about open wheel racing. So, I picked the car with the coolest color scheme to root for. That didn’t exactly make for an exciting race. It’s the same with the WBC. I care exactly the same about almost every team. So, it’s just a bunch of people playing ball.

It’s also tough to get excited because I can’t tell how hard the players are trying yet. I’m sure they see it as a spring training more than anything…which might actually be an advantage to teams with fewer major leaguers. If Bay is on first playing against the US team, does he go into second with a take-out slide against Pedroia? Does he put national pride ahead of the Red Sox? I doubt it. (What if Jeter’s taking the toss instead?) It’s hard for me to faithfully cheer for a team, when it’s not clear how much they care about the outcome.

It’s really less of a “classic” and more of an “exhibition.” It’s similar to the All-Star game. Let’s get some great players on the same team, just for kicks, and see how they would do against each other. Any number of diehard baseball fans has put teams like this together in their mind. What if we made a team of all-time Sox against all-time Yankees? What if we put a team of Oklahomans against Californians? What if we had a team of Dominicans against a team of Canadians? Who would win? While the WBC doesn’t exactly answer that question, it does at least put the teams against each other. That’s not all bad.

Oh, and if I had to guess, I’d go with all-time Sox, Californians, and Dominicans.

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