Saturday, January 26, 2013

The 2013 World Baseball Classic - Are You Still On The Fence?

It's almost like the Little League World Series, but bigger...
...And now quadrennial. 
(Look up the word, you fools.)

I remember writing on Twitter at some point last year saying something along the lines of: "Are they ever doing the World Baseball Classic again?" I was probably one of the few people at the time that actually cared about it. I can't help it; I love baseball, and I thought that the World Baseball Classic was a really good idea. I'm not sure about everybody else's opinion on it, however.

After holding previous tournaments in 2006 and 2009, it was announced that it would be held every four years instead of the previous (and one-time) three-year gap between tournaments. Just like the national tournaments held all over the world every four years such as the FIFA World Cup (men and women), the FIBA Basketball World Cup, the IIHF World Junior Ice Hockey Championships (held annually), and many more, the WBC is hoping to grab enough attention this time around after having gained a decent amount of interest in the past.

Since the formatting has changed going from a three-year gap to a four, I feel as if it's lost some steam and a lot of people have forgotten about the whole concept. Heck, people may still be "on the fence" with the idea, so to speak. Sure, this would be only the third time it's being held, but it's pretty bad when a big baseball fan such as myself practically forgot about it until someone mentioned it to me a few weeks ago. It might be a much bigger deal outside of the United States, especially in Central America and Asia, but is it going to garner the same kind of fire here in North America?

It could, but then it might not.

Here are my reasons why it could:

1) It's during MLB Spring Training. - It would be an excellent alternative to watching general Spring Training games where you watch minor league guys that you may never ever see in the Major Leagues play and get spanked by the other team. In this case, you will see All-Star caliber players for Team USA. Plus, you'll see a bunch of your favorites play for their home countries AND get a geography/fun-fact lesson at the same time! Two birds with one stone, kids. When it comes to something like baseball, I would want to hit the ground running. I haven't watched real baseball in about three months. THREE. WHOLE. MONTHS. If a baseball fan like me wants it, we all want it.

2) Baseball isn't an Olympic sport anymore for now. - Since baseball was ousted from the Olympics after the Beijing Games in 2008, guys in the MLB minors and in other small countries really didn't have any overly huge event to represent their country. Teams in Europe have a continent-wide league (think the UEFA Champions League and Europa League for soccer) which is as close as you can possibly get to that. Of course you have the Winter Leagues down south and what have you, but it just isn't the same. There should be some love-of-country going on during this tournament that is sorely missed during the Olympics.
Also, on a side note, baseball in tournament form is something that is often unheard of considering the format of how certain leagues run. For example, Major League Baseball has a 162-game season where most teams play every day, whereas a European league may just play a 42-game season where they only play on the weekends. The endurance style is different among country's respective leagues, and the way the teams may handle playing in short spurts could differ from other respective leagues.

3)The usage of baseball fields all over the world is a unique concept. - One thing you may notice about a lot of the international sporting tournaments is that it's usually exclusive to one country or two neighboring countries (like the Poland/Ukraine duo in Euro 2012). In this case, you'll be seeing Pool Play occurring in Japan, the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Taiwan. These four countries aren't exactly close in proximity, either. It should give viewers a peek at the various venues around the world, and in some sports, you don't really get a glimpse because they often show the court or the pitch. Camera angles can give you the view of the dimensions of the field, and weird people like me normally find that stuff fascinating.
[Fun fact: I would want to go to Japan just to visit The Big Egg (Tokyo Dome) and see a baseball game.]

Those are some decent enough reasons why the WBC may fair out well this year.
However, there are reasons why this may not do as well here in North America or anywhere else.

1) It's hard enough to get the average (or uninformed) American to watch a sports tournament that isn't the Olympic Games or the NFL. - I'm serious. You'll have the die-hard baseball fans watching the World Baseball Classic and the faithful soccer fans watching the FIFA World Cup and other major Cups, but if you really had the time, would you watch these things if you didn't know who half of these people were? Exactly. People will watch the Olympics because it's the Olympics. People will watch and enjoy stuff like fencing and curling when they normally don't. When it comes to something like the World Baseball Classic, there isn't much more variety to it that will keep a person not normally interested in baseball interested in the idea.

2) Critics are prematurely whining and slamming the tournament because it could be the root of the blame for injuries before all international leagues begin their respective seasons. - This video is all I have to say about this:

The men on these teams signed up for this. I'm pretty sure they know what they're getting themselves into. Besides, there haven't been reports of any major injuries during this tournament in the past, so it's rather unlikely that something like this will start this year. However, the impact that the critics are making may make a dent in people's decisions on whether to actually watch the World Baseball Classic or not. Please. Real talk: It's not like it's being played in June, where there's the issue that an injury could affect a team's second half and ultimately their postseason chances.

3) Team USA has a mediocre record in tournament play. - If we could eliminate the past successes of the US Men's Basketball team and the US Women's Soccer team, we really don't have much else to be proud of when it comes to playing internationally. We do well and stuff, but not enough where we are always guaranteed to be Top 5 in something. It's just another one of those cases where a stereotypical person will go: "Won't some Asian team win this or something?" Sure, Japan has won the first two tournaments, but since we're technically a "superpower" in the world, the average American may expect us to win all of the time. It doesn't work like that, unfortunately.

Aside from these points that I have mentioned, there are also some things that countries are experimenting with that I found to be interesting for this:

For one, a lot of countries are actually using more homegrown talent this year that have strictly stayed in the country to play the game. The two most prominent examples of this new practice are Cuba and Japan. I guess that Japan wanted to give everyone a chance this year. Just kidding. I actually think that it's a good idea, especially since it's not just the idea of the country being represented, but you're also showcasing the ability of your country's baseball league as a whole. That's why you may actually see some issues that ensue with a team that has players that come from multiple leagues. Of course they practice before the tournament starts, but the chemistry may still be a little off at times.

There are also some more little things I learned and remembered while writing this post:
- Bruce Chen still exists. I keep forgetting that he pitches for the Kansas City Royals. I have a feeling that Royals fans forget that themselves.
- Andruw Jones is still playing baseball, but he's with the Nippon Leagues. I wouldn't exactly call that "selling out," but it certainly does make me scratch my head a little.
- Australia's Chris Snelling hasn't played on any league team since before the '09 World Baseball Classic, and that was with the Phillies (rarely used, just for the record).
- Barry Larkin is coaching Team Brazil. More power to him. A lot of the guys are MLB minor league guys, so they could learn a lot from a Hall of Fame guy like him.
- The Chinese Baseball League works in union with the Nippon League in Japan in sending guys there for additional training. With a young league like that, that's a really good idea. It's only a seven-team league, so they're still a bit shaky.
- Australia had a baseball league that started a little over 20 years ago but only lasted ten seasons. They were revitalized in 2009. (GOOD FER' YOU!)
- I keep wondering why there's a team for the Netherlands. Then I keep forgetting that they have Honkbal Hoofdklasse (good gravy) and it's the most well-built league in Europe. Plus, the roster includes people from the island of Curacao. There we go, Little League fans--there's your Curacao fix.
- Israel just missed qualifying for the tournament, but there's a nice touch on this team: Those who were non-Israeli citizens but were of Jewish heritage were eligible to play for the national team (i.e. Ryan Braun and Ian Kinsler). That's pretty cool, in my opinion. Brad Ausmus, who is one of the most successful Jewish catchers to play for MLB, is their manager.

Even with the points I've made and the wealth of fun facts that I've possibly informed you of, here's the big question: Are we all still on the fence about the World Baseball Classic?
Grant it, even though the tournament was founded eight years ago, it's still a fairly new concept, and this is only the third time it's being held. Since it's not a consistent and annual thing to be reminded of in the United States like the Little League World Series, it might not be held in the memories of a lot of casual watchers that may think that this is a one-time thing. Since things are going to be contested differently this time around, things should be more memorable and the tournament could grow in popularity. That's what I'm hoping for, at least.

It's awesome to see that baseball is such a huge thing internationally; it's not just America's game anymore. I just hope people fall off the fence onto the right side and try to support it.

Just...give us some more good baseball. That would be nice.
Love, Baseball Fans


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