WBC gives baseball fans a treat before season

Corey Marine

Spring training is well under way, but something else is holding the attention of baseball fans across the nation and the world. Instead of trying to keep up with the flow of information coming from their favorite MLB team’s spring training progress, many are tuned into the World Baseball Classic. After garnering somewhat lackluster ratings three years ago, people suddenly care. Japan stunned the world in an event that many people thought would simply be a contest between the heavily favored United States and Dominican Republic teams. Suddenly, every team feels that they have a shot at winning it all.

It is a well-known fact that the United States is no longer the clear-cut leader in baseball and basketball. The U.S. basketball team was dethroned and took the bronze in the Olympics in 2004 before a cohesive group of players willing to play for each other and not just themselves was put together. However, a change in personnel may not be the easy remedy when it comes to baseball. Many countries have made great strides in producing quality players that can compete at the highest level, including the majors and the Japanese pro-leagues.

MLB is on pace to have half of its players born outside of the United States. Baseball purists find this to be rather startling, but it is a great thing for the game. On the American home front, it could be a catalyst to get more people interested in the national pastime. It can light the same fire that that was embodied in the Olympic basketball team in 2008.

More outside competition leads to better baseball, no matter what team you cheer for. Foreign-born players have become a staple in the game today. No one can deny that players such as Ichiro Suzuki, Albert Pujols and Mariano Rivera have had a tremendous impact on the game. With a steroid cloud that shows no sign of going away any time soon, baseball can use all of the positive stories it can get.

There has been something special about the WBC this year. One of the shining examples was the game between Canada and the United States. As great as the game was, it was the roaring crowd that left an image in the minds of fans. The Rogers Centre in Toronto was filled with over 40,000 screaming fans, many of whom were brought to their feet.

Although the U.S. team won the game, the Canadian team showed a great deal of heart. The Canadians went blow-for-blow with a team they were not supposed to even compete with.

Then, there was the Netherlands sweeping the Dominican Republic – one of the biggest upsets in sports history. On one team, there was the Dominican Republic with 23 Major League players who have salaries totaling over $80 million on the roster. On the other, there was the underdog with two players with Major League experience, combined salaries under $1 million and a total of 95 wins (90 of which come from pitcher Sidney Ponson).

In terms of upsets, it certainly has the workings of being something special. Although moving onto the next round of the World Baseball Classic is not nearly as dramatic as bringing home Olympic gold, anyone can appreciate a David and Goliath story.

The timing of the tournament also keeps baseball relevant for this time of year. In the United States, sports fans are caught up in March Madness, so spring training becomes an afterthought. During the years without the WBC, the average sports fan usually just catches the baseball highlights to see if they have anything to look forward to in April when the regular season starts. Now, even as the college basketball games are being played, people have the chance to watch baseball games that actually mean something.

Many baseball-crazed countries such as the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Japan want to win just as much as the American fans do, if not more. If you watch any of the games with the Puerto Rican team playing, pay attention to the crowd. The Puerto Rican fans cheer for every run and out as if their lives depended on it. The music never stops. The thunder sticks are never put away. With fans like that, each game has a playoff atmosphere to it. Considering the tournament only happens every three years and that baseball is no longer an Olympic event, the importance and level of intensity of every game are raised.

There are definitely pros and cons to the World Baseball Classic. It is easy to see why Major League club owners are against the whole idea. This is supposed to be a time of year where players are tweaking their swings and pitches and getting acclimated to their teammates.

If a player gets hurt, it is his money being lost after all. However, no one team or player is bigger than the game. In-game experience during the Classic is the same as a high-intensity game in the majors.

The level of competition is greater than that faced in a spring training game where starters are not going at full strength, and the players giving it their all are the ones trying to make it onto the team as a fifth starter or role player. All in all, a sense of desperation and a playoff atmosphere in March is definitely good for the game loved by so many people across the world.

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Corey Marine is a junior communication major from New York, N.Y. He can be reached at [email protected]