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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

World Baseball Classic shows baseball has international spirit

By Daniel Kerwin

If you’ve been waiting for an excuse to get excited lately, now would be a good time. Not only are we the crack of a bat away from a fresh new baseball season, but we’re being treated to the second ever World Baseball Classic while we wait. With an exhilarating first round of this year’s tournament already in the books, I’m prepared to argue that the ‘Classic is making great strides in becoming more than just a side show to watch during spring training. After an embarrassing performance last time around, the U.S. had better be prepared to realize that too.

The WBC was created three years ago with all the right intentions, but also under heavy skepticism. The tournament is modeled after the highly successful World Cups that exist in a lot of the world’s most popular sports. Although it’s often called “America’s national pastime,” baseball has indeed become an internationally popular sport, and the creation of the WBC has been a huge step in acknowledging this. The skepticism around the tournament was that it would fail to be as popular as other World Cup style tournaments, but the fact that we’re having a second tournament at all is proof enough that this wasn’t the case.

The unfortunate circumstance of baseball being taken out of the Olympics makes the tournament all the more necessary. Although baseball only existed as an Olympic sport for a relatively brief period, from 1992 until last year’s Beijing Games, it showed a whole lot about baseball’s potential as a nation rallying sport.

Besides the Olympics and the WBC, baseball has never had much of an opportunity to be played on a nation versus nation scale. It was pretty much assumed that the American version of the game was superior to all international versions of the game anyway, so there wasn’t perceived to be a need for such competition. From what we’ve seen after five Olympic Games and one and a half World Baseball Classics, that statement isn’t only misleading, it’s just flat out wrong.

Certain countries have shown themselves to be passionate about sending a national team to these competitions, while others have shown indifference. It was no coincidence that the most successful teams in the last WBC, Japan, Cuba and South Korea, are the teams that have had the most success in the Olympics. U.S. Olympic teams were pretty much entirely comprised of minor leaguers, while other nations sent their best players regardless of whether they were in the middle of a season or not.

Success has ended up following countries passionate about their national team: although the U.S. did manage to capture one Olympic gold medal in 2000, this pales in comparison to the three gold medals Cuba has won.

Major League Baseball’s refusal to send players to the Olympics was one of the major reasons baseball was taken out of the Olympics in the first place. MLB decided that its own season was too important to be disrupted for as little as two weeks every four years, even with a schedule of 162 games. The WBC is the fruit of Major League Baseball’s efforts to become less self-absorbed for the greater good of the game of baseball, and it is an effort that is paying off.

Although it might be asking a bit much to hope for the WBC to revolutionize the way baseball is viewed on the international scene, it is definitely capable of making huge strides in promoting the game to the far stretches of the globe. Although the majority of the teams in the tournament come from the two baseball hotspots of America and Asia, teams from as far away as the Netherlands and Australia have shown that they’re not just in the competition as token teams.

These nations could have simply taken two losses and quietly left the tournament, but instead they chose to make some noise. The Netherlands single-handedly eliminated the powerhouse Dominican Republic from the tournament, sealing a place in the second round of the tournament. Although Australia fell short of joining the Netherlands in the second round, the Aussies definitely made a statement with a 17-7 shellacking of Mexico and came painfully close to an upset against Cuba, falling just short by a score of 5-4.

Although Australia is out, the rest of the tournament will still be plenty worth following. The U.S. learned three years ago that it’s not enough to throw a group of hotshot major leaguers on a field and expect to win, so they’re taking it a bit more cautiously this time around. I don’t expect them to quite get it right this time either, but at least they beat Canada this time.

The hottest story will continue to be full-blown rivalry between Japan and South Korea. Japan won the last WBC despite losing two out of three to South Korea. South Korea won the latest contest in the rivalry, beating Japan 1-0 in a tightly fought game in Tokyo. Both Japan and South Korea are the epitome of teams that play with intense national pride (look back at the Ichiro Suzuki incident from the last WBC if you need proof), so both will be hard to beat in the tournament. I was in Tokyo at the last WBC, watching live as these two teams played each other (South Korea took that game too), so I’ve seen myself how tough these two teams will be playing.

I foresee the WBC only continuing to get more exciting in future years as it starts to become more and more of a staple in the baseball community. I think it’s a real pity that baseball won’t be a part of the 2012 London Olympics; playing baseball in England of all places would have been another great opportunity to expand this beautiful game.

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