Let me preface this by saying that baseball is the king of my brain . Batman may be my noggin’s silent protector but Baseball reigns supreme. It should surprise no one, then, that I really dig the World Baseball Classic. That said, I’m no dummy. Despite Bud “Sisterkissin'” Selig’s best efforts, using everything from Greg Maddux to Aviici’s ‘Levels’ to increase buzz, the WBC is not nearly as popular as the higher-ups had hoped (both Maddux and that song are probably past the point of ‘sexy’ relevance to most fans now, but beside the point. Also an intriguing band name – Sexy Relevance & the Semicolons coming to a blues house near you). The move from ESPN to the not-as-established MLB Network certainly accounts some for the average viewership dropping from 1.6 million to 252,000 per game, but not all (thank you SB Nation). By the same token, however, the WBC is certainly a bigger success than “This <retch> Time <urp> it Counts <vomit>.” That’s what it sounds like when I say that phrase out loud.
The WBC situation seems perfect. As much as I love baseball, I have to be honest – unless I am there, in a stadium, I don’t last much past 2 or 3 innings of random Spring Training baseball games. If, say, there is a particular young pitcher I’ve never seen in real time, sure, I might tune in… But those games become well organized scrimmages in a hurry. And mean little to the players who are often QUITE LITERALLY going through the motions in spring. Pitchers work on repeating their deliveries or a new pitch. Batters are seeing uncharacteristic pitches and are themselves working out the kinks. Not competitive baseball.
The lack of intensity is fine. Truly, I get it. But I must say, these WBC games are a treat at the other end of the spectrum. Say what you will about who is on the teams, by golly do they play hard. Did you see Andruw Jones react after the Netherlands beat Cuba AGAIN?! He was pumped and trash talking like a champ.
There is a gleeful mix on many of these teams between grizzled vets (see Mr. Jones) and young players excited to be playing on this competitive stage – some who will no doubt be in an interesting position not knowing whether they have a spot with the Big Club, knowing their performance matters not only for their country, but immediate career as well.
I had this thought and the tone of this post was initially going to be a get-more-scrappy-scrubs tilt. But after looking at the US roster, I no longer think that is the issue. Sure, some folks complain about the lack of superstars on the WBC roster but I’m not so sure that isn’t a strength of the competition. Many of the players worked their way through the USA Baseball Program, which is kind of cool if you think about it – it’s own little farm system. Furthermore, the team actually has a nice mix of recognizable stars (a tainted Braun, Wright who’s becoming a legend, Joe ‘Great Hair’ Mauer) and major leaguers you want to root for, folks only the more passionate baseball fans appreciate (I’m looking at you, Willie Bloomquist).
I’m calling out those out there who say there are’t enough stars on the team or whatever crap like that and this lack of pull leads to the lack of popularity in the U-S-of-A. Pitchers are creatures of habit, I understand why someone like Justin Verlander might prefer his routine. That’s the only area I will acknowledge the US could attempt to bring in a few more names – their starters. But seeing as the pitches are limited, why bother? Lack of recognizable pitching names is not what is holding the WBC from really gaining traction.
So why isn’t the World Baseball Classic a National sensation? It is our national pastime, right? Well that last bit is wrong. Baseball is more like soccer now, I would argue, in that there are seriously devoted pockets all around the globe. Baseball has succeeded in their attempts to take the game global. Back to the initial question, then: why don’t we like this tournament more, as Americans? I mean this answer in the least cynical way possible: we need to win.
This notion could be bastardized in a number of exaggerated anti-American ways. I do not mean it in any of them. I mean it very practically. As a nation, we assume that since we have the MLB, that we should win the damn thing! Losing is disheartening! Despite the percieved lack of stars, we have more stars, right? Where Italy has Lorenzo Avagnina (giggle), we have Adam Jones, heck we have Shane Victorino. These guys are All-Stars! How can Amurrrica lose to a bunch of Jabronies!? Here is where those two initial questions tie together. Baseball is played worldwide. And guess what? Unlike basketball, there are a BUNCH of countries that are really good at this sport!
So how can the World Baseball Classic truly catch on in America? Simple. As a famous American Philosopher once said, “Just win, baby.”