Watching the World Baseball Classic: The grumbling gives way to the Game

World Baseball Classic logo

The WBC is in full swing.

I’ve been watching a good amount of the World Baseball Classic, on the MLB Network, ESPN2 and, most awesomely, on ESPN360 at my leisure, and the early going warrants, I think, some commentary:

First off, clearly the amount of low-hum perturbia surrounding major leaguers in the tournament missed the point and the mark, and that includes those offering up those omniavailable enshrinable columnistic gems: “Does anyone care about the World Baseball Classic?” often followed closely by “Not me.”

Appearances would suggest that the players care about the World Baseball Classic: I watched Pudge Rodriguez get good and ticked when he missed a high cheesy Netherlandish slider; later he and teammate Yadier Molina celebrated the younger catcher’s go ahead hit with even greater intensity. The Italians–loose as that definition might be–looked every bit as invested as the PRs. Mark DeRosa of Team USA pumped a fist after busting it for a triple against the Venezuelans. D. Pedroia laid out on Astro-carpet to field a sharp grounder and make a play to first.

Chipper Jones sticks with Team USA, AP Photo

Chipper Jones sticks with Team USA, AP Photo

For all of the mental calisthenics, the blogging and the injury worry that surrounds the WBC, I have felt while watching the tournament and the players playing the games, wearing their flags, that the jaded arguments faded immediately into the background. The game of baseball emerged, competitiveness overriding manufactured anxiety. Audiences and the Game itself, wipe away the collected ash of MLB-centric zealotry and GW Bush-style paranoia, xenophobia and shortsightedness. Chipper Jones, eg, could have split for Florida after a small injury, but instead decided to stick it out for the 2nd round. One Chicago Trib writer refreshingly admits maybe even just a little jealousy at the obvious enjoyment that baseball fans from foreign shores take in the WBC, saying, “I don’t feel bad that we’re lacking zeal for the WBC, but I do envy other countries’ fervor over our national pastime.”

Aside: in my high school baseball days, I found that myself and my teammates rapidly adjusted to a quick change in team or teammates when gathered for a random tournament league game or summer ball. Allegiances form quickly, and the thrill of competition, of teammaking itself, was more than enough sparkplug to fire the competetive engine. For what it’s worth, I believe I’ve witnessed this same shift as Adam Dunn was received by his teammates with grins, for example. Nationality is a good enough starting place–and perhaps the original starting place–for instant comeraderie.

Speaking of the injury fears, using very briefly my hometown Astros as an example: more players have been hurt on the Astros during Spring Training, away from the ghastly threat of the WBC, than have those on the international fields. And the one player who was hurt in the WBC that I can conjur off the top of my head?: Chipper Jones, whose fragility transcends competetive venue.

Japanese fans at the WBC in Tokyo

Japanese fans at the WBC in Tokyo

Fans, also, seem to quote care about the WBC unquote. Of those fans who packed the house in Tokyo, most seemed enthused and many sang. One Puerto Rican young lady celebrated a 3-1 victory with a shimmy dance that producers deemed unfit for the TV audience (I’m guessing, anyhow, based on the speed with which the camera panned away).

The primo accessibility to WBC games via a number of outlets makes an incredible difference. I didn’t wake early to watch Japan and Korea play. Instead I watched it on replay, on ESPN360, in high quality that same evening. And between ESPN’s live coverage, MLB.com, and MLBNetwork’s wholehearted commitment, live broadcasts and highlights abound. This broad availability, through sheer force of marketing perhaps, helps cast aside the crit that the WBC would go largely ignored and thereby empower the detractors.

There is much baseball left to play as the winners converge in the US of A next week. I’d like in a perfect world to deliver a parcel of Japanese fans to PETCO Park and open it like a birthday present for a few more rounds of the Ichiro chant.

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