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Mar '09 28

The World Baseball Classic marks Road to Excellence for our Sport



Canada's Justin Morneau batting against Italy in 2009 WBC

by Riccardo Schiroli

I won’t forget the night of Monday March 23rd. It was the night I met actor Dominic Chianese, who starred in “The Sopranos”, one of my favorites amongst TV shows. And it was the night I saw some of the best baseball of my life.

The match between Korea and Japan, the Championship Game of the 2009 World Baseball Classic, has been great: outstanding plays, outstanding fans, a lot of emotions and a drama ending. Can you ask for more, when you attend a baseball game?

Furthermore: it was played in the “Dodger Stadium”, that is one of the real monuments of sport: More than “Yankee Stadium” to me and I find it hard to say if I like more the “Dodger Stadium” or the “Giuseppe Meazza”, the soccer stadium in San Siro, Milan, where both AC Milan and FC Inter play their home games. But there aren’t many other stadia I would mention, talking about “monuments”.

I was writing notes during the game. Because I had a report on the game to file for www.fibs.it, of course, but also because I wanted to be sure I could remember the little details. The fans, the rooting, the way Korean fans go on for hours with their “Te-han-Min-go” (or something like that, it’s the way they call Korea in their own language…a language I have no chance of learning, after all. But it sounded good), the colors.

The main plot, I will remember without looking at my notes. Because that was a great night. Period. Greatly organized, taking care of all the details.

With the World Baseball Classic, Major League Baseball has showed everybody the road to excellence. And I believe the lesson should be learned.

Sometimes there’s not so much poetry, in making the right choices. I understand that many amongst baseball officers find appealing the idea of distributing a kit to get the game started in some underdeveloped area. But here we are talking about the real deal. And the real deal has not much to do with dreams. Or self promotion.

What MLB has created is a top event, played by top players that the fans liked (over 800.000 tickets sold). And this top event generated revenue. The World Baseball Classic is not about game development, but the money that the Classic will distribute to Federations (above all the winning Japanese Federation, US $ 2.7 million, but also the International Federation, that will collect US $ 1 million, can be satisfied) will do a lot for the development of the game. If there is the will, expecially in underdeveloped areas.

You see what having a goal, and actually reaching it, can make? You have a successful tournament and produce resources that can help you implement other actions.

The World Baseball Classic has taught a lesson: if you want people to show up, take the games where you have people willing to attend them. If you cannot get the best TV deals (for instance: because in the US the so called College basketball March Madness is on), be at least sure that you have your own channel (the web, for instance) that shows the games to fans that are willing to watch them, but cannot make it to the ballpark.

Those as shortsighted as to preview a failure because the tournament is played in March won’t probably change their minds and will keep posting statistics stating that pitchers who perform in the WBC will probably have injury bothered seasons. But luckily enough, players (and their Union) are well over it. And they are willing to participate. And they will keep participating.

March is not a perfect period, but there’s not a better one. MLB owners won’t shut their season during the Summer and at the end of the MLB play offs (November) you will have more players decline, because of injuries or simply because they have had enough baseball for the year.

March has also another advantage: every 4th year it creates a sort of Super Spring Training atmosphere, making fans anticipate the beginning of the ‘regular season’ more than they normally do.

There’s only one thing I did not like of the World Baseball Classic: the ‘double elimination’ format.

I have nothing against the ‘double elimination’ if it’s about a round robin of 8 teams, but to me it makes absolutely no sense when you are talking about 4 teams. Also because you are going to have 4 teams (Panama, South Africa, Taiwan and Canada in our case) participate in the tournament to play only 2 games. And one of these teams (Canada) was also the home team to one of the venues.

In particular, during the World Baseball Classic I disliked the idea of the 6 games that were meant to give the seeding of the round robins during phase 1 and 2 of the tournament. What interest for the average fan has a game between 2 teams that have already qualified?

Also: you have teams eliminated without facing other competitors. Cuba, for instance, was eliminated without ever facing Korea.

On a final note, the European teams gave a good contribution to the idea of ‘global baseball’.

Holland of course was the standout. Nobody would have previewed that the Dutch could eliminate the Dominican Republic, let alone beat them 2 times in a matter of days.

Italy, that was probably in the toughest bracket of the tournament, succeeded in beating the home team Canada and their Big League stars Morneau, Bay and Martin.

The press in the US dropped, here and there, notes that the European teams had rosters filled with players born outside the land soil. Weird enough, they never mentioned that the Hairston and Gonzalez brothers were not actually born in Mexico or that ‘Big Papi’ Ortiz gave up his Dominican citizenship to become a citizen of the United States of America.

But we will cope with that.

Photo: © Ratti, FIBS




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