It’s time to defend our pastime in the WBC

The second most important sporting event of early March begins this weekend. Can you guess what it is?

If you guessed March Madness, that’s not for a few weeks. If you guessed not being arrested on Unofficial, that’s actually No. 1. But if you guessed the World Baseball Classic – you’d be correct….The second most important sporting event of early March begins this weekend. Can you guess what it is?

If you guessed March Madness, that’s not for a few weeks. If you guessed not being arrested on Unofficial, that’s actually No. 1. But if you guessed the World Baseball Classic – you’d be correct.

But do you care?

The draw of the WBC is that professionals play in it. The WBC was created because the only other true opportunity for nations to compete on the diamond is at the Olympics, in which professionals don’t play because it conflicts with their regular season.

The WBC will feature 39 games at seven venues from March 5-23, with the two final rounds taking place at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. It will repeat every four years following this year.

The inaugural tournament was in 2006, with Japan coming out victorious. The Americans were bounced in the second round by Mexico because of a lack of preparation and a surplus of arrogance.

“We thought we’d crush everybody,” Todd Jones, a member of Team USA’s star-studded 2006 bullpen, told ESPN’s Jayson Stark this week. “So we were all concerned about playing time.”

Well, clearly our countrymen didn’t care much about the WBC the first time around – so why should we?

As we’ve learned through our 2006 WBC team and the 2004 “Dream Team” in hoops, the rest of the sporting world is catching up to us. Just because we invented both sports doesn’t mean the titles are handed to us.

It took awhile, but we’re no longer good enough to just walk onto the field, with our home run trots and fist pumps, and dominate. We can lose. And we have.

I don’t know about you, but I hate losing.

Baseball is becoming an increasingly international game, and the WBC capitalizes on that as much as can be expected. Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, as big of a doofus as he is sometimes, knows how to capitalize on a good opportunity (the ‘roid-fueled home-run chase of 1998 rings a bell). It’s a way of expanding America’s pastime even further and an attempt to create a World Cup-type atmosphere and buzz around baseball. It’s really a direct rip of the World Cup formula.

Yet, in my opinion, the WBC, if it reached its ultimate potential, couldn’t compete with the World Cup. There’s just too much love for soccer/futbol across the world.

Even I, a born and raised American with minimal interest in soccer, was completely engrossed in the 2006 World Cup. The passion every country exhibits just pours through the TV, a passion that is the very definition of why I love sports.

And I didn’t see the same level of love during the WBC in 2006.

We should definitely cut the WBC a break. The World Cup was founded in 1930, giving it a bit of a head start, but the popularity of soccer in Europe is like America’s “big three” – football, basketball and baseball (sorry, hockey fans) – all rolled into one. Can baseball ever reach that level across international waters?

I don’t see it. Then again, my arrogant American butt saw us winning the WBC in 2006. So don’t take my word for it.

This year’s USA squad features three former MVPs, 14 former All-Stars, three rookies of the year, a 20-homer man at every position, Jake Peavy and Roy Oswalt to anchor the rotation and a bullpen that includes seven pitchers who averaged better than a strikeout an inning last year. How might this team lose?

Because the discipline and all-out desire of other countries trumps ours.

From Stark’s WBC article: “It wasn’t until (the Americans) actually started playing, and getting whupped, Todd Jones said, when ‘we found out other countries had worked out since Jan. 1. Heck, even Korea got military exemptions if they got to (the final four in) San Diego.'”

So while our players may not have rewards like military exemptions, they are now taking it seriously. They’re practicing more, preparing more and getting ready to take back the sport their nation invented. They’re defending our honor.

So should you care about the World Baseball Classic? I’d say so.

After all, it is our pastime.

Rich Mayor is junior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected]