Column: March Madness times two

By Josh George

It’s March again, and amid the Madness that the sports world encounters during this month – NCAAs, playoff surges in the NBA and NHL and everything leading up to the NFL draft – the one sport that is usually in the background at this time has taken a leap to the front. That’s right, you guessed it baseball fans.

Can I tell you that I was shocked when I picked up the sports section of the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday morning and saw the headline, “Steroids by the book” with a picture of Barry Bonds beneath it? I understand that before this new book by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters came out that it hadn’t been “proven” that Bonds was juiced, but is it really that surprising? It was only a matter of time before somebody released hard evidence behind the reasons that Bonds’ head swelled up like a balloon, literally and figuratively, and that he remarkably overcame bum knees in the golden years of his career to hit more home runs in a season than anyone in the history of the game. It was all a coincidence, sure. I wouldn’t buy that for a dollar.

And for those of you who may argue that hitting a home run is ridiculously hard even if you’re on steroids, take into consideration the fact that not only do steroids make you stronger, but also enhance your vision and enable you to better deal with injuries that would otherwise be career threatening. I would say that it helps.

But I don’t want to be a negative , so let’s take a moment to look at the other reason baseball is making headlines: the World Baseball Classic (WBC).

Bud Selig and the MLB might be a little behind the times, but they finally decided it was time to go global. It is an obvious step for the league, following in the footsteps of the NFL with its NFL Europe and, in larger part, the NBA. The original Dream Team opened up more doors for the NBA then they ever could have imagined. The international flavor that the league now has is incredible and I’m sure the NBA doesn’t shrug at the revenue being generated in the international market each year.

Baseball could use a little more international influence. As a game I would rank as the most American of American games, I think it could benefit from foreign exposure and influence. I also believe that baseball already has some outlying roots that might make the move to a popular international setting easier than what basketball had to go through.

At Tuesday’s opening round game between Venezuela and the Dominican Republic in Orlando, Fla. the crowd was reported as one of the wildest ever seen at a baseball game. European soccer fans may argue, but I believe that some of the greatest sports fans in the world are from Latin American countries. They bring a flavor to the game with their singing, horn blowing and flag waving which brings an extra level of excitement to any sport. The fact that baseball is prevalent and popular in Latin America already gives the WBC a springboard to use to increasing the popularity of the sport and the tournament.

I have been a little disappointed in the WBC from a marketing standpoint, though. I felt that the tournament snuck up on me without any warning. Are any networks broadcasting games? I haven’t been watching as much TV since the Olympics ended, but I haven’t seen a single advertisement on TV except on ESPN, and even those haven’t come on that often. The stadiums for the opening round games in the western hemisphere (games are being played in Japan and the United States) have been full, but for a modern sporting event to be successful you need TV viewers and revenue.

I will give some props to the people at ESPN.com for their innovative country by country breakdown in the WBC section of their site. While browsing the pages, I was excited to learn that Australia pretty much sucks at the game, the Canadians feel that hockey players make good baseball players, and that at games in Japan fans release “condom-shaped balloons” during their version of the seventh inning stretch.

So as you settle into the new month, be aware of baseball invading the headlines and root for your home team in the WBC. Baseball’s gone international. It’s about time. Adieu.

Josh George is a senior in communications. He can be reached at [email protected]