Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Spring Fever: Why the World Baseball Classic Has Started to Work

By Andy 'Peoplez' Singleton
On Twitter @Peoplez_MLFS

I have often been accused of being very critical of Major League Baseball, and its marketing efforts. Perhaps it is because I have such a passion for the sport, it pains me to see it lose its popularity amongst sports enthusiasts.  With the rise of the NFL and the NBA, combined with the scrutiny of performance enhancing drugs, baseball is at a cross roads. The game is often labeled as slow moving, and too boring for this fast paced world.  The inception of the World Baseball Classic was supposed to help reverse this trend.  Pit the games elite against each other in a round robin tournament, letting each country show off their best and proudly wave their flag.  2006 was supposed to be a banner year for the execs at MLB.  The only problem was they were about five years too early with their launch.  There will always be critics about the format, the time of year it is played, and the players that are involved.  The truth is there will never be a "right" time of year, the format is the perfect duration to keep an audiences attention, and every country deals with the same roster issues.  No, these are not the reasons Major League Baseball was premature in launching its prized tournament.  Fortunately for them, it is not too late, and 2013 has proved there is a chance for it to have great success (Borat voice).

In 2006, when the WBC began, and again in 2009 for the second installment, it was covered exclusively by ESPN networks.  I am not making the claim they did not do a good job promoting it, just that they did not do anything to make it really stand out.  2013 became the first year the MLB's own network got to cover the event (MLB network premiered on January 1, 2009).  This proved to be important because of the visibility it gave the network, one which some fans still did not know existed.  All of the games could be found on the same channel, mixed in with Spring Training highlights, which promoted baseball, beisbol, and more baseball.  In addition to this, the social media explosion (mainly Twitter), gave the WBC dramatic exposure. Not only were many journalists tweeting away, but many events were among the top trending topics.  There was controversy, tightly contested match ups, the debut of many young up and coming All-Stars, and there was even a brawl.  Despite all of these playing into the WBC's favor, the biggest win might have been the re-emergence of Latin super powers Puerto Rico and eventual champion, The Dominican Republic.  Not to be outdone, the surprising play of Italy and Canada, always dangerous Japan and Korea, and the introduction of Curacao via the Netherlands, all were huge triumphs for the sport.  A common complaint often heard is there is not enough "star power" to make the WBC relevant.  Yet every version of it, three to date, has offered similar talent which is littered with familiar faces and names, including the coaching staffs.  Maybe the only argument to make should be that it is expanded beyond the 16 teams it currently fields.  It is a game played by all countries, and proved to be "Classic" even without US dominance. That is a terrific win for the game I grew up loving, and gives me confidence for its future.

While the rest of the world is tuned in celebrating their nations and the sport of baseball, Americans typically tune out. Not this time though.  It is no fun watching other countries this exuberant, on American soil, at a game we invented, in a tournament we had a chance to win.  This is not meant to sound hateful, it is a rallying cry for patriotism. The same way the "Dream Team" was assembled to right the embarrassment of not winning an Olympic medal in basketball, is the same way the US baseball team should make every concentrated effort to put forward its best team possible in 2017. Players should be lining up to try out, and by players I mean the elite.  You better believe the other countries will take notice and follow suit.  The only difference between this and Olympic basketball however, is that the rest of the world has already caught up.  It will not simply be enough to don a uniform, we will have to compete at our highest levels. If we lose, so be it.  No one will be able to claim it was not fair, or we did not put out our best.  It just may revive what many people consider to be the greatest game ever created. Baseball, it is America's pastime. Ever Wonder why all of the other countries have caught up to our talent level in baseball? It is because they all wanted the chance to be an American and live that dream. Baseball is America's pastime, and the World Baseball Classic has the power to save it.

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