March 14, 2013
How to Make Winning the WBC Worthwhile
Doug Thorburn’s baseball obsession runs much deeper than the pitching mound, so he’ll be expressing his compulsive thoughts on other baseball topics in this new semi-weekly column. His regular column, Raising Aces, can still be found at the usual time and channel.
I sit in my baseball cocoon (a.k.a. “the office”), watching a live game of playoff-caliber baseball at three o'clock in the morning (PST), with two teams representing their home nations in front of a packed stadium. The home-field advantage leans toward team Japan, and the two-time defending champs are looking to punch their ticket to San Francisco with the top seed and a victory over the surprising team from the Netherlands. Every few years there is a small window of opportunity to watch important baseball games on a night owl's schedule, and I realize that it's a good day to see the sunrise.
There has been much contention over the state of the World Baseball Classic, with numerous suggestions to improve the tournament. The BP staff offered a half-dozen ideas to increase the appeal of the WBC, centered around key issues such as player participation and the seasonal timing of the games, and articles dedicated to “fixing” the tourney are relatively common at this time every few years. Behind this criticism lies a genuine interest in improving the product, because deep down every fan probably wishes that baseball had the kind of international recognition enjoyed by the sport that's played with no hands.
Broad-scope attitudes toward the WBC are often lukewarm at best, but the script changes when one experiences the action first-hand, thanks to the competitive intensity and national pride exhibited by the athletes as well as the fans. On Tuesday's episode of Effectively Wild, Ben Lindbergh expressed a new appreciation for the tournament inspired by his personal experience at this year's games. Ben's thoughts echo those of BP alum Joe Sheehan, who went through a similar conversion after attending WBC games in 2006.
My stance on the WBC is simple: gimme more. I can't get enough baseball, and nothing beats the opportunity to watch the best athletes from around the world as they demonstrate various styles and strategic approaches to the greatest game on earth. I was fortunate enough to enjoy a Sheehan-Lindbergh epiphany in the first year of the tourney, having attended the championship game of the inaugural WBC in 2006. Thanks to a good friend who shares a similar obsession for baseball, I had a great seat for the finale that pitted Cuba against Japan at San Diego's Petco Park, and the game ranks among the greatest that I have ever witnessed.
The biggest threat to the WBC could be the common perception of the tournament as an exhibition along the lines of the All-Star Game. Despite MLB's best attempts to increase the appeal of its annual summer diversion, the entertainment value of the event supersedes the competitive intrigue. The easy-going nature and offense-first approaches of All-Star games have rendered those by the NFL, NBA, and NHL nothing more than a mockery of their sports, with contests devoid of aggression that fail to capture the attention of their respected fan bases.