Sports fans should care about the World Baseball Classic

The 2017 World Baseball Classic has begun.

If your first reaction to reading that was, “So what?” you’re not alone, and that’s a shame.

The WBC is a competition of national teams comprised of baseball players from each of the participating countries, like the Olympics or soccer’s World Cup.

With baseball becoming more and more popular in countries other than the United States, the WBC can be a solid addition to the sports fan’s calendar.

With baseball no longer played in the Olympics, it’s really the only such competition the sport has.

Americans have certainly embraced international competitions in other team sports, going back to the Miracle on Ice in 1980 and the basketball Dream Team in 1984, all the way to the present day with the World Cup, which has drawn more TV viewers in the United States than the World Series, the NBA Finals or the Stanley Cup finals for the last 15 years.

If the interest in baseball is declining among American sports fans, as conventional wisdom suggests but attendance and TV ratings numbers rebut, the WBC would be a perfect way to introduce new fans to the sport.

After all, who doesn’t like to wave the Red, White and Blue in triumph? Giving people a rooting interest where none existed before is the very best way to get those people to watch sports.

The biggest obstacle to the WBC becoming more popular here is that it’s hard to get the best U.S. players to care about the U.S. team winning or losing.

Part of that has to do with the timing of the event, which has always been held at the same time as MLB spring training. With all of the money that the players are paid by their Major League teams, and the amount of money that they are NOT paid for playing in the WBC, one can see how some players would hesitate risking injury playing for their country.

Of course, that didn’t seem to hinder players from other countries, like Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Jose Bautista, Yadier Molina, Carlos Beltran, Victor Martinez or Alcides Escobar.

Those are some pretty big names, among the very best baseball players on the planet, who ply their trade in the U.S. Major Leagues.

And they care about winning the World Baseball Classic for their countries.

One would hate to think that players who could represent the United States of America are so cowardly as to avoid competing with other countries in any sport, let alone one that has been associated for so long with our national identity.

One would also hate to think that money is so much more important to Americans than anyone else, that it contributes to that cowardice.

In a way, it echoes the hubris of a former sports superpower, the English national soccer team, which thought itself so superior to every other nation (and probably rightly so) that it didn’t even bother participating in the first three World Cups, even though the British took international soccer very seriously.

Their arrogance and disdain for lowering itself to play what it viewed as inferior competition could very well have cost England its place at the top of the soccer world.

England has only won one World Cup, in 1966, when it hosted, and with much help throughout the tournament from generous refereeing.

Is that really what we want for us with the National Pastime? The U.S. has never placed higher than fourth in the tournament, and achieved that only once.

Japan has won two of the three WBC titles so far, and the Dominican Republic won the third, and goes into this year’s tournament as the defending champion. Those are two very strong baseball countries, and more are out there.

Shouldn’t we at least try to care about being one of them?

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Posted by Scott Yoshonis

Scott is the sports editor of the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach him at (231) 398-3112 or syoshonis@pioneergroup.com.

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