USA in WBC final means something…right?

United States second baseman Ian Kinsler turns a double play over Japan’s Hayato Sakamoto during the USA’s 2-1 win in the World Baseball Classic semifinals in Los Angeles on Tuesday. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

United States second baseman Ian Kinsler turns a double play over Japan’s Hayato Sakamoto during the USA’s 2-1 win in the World Baseball Classic semifinals in Los Angeles on Tuesday. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

This is where the story of the World Baseball Classic championship game between the United States of America and Puerto Rico would have gone, if it hadn’t started too late on Wednesday night.

It was the only WBC game shown on American television on a channel other than the MLB Network, which many cable and satellite subscribers, even sports fans, don’t even know exists.

ESPN2 aired the game from Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles starting at 9 p.m., in Spanish, and it presumably ended close to midnight, given the normal length of a 9-inning baseball game these days.

And while the WBC final does not exactly raise the goosebumps of a Miracle on Ice or even a soccer World Cup Final, it deserves better than that.

And that is perhaps the chicken vs. egg existential question regarding the tournament: Do players — and all but the hardest of hardcore baseball fans — not care about the tournament because it’s an afterthought to the networks, or is it ignored by networks because it’s largely ignored by the players?

Mind you, that question is only asked here in the U.S. In every other country that sent a team to the WBC, winning it is a big, fat, hairy deal.

The USA baseball motto is “for glory.” With one more game, manager Jim Leyland (yes, THAT Jim Leyland) said the result should not be the focus.

“Make a memory,” Leyland said. “Hopefully it will be a good one.”

ESPN’s excellent baseball writer Buster Olney makes the suggestion of playing the WBC semifinals and final halfway through the Major League Baseball season, as part of the All-Star break.

I wish I’d thought of that. It’s brilliant. Heck, why even bother with an All-Star Game at all in WBC years (if ever)?

But no. The best players from Japan or Puerto Rico or Venezuela must content themselves with playing each other — or a USA team consisting of mostly not the best players — in half-empty American ballparks and on half-hearted TV networks.

There is very little about the whole endeavor that merits the term, Classic.

Olney’s suggestion, that the preliminary rounds be played as and when they are now but sending MLB players, who make up the bulk of most WBC rosters (with the notable exception of Japan), back to their clubs to complete Spring training when the tournament field is whittled down to four teams, is a good one.

I would even argue for playing the tournament before the MLB preseason period, maybe in January.

If you have been watching it, you’ve seen baseball at its pulsating best, including a dream semifinal, a 2-1 U.S. win over Japan in a matchup that fans in both nations should see way more often than they do.

One of my most fervent hopes is that the WBC begets a demand for international baseball similar to that of soccer, in which national teams play each other outside of structured competitions in games that actually mean something. The first World Cup was held in 1930, but international games were played for almost 50 years before that.

The thought of a regular series between established, full national teams of the USA and Japan, four games in one country and three in the other, alternating years, would be the stuff that baseball fans’ dreams are made of.

And maybe one day, American players and fans will actually value winning games for their country.

Like they may have done last night.

avatar

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.

Leave a Reply