Baseball will start a little earlier this year, throwing out the first pitches in March with a worldwide tournament.
In what will be the first ever World Baseball Classic this March 3-20, sixteen countries will come together to compete for the bragging rights of being the world’s best baseball team. And who would believe it, but the United States is not the favorite in what is basically their tournament.
“For the first time ever, baseball’s best players will compete for their home countries in a global tournament,” MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said in an interview on worldbaseballclassic.com.
“It will increase worldwide exposure for our great game and promote its grassroots development not only in countries where the game is already popular, but in nations where the game is less known,” he said.
The goal for the World Baseball Classic, initiated by Major League Baseball, is to create the same type of atmosphere and rivalry for baseball that the World Cup, held every four years, creates for soccer fans around the globe.
It wouldn’t be that much of a surprise if the World Baseball Classic reaches its lofty goals considering the exponentially growing interest in baseball in Japan and Latin America over the last few years, but baseball still has not reached into most parts of Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
No clearer will this difference be exposed than when the stacked United States team plays South Africa in the first round of the tournament.
South Africa’s roster is highlighted by Barry Armitage, a AA minor league relief pitcher for the Kansas City Royals.
On the other side of the field, the United States’ roster is adorned by names such as Roger Clemens, Ken Griffey, Jr., Dontrelle Willis, Alex Rodriguez and Billy Wagner.
For the United States to play South Africa or Puerto Rico to play the Netherlands, or even the Dominican Republic to play Australia would be like asking a high school class president to run against George Bush in the last election.
It’s a tournament, at this point, with not enough talent from the top teams to the bottom teams.
In a recent article in USA Today’s Sports Weekly (January 25, 2006), Paul White wrote the following about teams who would love to knock out the United States in the tournament: “The Dominicans and Venezuelans and Puerto Ricans want to be able to spend the summer crawling all over major league clubhouses. The Japanese think they can do every bit as well as they do when touring all-star-caliber collections of major leaguers visit Japan most Novembers.”
“And don’t let the dark-horse Canadians fool you with their ‘aw shucks’ approach. Nobody would love to lie in the weeds and pull off an upset more than these guys. The world view on the WBC is, ‘Oh, do we want to stick it in the faces of those smug Americans,'” White added.
As much as the inaugural World Baseball Classic is influenced by the United States, officials still claim that the one of the goals of the tournament is to unite different countries and to help build relationships while spreading the word about baseball.
Pictures of Major League Baseball’s home run king Hank Aaron (755 career homeruns) shaking hands with Japan’s home run king Sadaharu Oh (868 career homeruns), celebrating baseball’s new agreement show the tournament’s sincerity.
Seeing two countries represented in one stadium, speaking separate languages but playing one connecting game is what this tournament is all about.
The ads read “Baseball spoken here.” Wouldn’t it be amazing if the world would forget about its differences and everyone became a part of one big baseball game?