This year’s World Baseball Classic has lived up to its name, classic. Now, I’ve never been a big fan of international tournaments in the major team sports. Aside from being a casual observer during the FIFA World Cup, it’s never grabbed my interest. The FIBA World Cup has never drawn me in because the international rules are so different from the NBA and NCAA. The product itself feels watered down with NBA talent situated primarily on the United States and Spanish rosters, then peppered across the rest of the tournament. The blowouts don’t make for fun basketball.
Initially, I had the same thoughts about the WBC. I figured most of the quality major league talent is distributed between the United States, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela, which has turned out to be true. (Note: Let’s be honest, looking at that the length of this list now, I should have known this was going to be better than I thought.) However, the Japanese are still playing terrific baseball with a roster full of guys not on major league rosters. The Americans and Dominicans are fielding all-star squads, and they lived up to the hype.
With a thriller between the two teams in the opening round, the WBC had my interest. The tournament completely won me over when Dominican Jose Bautista gunned down Oscar Mercado at the plate to force extra innings against Colombia. (Note: The play at the plate is the best play in baseball. As a catcher, I’m biased, but there’s no debate here.)
Pitching was another area I wasn’t sure about with the WBC. It’s still March, how are these guys going to be ready to pitch at such a competitive level so early? The truth is: they’re not. They don’t have all their pitches working yet, but that’s part of what makes it so fun. The playing field is somewhat leveled because the pitching isn’t to midseason form. Don’t get me wrong, Felix Hernandez is still going to be vicious for Venezuela, but he’s not going to be as nasty as he will be in August.
After giving the WBC a chance, I’m sold. I’ve been hooked since Nelson Cruz brought the Dominicans back from an improbable 5-0 hole against the Americans. It’s been the perfect fix for a household starved for baseball (the man cub can’t get enough of his new/my old ball glove). I once scoffed at the idea of an international baseball tournament, but it’s become appointment viewing in this household.
Feature photo by Brigham Berthold