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The Importance of the World Baseball Classic

By Joe Drake

Baseball has long been known as America’s pastime. As cozy and homey as that old adage may sound, it’s really not the case anymore. I would have to say that football has taken over that role. However, baseball has most definitely become the pastime of many Latin American countries in place like Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. So, to say that baseball is dying wouldn’t be true either. It’s simply made a recent relocation. But at the same time, in this world of global competition with sports like football, basketball and hockey, you can never afford to rest on your laurels. Baseball needs to keep working to not only gain new fans around the world, but keep the “old” ones interested as well.

Enter: the World Baseball Classic.

In the broadest sense, the WBC is meant to be baseball’s World Cup. There are qualifying rounds where teams play for the right to compete in the Classic followed by pool play and then elimination style tournament games. The idea is to determine the greatest baseball country on Earth.

In theory, it’s wonderful, and engages everyone around the globe in one of the world’s greatest games. In reality, there are only a handful of teams that could truly win it all… That doesn’t do so much for growing the game. So what did the MLB and WBC committees do? They evened the playing field a bit.

In order for the concept of the WBC to be effective, the games need to be competitive. After all, no one is tuning in to watch the DR clobber South Africa 16-0. However, people will sit down and watch if that game ends in a more realistic score, like say 7-3. In order to “legislate” that competitiveness into the tournament, the officials were a bit more lenient on players’ eligibility when determining which country or countries they could play for. Instead of following the standard set by the Olympics, the World Baseball Classic took those rules and relaxed them just a tad in order to make more players eligible to play for more countries. The results? Phenomenal.

Instead of seeing teams like the United States, Dominican Republic and Venezuela completely obliterate the field, we’ve gotten competitive games throughout the first and second rounds of pool play. Teams like Italy and Israel have benefited immensely from these eligibility rules and it’s made them legitimate contenders to go deep into the tournament. That means people from these countries will be more and more likely to tune in and watch their home country play as they continue to win and the growing excitement is likely to create some new fans. That is exactly what baseball needs and it’s exactly why the World Baseball Classic was created in the first place -- to create new fans.

While some have openly criticized the WBC (ahem, Adrian Gonzalez), ultimately, it’s becoming a rousing success. Thirteen years ago, teams like the Netherlands and Israel would never have been considered contenders to win the WBC. Now, they’re into the second round of pool play and threatening to advance again. As we discussed in a recent article, it’s not quite working yet in the United States, but around the globe, the WBC is generating some sincere interest and that’s a major win for the game of baseball.

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