SBD/March 8, 2013/Events and Attractions

WBC Helps Grow Baseball Internationally, But Still On Back Burner For Some Americans

Countries like Japan and South Korea have been energized by the WBC
The World Baseball Classic "helps the game grow ever further, digging its roots deeper into Europe, Australia, China and even Brazil," and it also "provides a chance for Americans to appreciate just how far the game has spread," according to Jim Caple of ESPN.com. Indians C Yan Gomes, who previously was a member of Team Brazil but is not participating this year, said, "Baseball is growing because of the WBC, but we definitely need more support from people around the country. We have so many athletes out there from around the country, and we just have to grow the sport and see what we've got. In the next five and 10 years, it could be big" (ESPN.com, 3/7). SI.com's Tom Verducci noted one of the "primary driving forces when the WBC began in 2006 ... was to establish a foothold in the largest emerging consumer market in the world: China." But China "hasn't exactly embraced the nuances of the game overnight." However, the previous two WBC tournaments have "succeeded in energizing places such as Japan, South Korea, the Netherlands, Brazil and throughout Latin America." To "borrow from American standards of measurement, the two highest-rated programs in Japan since 2006 -- even higher than the Beijing Olympics -- are WBC final games." Last week in Fukuoka, Japan, "more than 2,170 media credentials were issued for pool play games held there." In Taiwan, the game between Chinese Taipei and South Korea "drew 23,431 fans, the largest crowd ever for a baseball game there." The WBC also has funneled nearly $23M in proceeds to member countries and the Int'l Baseball Federation to "help support grassroots programs" (SI.com, 3/7).

TAKING A RAINCHECK: In Chicago, Phil Rogers writes the WBC is "an event too many front office executives fear, too many top players avoid and too few American fans truly embrace," but it has "made it to its third edition." Tigers P Justin Verlander, Rays P David Price and Dodgers P Clayton Kershaw were "among the scores of American players able but unwilling to try to help their country." However, Blue Jays P R.A. Dickey, who is playing for Team USA, said, "I'm here because this is one of the greater privileges of my athletic career" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 3/8). In N.Y., Anthony McCarron notes some people "believe that for the WBC to gain popularity among American fans, Team USA has to win the tournament." But some fans are "solely concerned about their players getting injured while away from their major league teams and are actually relieved when a big name" such as Verlander passes (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/8). In L.A., Bill Shaikin writes under the header, "Time For A Serious U.S. Commitment To World Baseball Classic." The tournament in the U.S. is an "afterthought in the spring sports calendar." But the players "ought to change that." This is "not up to the commissioner, or the owners, or the television networks." This is "first and foremost about players giving fans the tournament they want to see, when they want to see it." If Lakers G Kobe Bryant and Heat F LeBron James "can join a Dream Team to compete in the Olympics," then Kershaw and Angels LF Mike Trout "can join a Dream Team to compete" in the WBC. However, MLB clubs have ways to "encourage their players not to participate." And the clubs "pay the big bucks, so quite a few players choose loyalty to salary over loyalty to country." But the "enduring strength of the players' union comes from a shared sense of sacrifice for future generations of players." Once the players "band together and decide to make the WBC a priority, what are clubs going to say to the likes of Kershaw and Trout?" MLBPA Exec Dir Michael Weiner said, "I'd like to think we can get to that point. We want as many of the best players to participate in this tournament as possible" (L.A. TIMES, 3/8).

QUICK FIXES: In West Palm Beach, Hal Habib writes Team USA "at least making the final in San Francisco would boost interest in a country that typically perks up only when the United States is dominant and rarely experiences storm-the-streets passion for international team sports that is witnessed elsewhere." But MLB Commissioner Bud Selig "backed this event to increase interest worldwide" (PALM BEACH POST, 3/8). In Phoenix, Mark Faller wrote there are "two issues vexing the WBC -- apathy among Americans, and the event’s timing." It "looks like fans are starting to get connected to the WBC," as "big crowds are expected at Chase Field this weekend." Waller: "I’d like to see the next WBC take place in October or November, either alongside the MLB postseason or right after the World Series" (AZCENTRAL.com, 3/7).
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