SBD/March 21, 2013/Events and Attractions

Columnist: Team USA Must Change Approach To Garner American Fan Support

It is suggested Team USA face int'l opponents during the MLB All-Star break
The WBC would "matter more" to American fans if Team USA "fully invested in the effort to win, in a way that more completely realized the potential" of int'l baseball, according to Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSPORTS.com. That means "greater representation among star players on Team USA." National soccer teams play “friendlies” against one another "in between the major tournaments, a concept baseball should mimic." Anyone who "attended or watched the U.S.-Dominican Republic game ... knows the potential of a best-vs.-best matchup." After such a "riveting event ... it would be a shame" if MLB and MLBA "let the fervor lay dormant for another four years." Baseball "doesn’t need a major international tournament every year." But "why not hold a single-game rematch at midseason?" Baseball could "promote the game as an international showcase and hold it the night after the All-Star Game." The logistics would be "simplified by holding the game in the same ballpark as the All-Star Game -- with many of the same players." Sponsorships and TV rights could in time "turn the showdown into a moneymaker for owners and players." If the concept is "successful, the games could occur on a semi-regular basis with the U.S. playing different international opponents." This year's WBC revealed "how intense baseball’s global competitiveness has become." For U.S. players and fans to "acknowledge that would represent a significant and needed attitude adjustment, similar to the transformation USA Basketball underwent following its Olympic disappointment in 2004" (FOXSPORTS.com, 3/21).

QUICK FIXES: ESPN.com's Jim Caple wrote at its "best, and with enough years, the World Baseball Classic could grow into what the World Cup is for soccer." At its "worst, the WBC still is an enjoyable diversion from the long, tedious weeks of a far too lengthy spring training." But it "can be better." Caple offered ways to improve the event, and wrote it is "hard to generate interest in a tournament when many fans don't have access to the network that is broadcasting the games." The MLB Network does a "great job, but restricting English-language broadcasts to that channel drastically reduced potential fans here." Caple: "Avoid scheduling the rounds so that a team has to fly across the country the night before an elimination game against a team that has had almost a week off." Additionally, "pump and publicize the brackets." Nothing "boosts fan interest more than the ability to devote work hours to filling out office pools." Also, until countries "such as Italy or Spain develop fully competitive teams, there is logic to allowing players with ancestors from those countries to compete." But there "must be limits." Caple: "Tighten the requirements so that you must at least be third generation, preferably second." Pitch limits and "early March games mean WBC players aren't at their best." So just "play the first rounds in the spring, then play the championship round in July during the All-Star break when they are in top form." Caple: "Better yet, play the WBC final instead of the All-Star Game." And "imagine how much more exciting the Home Run Derby would be if it pitted the U.S. against Cuba" (ESPN.com, 3/20).

EXPORTING THE GAME: L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke said with the Dominican Republic winning the WBC, the “world should remember it as once again furthering the notion that baseball is not the U.S.’s game anymore." Baseball "belongs" to the Dominican Republic and to Japan “where they had record TV numbers.” Plaschke: “Everyone else loves it except in the U.S. where we just don’t take this sort of thing seriously.” ESPN’s Pablo Torre said “they should have done a split-screen” of the people celebrating the WBC title in the Dominican Republic and a “street somewhere in America to an empty television set playing static” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 3/20). ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said TV ratings "weren’t big in the U.S. and reports had championship game tickets being donated or sold for as little as five bucks a pop.” ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser said, “For me personally, I didn’t care about it. I didn’t really understand why it’s being played. But if I’m Major League Baseball, I’m trying to grow the game all around the world and you tell that attendance in countries other than the United States is up and television ratings in countries other than the United States is up and more countries are playing and doing better, then I understand when Major League Baseball’s eyes look at this and they say it’s an ‘unqualified success.’” In the U.S. the television ratings “were way down” and so the “impact isn’t here.” Kornheiser: “The way we look at it is myopic compared to the way Major League Baseball looks at it.” Wilbon said the WBC “was designed to increase global baseball so yes, it would be a success” (“PTI,” ESPN, 3/20).

SHORT ON TIME: ESPN.com's Jayson Stark noted Team USA SS Jimmy Rollins "concluded that players would be more likely to buy in -- and take part -- if this were an every-other-year event." Rollins said, "Maybe there'd be slightly more anticipation because it's still relatively fresh." He added, "Four years, especially in this sport, where you play every day, is a long time. So you've got guys who are 28 (and didn't play). But now they'd know they'd get another shot when they're 30, instead of when they're 32. Big difference." Rollins "knows there are players around him who will never buy in to the WBC." But all he can "tell them is: They don't know what they're missing." Rollins: "When you see it, when you feel the environment, man, it's something else. Every game is an elimination game. There are no series. It's like Jimmy V said in that (30 for 30 film): It's survive and advance." Rollins said that Team USA players "didn't understand why their first-round game was against Mexico, which had already played a game against Italy, instead of Canada, which hadn't played yet, so all teams in the first round were on equal footing" (ESPN.com, 3/20). MLB Network’s Bill Ripken said the WBC is designed to “create this worldwide growth of baseball.” Ripken said, “We as members of the United States, we look at this and say, ‘Boy, we’ve got to have our club in there, we’ve got to have our club in there.’ I don’t think that it’s necessarily designed to do that.” MLB Network’s Brian Kenny said, “I like that evolved outlook and I think most of the country feels that way. We’re not looking at it as, ‘Whoa, these foreigners playing our game.’ Why look at it that way?” The net’s Eric Byrnes said the U.S. team will have better results “as soon as the players care” (“MLB Tonight,” MLB Network, 3/20).
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