The Dominican Republic beat Italy 5-4 at the World Baseball Classic last night and players "joyously" shared "high-fives and hugs after every big hit," but the announced crowd of 14,482 at Marlins Park was "another reflection of how the Olympic-like tournament has yet to be completely embraced on American soil," according to Joe Smith of the TAMPA BAY TIMES. Meanwhile, there was "a more packed, and passionate 32,872 at Team USA's 7-1 win over Puerto Rico in the nightcap." Rays RF and Team USA member Ben Zobrist: "Anybody that comes to a game really can feel the electricity and the excitement in the air. And I think if we do well as a team, I think it'll bring more people out to feel that same kind of playoff atmosphere" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 3/13). In DC, Amanda Comak writes the debate has been "how much this tournament means, particularly to Americans." Nationals P and Team USA member Ross Detwiler "scoffed at the notion that these games are taken lightly." He said, "Everybody’s taking it seriously. Everybody’s out here to win. Nobody’s out here just to show up" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 3/13). Detwiler added, "It’s been incredible. It’s a dream come true to play for your country." In DC, James Wagner writes while critics may "view the event simply as glorified exhibition, the players are taking it quite seriously" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/13).
BUZZ GROWING? SI.com's Tom Verducci wrote of the atmosphere yesterday at Marlins Park, "What more do you want?" Verducci: "A stadium packed with more musical instruments than a philharmonic hall? More outlandish celebrations and -- get this -- all-out hustle that would never pass muster in an MLB regular season?" This tournament "needs the USA to at least get to the finals to really put an imprint on the American sports fan's calendar." Yesterday was "just another emotional day in the WBC." Marlins Park was "filled with nearly every noisemaker and musical instrument you could think of, perhaps the bassoon and cello notwithstanding" (SI.com, 3/13). YAHOO SPORTS' Tim Brown writes the WBC "won't ever be a perfect event. It can't be. So maybe we never get to the ideal." But come tomorrow night at Marlins Park, when the U.S. faces the Dominican Republic in the final play-in game of the second round, it "gets close." It is a game that "should intrigue baseball purists." It could "draw more decent baseball out of March" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/13).
AROUND THE HORN: In S.F., Bruce Jenkins writes the question is whether the WBC will "even exist in 2017." There are "plenty of reasons why it could -- or should -- be wiped off the calendar." But it also has "provided exquisite moments for those who embrace its distinctive flavor" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 3/13). In Detroit, Tony Paul writes the WBC "features some of the game's best players, and interest definitely is growing." But it "still has significant flaws -- especially when trying to appeal to American fans." We are "stuck with what we have -- a March showcase, which is beloved by international fans, and tolerated by many Americans because, hey, at least it's baseball in March" (DETROIT NEWS, 3/13). In N.Y., Tyler Kepner wrote for “all the pride players may feel, the games are an odd hybrid of intense competition and get-your-work-in spring training” (N.Y. TIMES, 3/12). In Detroit, Jamie Samuelsen wonders "who wants" a WBC other than MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. Detroit “is a baseball town,” but “I don’t sense the tiniest bit of interest in this event.” MLB teams “don’t like it,” and there “clearly isn’t a huge fan following for it, or at least not in the United States.” The WBC “had little traction when it started" in '06, and it has “lost whatever it had in the following years.” If Selig “weren’t so stubborn, he would have abandoned this plan already” (FREEP.com, 3/11). CBS Sports Network’s Gary Parrish said, “Coming at it from an American perspective, I don’t know how much it matters to Americans.” Parrish added if the WBC “went away, I probably wouldn’t notice” (“Lead Off,” CBSSN, 3/12). But in looking ahead, Ken Rosenthal writes the bigger the WBC gets, the "more players will want to participate." Rosenthal: "And who knows? By 2017, baseball might have a new commissioner, one who applies more pressure than Bud Selig on clubs -- and specifically managers and general managers -- to commit more fully to the WBC" (FOXSPORTS.com, 3/13).
THE GLOBAL GAME? SPORTS ON EARTH's Emma Span writes of "the possibilities" of the WBC, and the changes baseball "could see if this nice little tournament grows the way MLB officials think it might grow, are only starting to sink in." The key to "growing a tournament that celebrates America's self-proclaimed national pastime seems to be taking the focus off of America as much as possible" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 3/13). Rosenthal also looks globally and said, “What we’re seeing here with the kingdom of the Netherlands is exactly what the WBC is supposed to be about. The sport is growing, there’s more talent there than there has been before and they’ve even got a 15,000-seat stadium under construction ... in Amsterdam that is said to be, when it’s completed, the best ballpark in Europe” (“World Baseball Classic Today,” MLBN, 3/12).
MEDIA MONITOR: Last night’s 11:00pm ET edition of ESPN’s “SportsCenter” led with NFL free agency and the Heat extending their winning streak to 19 games. The first report on the WBC was at 26:25 (26 minutes, 25 seconds) into the broadcast, a game story on the U.S.-Puerto Rico game. The broadcast had 2:26 of total WBC coverage. This morning’s 9:00am edition of “SportsCenter” led with Lakers-Magic, which marked the return of Lakers C Dwight Howard to Orlando after an offseason trade, and then Hawks-Heat. The first WBC report was at 22:45 into the broadcast on U.S.-Puerto Rico, with 1:36 of total WBC coverage (THE DAILY).