Another Small Crowd For WBC, But Selig Happy With Event Ahead Of Tonight's Final
Tonight's World Baseball Classic final at AT&T Park "fits perfectly in the home of the Giants: the Dominicans tussling with the Puerto Ricans for global supremacy," according to Ron Kroichick of the S.F. CHRONICLE. Last night's Domican Republic-Netherlands semifinal saw a crowd of 27,527, which was "smaller and more subdued" than Sunday's Puerto Rico-Japan matchup. However, last night's game became "increasingly vocal as the Dominicans erupted in the fifth inning" and went on to win 4-1. Tonight's championship game "flows with recognizable major-leaguers and notable story lines" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 3/19). In L.A., Bill Shaikin writes with Team USA eliminated and local fans "indifferent, AT&T Park was half-empty" for yesterday's semifinal, even with tickets "discounted to as little as $5." For the championship game of what MLB Commissioner Bud Selig "insists will grow into a marquee event, prices have dropped to as low as $8." Selig said of moving the final round to Asia or Latin America, "It's something that we can think about." But he said that the third edition of the WBC has been a "smashing success, using interest abroad as the barometer." Selig: "We've created an interest in Europe that I never would have dreamed possible." He added, "It's the reaction internationally that is important. I can honestly say that we have come faster than I thought. So, for what our goal was and is, it's been a great success" (L.A. TIMES, 3/19).
GREAT EXPECTATIONS: In S.F., Ann Killion writes the scene at AT&T Park last night "isn't going to make the questions surrounding this event go away." While Sunday's game -- "fueled in large part by avid fans of Japan's team -- was a boisterous St. Patrick's Day-meets-Carnaval kind of atmosphere," last night was "different." It "didn't seem like that many people were actually in the stands," and MLB had to "cut ticket prices drastically" to increase ticket sales. While it was a "decent evening of entertainment at the ballpark," there is a "lot of work to do" before the '17 WBC. Selig has said that he "wants the event to become as big as the World Cup." But Killion writes that is a "ludicrous thought, and some take it as a sign of how out of touch Selig is with the rest of the sporting world." If MLB wants the WBC to be a "serious international competition, and if it wants the U.S. team to succeed (which it desperately does for marketing purposes), it will need to make some adjustments." Pockets of fans "are wildly enthusiastic," and national baseball writers "love the event because it gives them a break from the monotony of spring training." The writers are "willing to carry Selig's water on the WBC," but the event "still has a long way to go to live up to its name" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 3/19).
STRENGTHS & WEAKNESSES: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Brian Costa writes the Dominican and Puerto Rican teams "have been among the most outwardly passionate" in the WBC. Dominican manager Tony Pena said, "We grew up with a stick in our hands. We are representing 10 million people from our country." Costa writes the WBC "tries hard to promote that sense of nationalism, and at times it seems more orchestrated than real." But with the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, "none of it is forced." It is "probably best to forget about the idea" of tonight's game being "some kind of proving ground at all." Costa: "It's not an Olympic gold-medal game. It's not a World Cup final. But it's also far from a meaningless exhibition." In a "flawed tournament that is more about promoting the game than showcasing the very best of it, pride is still a driving force" (WSJ.com, 3/19). In Phoenix, Dan Bickley wrote of the WBC, "We’ve seen American fans outworked by Latin Americans and Hispanics who have brought a soccer mentality to the ballpark." A scout yesterday "raved about the atmosphere at most of these games, and wished that American fans would show similar pride and patriotism" (AZCENTRAL.com, 3/18).
SUGGESTION BOX: In Philadelphia, David Murphy writes MLB is "doing what any good business does in attempting to monetize and enhance every aspect of its brand." The idea of the WBC is "easy to get behind," but its execution is "a lot more complex than most sound bites give justice." Unless MLB "cares enough about the WBC to sacrifice some regular-season games to build the tournament into the schedule, it shouldn't expect its fans, or the stars who attract them, to reciprocate" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 3/19). MLB Giants President & CEO Larry Baer said, "I think you’re going to see each year incrementally more USA players -- the very best players, the pick of the litter -- will go and play and that will melt as an issue" (“Chronicle Live,” Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, 3/18). MLBPA Dir of Player Relations Tony Clark said of the union's role in the recruiting process for WBC teams, "The federations themselves will give us a list of guys that they are interested in and if they are 40-man roster guys, guys that are a part of our membership, it is our responsibility to try to connect the dots to see whether or not those guys have an interest in participating” (“MLB Tonight,” MLB Network, 3/18). In DC, Tom Loverro writes the WBC "still flies under the radar" in the U.S., competing with college basketball and "whatever business takes place under the NFL shield on any given day." But that is "too bad," because the WBC is "a great sporting event." It is a "passionate" and "fun" event. The WBC is "serving its purpose with international marketing and the growth of baseball." If MLB "really wanted to make it a meaningful event in this country, they would hold it in place of the All-Star Game every four years." It would entail "significant schedule issues, but imagine WBC games at Fenway Park or Nationals Park in July -- with no competition for attention" (WASHINGTON EXAMINER, 3/19).