Posted: Wednesday March 15, 2006 12:09PM; Updated: Wednesday March 15, 2006 3:00PM
Puerto Ricans haven't been shy about supporting their national team in the World Baseball Classic.
In the months leading up to the World Baseball Classic, the official MLB party line was that the goal of the tournament was to grow the game internationally, to get kids in Venezuela, Mexico and South Korea hooked on "our" national pastime. In retrospect, that doesn't look like the wisest play. The Mexico-South Korea game at Angel Stadium on Sunday drew 10,000 more fans than the U.S.-Japan game earlier that afternoon in the same venue. If MLB should have focused on selling the WBC to anyone, it should have been the Yanks.
Americans are historically strangely indifferent to the plight of their various national teams. We soccer fans have been going through this for years, seeing our fans outnumbered by an order of magnitude at home games. (In qualifying for the 2002 World Cup, the U.S. was so desperate for a venue at which they might enjoy something resembling a home field advantage against Mexico that they held the game in Columbus, Ohio. In February. At night.) And unless it's on the brink of starting an international incident with Angola or getting beaten by Spain in the fifth-place game at the World Championships, no one seems to pay much attention to the Dream Team any more.
It's almost as if the WBC folks realized that, threw up their hands and said, "We give." Which was a mistake. Say what you will about it, baseball holds a special place in the heart of the average American fan. And I think most fans are at least intrigued by soccer's World Cup; they realize that there's something cool about a true world championship that's going to arouse the passions of fans everywhere. Instead of trying to mold the WBC into just such an event, MLB basically half-assed it here in the States.
Look at the TV deal with ESPN: The U.S.-Korea game was on tape delay at 1:00 in the morning. (The Deuce was showing tennis and Stephen A. Smith's show during the game.) I did my best to stay up for the game and not see the score ahead of time. Alas, I was out like a light by the middle of the first. (Getting old, I am.) There's no way MLB could have swung a deal with a longtime broadcast partner that would have gotten the games on at a reasonable hour? And, I can't believe I'm saying this, but I would have liked to have seen more promos ahead of the tournament. It snuck up on us.
Fans, players and writers have been raving about the WBC, and I think a large part of the reason is that no one expected much from it. It's been a pleasant surprise. With a little work, it could turn into a fantastic event. (Suggestions: Move it back so it's later in spring training, make the semis and finals best-of-three, use an international umpiring crew.) Let's hope MLB keeps pushing the event and isn't shy about pushing it on fans in the States.