Momentum builds for a World Cup that would determine international bragging rights among major leaguers
The enthusiastic reception that major league baseball received in Puerto Rico has moved the game one step closer to turning a pipe dream—a World Cup tournament—into reality. "Every success we have internationally adds to the interest of a World Cup," says Bob DuPuy, Major League Baseball's president and COO. "The experiment in Puerto Rico is serving as another catalyst." The Expos' first home stand in San Juan, which ended on Sunday, drew 142,821 fans for the 10 games. Twelve more games will be played at Hiram Bithorn Stadium.
In the meantime Major League Baseball International is moving ahead with plans for an inaugural World Cup to take place as early as 2005. The field would consist of teams from eight to 16 countries (including the commonwealth of Puerto Rico) and would be played over a two-week stretch, most likely during spring training and in stadiums across the U.S. Over the past two years MLB International has talked with leagues in six countries, which were all receptive to the idea.
"I think it would be fun, a great experience," says Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez, who adds that even though he was born in New York City, he wants to play for Puerto Rico because he was raised there. "Just to be able to compete at that level would be something."
One of the major issues to be resolved is the timing of the event Interrupting the the regular season to hold the World Cup is viewed by owners as too disruptive, and players don't want it to cut into their off-season. That's why holding the tournament around spring training is the best possible scenario.
In addition to a World Cup, MLB International is pursuing a number of other global initiatives. Baseball is hoping to start the 2004 season in Japan, and also in the works are regular-season series in Mexico and the Dominican Republic. In addition regular-season games in Europe are being discussed for as soon as 2004. "Baseball is an international game," says DuPuy, "and we still have a lot we can do to embrace that."
Cincinnati's Austin Kearns
Bulked Up and Hitting Homers
A few days before the 1998 draft Reds general manager Jim Bowden, accompanied by a dozen team staffers, made the 90-mile drive from Cincinnati to Lexington. Ky., to scout Lafayette High senior Austin Kearns. After his game ended, Kearns grabbed a wood bat for a special session of BP, and he gave Bowden and his entourage quite a show: Kearns launched a dozen balls—seven straight at one point—onto the school roof beyond the outfield. "I got in the car and said, 'He's Mike Piazza. We're going to take him,' " says Bowden, who drafted Kearns with the No. 7 pick.
Five years later Kearns is making Bowden look awfully smart. The 22-year-old outfielder had a major-league-high nine home runs through Sunday, while hitting .292 with 19 RBIs. He should easily surpass his rookie-year production of 13 home runs and 56 RBIs in 2002, when he also hit .315 in 107 games before missing the last month of the season with an injured left hamstring.
This season Kearns has been showcasing home run power, which is partly the result of rigorous off-season workouts with a personal trainer. "It's probably the hardest I've ever worked out with weights," says the 6'3" Kearns, who added 25 pounds to get up to 246. "I can see a big difference."