Believe it or not, World Baseball Classic is a Major Hit!
Cuban players in those lucky red uniforms sprinted to the mound for an exhilarating embrace. A South Korean band pounded drums right outside the ballpark. Dominican fans danced to a merengue beat, the Venezuelans draped themselves in bright yellow flags.
Fans stayed up late to watch on television, even after the star-laden squads from the United States and Dominican Republic made early exits. Supporters remained in the seats at Petco Park – where a sign in left-center reads “America’s Pastime” – to wait out a 45-minute rain delay Saturday night and watch Japan eliminate its previously unbeaten rival, South Korea.
The Classic captured attention in the midst of NCAA March Madness, and that’s saying something.
One thing is clear: The interest is there. Moises Alou, a 39-year-old outfielder for the San Francisco Giants, said he heard from several of his countrymen who wished they had joined him on the Dominican team and plan to play three years from now.
Ken Griffey Jr. rejoined the Cincinnati Reds on Monday in Sarasota, Fla., wishing he and the U.S. team were still alive in the WBC. “The guys who showed up were awesome,” Griffey said. “Not just for me to be out there with my dad and my son but just for the guys to represent their country. It says a lot for everyone there.”
“Apart from the Olympics, I really wanted this WBC tournament to be the event that decides the true world champions, so that’s why I participated,” Ichiro Suzuki said through a translator after emerging from the fray of Japan’s bubbly celebration. “This is probably the biggest moment of my baseball career.”
“It’s not an ideal thing for a player to think, but I really didn’t care if I would get injured in this game. That’s how much I really wanted to win this one. That’s how we were driven to this championship,” Suzuki said.
“Last night was a good example of what this thing is all about — the reaction of the people,” U.S. Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda said. “That’s what made this thing a tremendous success. “Look, there’s two teams playing, and I think only one (MLB) player among them, maybe two. Still, there were 42,000 fans, and the excitement wasn’t the fact that they maybe just had tickets and had to go, but the excitement was already there. That’s the way it’s been.”
San Diego Padres catcher Mike Piazza left his new club because he was eager to play for Italy in the WBC. “This was an honor for me,” he said. “We didn’t make this decision lightly, this was something very special for us to play for the country of our fathers and mothers and forefathers and foremothers, and again, that’s something we really take seriously. We believe baseball can continue to grow in Italy.”
And, Selig hopes, in places such as Australia, South Africa, and the Netherlands, too.
Sure, more and better talented players could have shown an interest in playing for the U.S. team in the inaugural World Baseball Classic. Sure, the tournament could have been played at a more convenient time of the year, say, in November. And, sure, there’s a lot of hand-wringing over the Americans’ early exit from the tournament.
But CHAZ SCOGGINS of Lowell Sun is looking at the bigger picture here. And the bigger picture is that it’s wonderful to see baseball being played at such a high level in so many different countries in the world these days.
Once again, competition is good for the game. Any game.
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