Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Makings of a Classic

The first round of the first (of hopefully many) World Baseball Classic has given Bud Selig just about everything it needed to to set a foundation for an incredible international tournament, and nothing it didn't need.

It has given us upsets, but not to a degree that it would belittle the tournament. Sure, Canada beat the USA. That was exciting. Especially for these fans. But the USA still made it to the next round, something the WBC desperately needed to keep the TV ratings up. The USA doesn't need to win, and perhaps to help the future of the international pull of the tournament itself, the USA shouldn't win the whole thing, but Selig desperately needed the USA to make it to the 2nd round. Another upset was Japan's loss to Korea, who went undefeated in the first round. Ichiro talked some smack about their opponent, and one would think he got the juices flowing for the pair of round two teams from across the Pacific.

It has given us dominance. On the last day it gave us some blow outs, and true this may have "embarrassed" the teams getting the short end of the stick, but everyone likes seeing highlights of the long ball, and the US of A hit 9 in their game against the South African team. And yes, I am the person who about all the reasons why fans should watch out for South Africa in the WBC, but what can I say? Everyone makes mistakes.

It has given us the 8 best teams in the second round. Honestly, there's no reason anyone besides the Dominican Republic and Venezuela (the recently crowned Caribbean Series champion) should have made it past Australia and Italy. How is your WBC bracket looking so far?

It has given us pride and rivalries. The tournament wasn't expected to be a great draw due to the fact that there wasn't much history to it. And there weren't too many rivalries. These rivalries are starting to form. Some had been festering in the Carribean Series and now are able to be put on a world stage. Others are starting to form here. More may rise up in the later rounds. One can only hope. Rivalries drive many sports and many leagues.

It gave us a NO-HITTER. Well, sort of. Sure it was through 7 innings thanks to the mercy rule, but it's still an incredible feat considering the rules set in place in the WBC. Netherlands' pitcher Shairon Mathis threw exactly 65 pitches, the WBC pitch count limit. It was the 7th inning, the Netherlands were up 10-0 over Panama, which means if Panama doesn't score at least one run by the end of the inning the game's over thanks to the WBC's Mercy Rule of a 10-run difference after 7 innings, and there were still 2 outs with a man on 1st. Mathis had just thrown 64 pitches. His 65th pitch got Cesar Quintero to ground into a double play, ending the game for the teams involved, rather than just himself. Mathis would have been taken out of the game regardless of the outcome of that pitch due to his pitch count and WBC regulations. Another great part of this whole situation for Mathis: He allowed two base runners. One due to an error and one due to a walk. He did not strike out one batter. So respect has to be given to not only Mathis, but the defense of his team behind him. This was a great part of an otherwise meaningless game in the 2006 WBC, since both teams' chances of making the 2nd round were already erased by Cuba and Puerto Rico.

It has given us controversy. Now, controversy isn't usually a good thing, but for a fledgling tournament like this, any news is good news. The sign held up at the Cuba game that translated to "Down With Castro" gave sports reporters something more to talk about. Cuba didn't even attend the after-game press conference. My thoughts? Yes, it's a free country. Yes, we have freedom of speech. These are great things. But as I'm sure others have discussed, if someone had held up a "Down with Bush" sign, it would have been taken down quicker than the sign put up by Yankees officials apologizing to fans for the lack of superstars at Spring Training games. (Please note how the sign misspells "Yankees" as "Yankess") The Cuban team shouldn't have taken it so personally however. Perhaps political signs don't have a place at sporting events. Sure, there's freedom of speech. But that does that mean you expect to hear "Yankees Suck" chants at a 3 Doors Down concert? Sometimes you do, but it doesn't mean it's right.

Though it was a major concern before the WCB started, it hasn't given us a major injury (knock on wood). Bud Selig praises the TV ratings and the lack of injuries, the biggest fear of MLB GM's and owners paying many of the WBC participants their multi-million dollar salaries. Injuries kept players out of the WBC, but no MLB players have reported any injuries during the tournament.

The Baseball Desert likes the WBC as well. They even argue against SI's reasons why the WBC has done things wrong thus far.

All in all, the World Baseball Classic has delivered thus far. And for the best. Let's just hope the next 3 rounds are just as good, if not better.

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