Why The World Baseball Classic Absolutely Matters

The World Baseball Classic is going on, and once again, it doesn’t mean jack to Americans. In Latin America, Japan and upstart countries like Italy and the Netherlands, WBC games have a World Cup feel.  

America needs to get its head out of the sand, and start respecting the cultures and athletic prowess of the rest of the world. The social media age has shrunk the map, making us all neighbors.

We’re sleeping on a sport that was birthed in our backyards, and missing out on another international revolution.    

The prevailing thought is that the United States doesn’t take international competitions like the WBC seriously, and feels no pressure to prove its dominance. The 16 competing WBC teams are littered with MLB players. Americans know that the grandest baseball stage (MLB) is on United States soil. Therefore, the WBC doesn’t generate much emotion or purpose for smug Americans.

But it should.

It’s been reported that the U.S. is falling behind the international curve in education, business innovation and technology. Baseball, once America’s past-time, has gone the way of our economy – increasingly dominated by foreign players. Two hundred forty-three players on the 2012 Opening Day rosters were born outside the United States. Our Dominican neighbors to the south come deepest with 95, so it’s no shock that they’re the WBC favorites.

The fans of two-time WBC defending champion Japan, believe their brand of baseball is second-to-none, and savor every opportunity to prove it. 

So while America doesn’t have the collective chip on its shoulder to inspire WBC Madness, it should at least defend home turf. That’s something the U.S. has always been good at.

Tuesday night’s 7-1 win for Team U.S.A. probably didn’t make the news carousel for most Americans, but it was a huge victory – for an ever-evolving world power – towards preserving some of its original DNA.

This Thursday’s semifinal game against a star-studded Dominican Republic team (Robinson Cano, Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes) is going to mean a lot to the folks in DR.  

It’s got to mean something to Americans, too.   

I get that it’s baller season, and big homie and LBJ and them boys are going for the double up. I also know March Madness lurks. Still, American indifference towards baseball in general, only helps the growing number of countries that are building ill baseball programs to flood the MLB talent pipeline. 

The landscape of American athletics is changing. Baseball fields have been replaced with soccer fields in many hoods, but should soccer ever trump baseball in America? What part of the apple-pie-red-white-and-Jackie-Robinson-Dodger-blue is that? 

For decades, the only thing separating American baseball players from foreign players was exposure and resources. We know the story of Yankee closer and humanitarian Mariano Rivera, who grew up in Panama using a milk carton as a baseball glove. At the time, rising to the majors from such humble beginnings was an aberration. Now you could fill 1,000 books with the rags-to-riches stories of guys who used a sport created by Americans, fell in love with it and now diss it to become world changers in their countries.  

Former Mets catcher Mike Piazza was a player in ’06 and is now a coach for the Italian team. He says Italy’s participation in the WBC has helped the sport grow. He supports successful non-American pros using their MLB platform to blow baseball up back home.

“I believe the future over there is player development,” Piazza told reporters last week. “There’s just thousands of kids in Italy who don’t play soccer, who love baseball…I’m pushing for a really nice Dominican-style academy in southern Italy where the weather’s nice and we can get players from not just Italy but the rest of Europe.”

Holland also just committed $13 million to a new baseball academy. Watch out, America; baseball is about to go the way of neighborhood liquor stores, laundromats and bodegas.

Countries are jacking the sports that we are disregarding as “played out” and making billions. Beyond money, American baseball has been a leader in racially integrating sports. Without baseball there would be no Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, Curt Flood or Hank Aaron.

If the rest of the world is discovering baseball’s dopeness, it would benefit the sport’s creators to also support international tournaments that promote national pride. If pride doesn’t cut it, then the current miserable state of the economy should inspire all races – especially minorities who use sports as a ticket out the hood – to include baseball in their list of potential pro options.

 That’s just common sense.



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