World Baseball Classic will just be an overhyped exhibition

By on February 8, 2006

It’s the beginning of February, which on the traditional baseball calendar means that fans should be buzzing about the upcoming start of spring training. After all, pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to their respective camps within a couple of weeks. Since I first became a baseball fan, I’ve always felt that the sport is constantly in season. Even in the winter, there is usually baseball news.

However, much of the attention this winter has moved from Major League Baseball to the inaugural World Baseball Classic. The brainchild of Commissioner Bud Selig, the Classic will basically be the World Cup of baseball. Major League players will represent their countries of origin for a tournament-style event in March.

As all baseball fans are aware, March is ordinarily when spring training takes place, and with it the process of building strength for the new season. The World Baseball Classic will be occurring right in the middle of this process. With that has come concern from players and coaches about proper conditioning and the fear of suffering an injury that would hurt a player’s year-round team for the 2006 season.

As a result, marquee players have been opting out of the Classic faster than the leaves fall in autumn. It seems that every day, the media is informing us of the latest player to either drop out or announce that he is still undecided. Last week, new Dodgers first baseman Nomar Garciaparra withdrew his name from the Mexican team, citing a desire to commit himself fully to his new teammates and fans following an injury-plagued 2005.

Garciaparra follows names such as Tim Hudson, John Smoltz, Barry Bonds, and Robinson Cano to withdraw from the Classic. Houston starter Andy Pettitte is still undecided. These stars and rising stars choosing to focus on the season ahead is perfectly reasonable. But the incessant coverage of who’s in and who’s out is really getting a little ridiculous. After awhile, it starts to seem like a soap opera and distracts from major league baseball news.

For instance, last week the Red Sox completed a complicated multi-team trade to acquire center fielder Coco Crisp from the Cleveland Indians. This deal was matched or even surpassed in coverage by news of Hudson’s withdrawal from the World Baseball Classic and updates about the status of other high-profile players.

On a different note, all this coverage of the lead-up to the Classic is somewhat ironic. Over winter break, I read that no major American television station will be carrying any of the WBC games, even the championship game. Not Fox, not ESPN, nothing at all. I admit it’s hard to believe that we won’t be able to find these games anywhere, but as of right now, that appears to be the case.

Obviously, the relationship between the American media’s coverage of the lead-up and upcoming lack of coverage of the actual event does not add up. It boggles my mind that after all the efforts of Selig over the past few years to make this Classic a reality, it isn’t even going to be televised in this country. Yet we are still inundated with roster updates.

In reality, the World Baseball Classic is going to be a much bigger deal in other countries than it will be in this one. And I will venture to guess that this was part of Selig’s intent when he proposed the idea. The commissioner has always advocated globalizing baseball and reaching out to potential bases of support around the world.

To that end, the Classic will be a success. Central and South American countries, where many baseball stars are from, will benefit greatly from the concept of playing as a country for a baseball championship. The Dominican team, in particular, will be difficult to stop. In turn, coverage of the event will be greater in these countries, which is perfectly fine.

In the end, the WBC will be nothing more than an exhibition. I’m not nearly as excited about it as some of my friends are. Players should not be criticized for dropping out, and it shouldn’t be a huge story that Alex Rodriguez decided to play for America instead of the Dominican Republic. Sorry, Pedro Martinez, deal with it and enjoy your perfect contract with the Mets.

What I’m looking forward to is the real baseball season. I mark March on my calendar for spring training games, not the WBC. Don’t get me wrong. If by some miracle the Classic winds up being televised, I will probably tune in for some of it. However, I don’t think it’s as big a deal as the media and some fans are currently making it.


About A. J. Atchue