B/R Exclusive: Talking World Baseball Classic with WBC President Paul Archey
While the actual tournament doesn't begin until next March, the 2013 World Baseball Classic has already gotten underway with qualifying games in Germany and Florida and two more rounds coming in November at sites in Panama and Taiwan.
Each of the first two classics have been won by Japan, but the tournament's third installment promises to be more challenging than ever before, with more teams involved and a much deeper talent pool than we've seen in years past.
Paul Archey, President of the World Baseball Classic and the man tasked with putting the whole thing together, was gracious enough to take some time out of his hectic schedule and chat with me yesterday from the Armin-Wolf Baseball Arena in Regensburg, Germany about where the WBC is and where it might be going.
The Ides of March
One of the biggest criticisms of the World Baseball Classic is that the tournament is held right as spring training is getting underway in earnest.
"There's no perfect time to hold it," said Archey. "The sports landscape is incredibly crowded in November, with the NBA, NFL, NHL and college football all underway. Plus, after playing essentially non-stop since March, our players are tired. They need their time off, just like everyone else."
That all makes sense, and he's absolutely right that baseball's best need time away from the field to rest and recharge their batteries. But surely people must still bring the timing of it all as a point of contention, right?
"Not really. Nobody really asks or mentions it anymore," he replied.
At this point, the WBC has become part of the baseball landscape and people know that every few years, it's going to take place.
Is the Game's Appeal Growing?
We know that baseball is still incredibly popular in Latin America, North America and parts of Asia, but this year marks the first time that the World Baseball Classic will be playing games in Europe.
So the question needs to be asked: Are people excited about the games, and do they "get" it?
"I haven't been in Regensburg long, but there is definitely a buzz surrounding these games and the sport itself," said Archey. "Germany doesn't play until tomorrow (Friday), and we are expecting a full house for tonight's games. As I talk to you now, the stadium is filling up pretty quickly."
The 2009 WBC was a huge success, both in attendance and television viewership. From thebizofbaseball.com:
"Round One attendance in 2009 surpassed the attendance from Round One of the 2006 World Baseball Classic by approximately 38 percent. More than 450,000 fans attended Round One games in 2009 compared with just over 326,000 fans for the inaugural World Baseball Classic."
That's a gigantic increase, which speaks volumes about the quality of the product that Archey and his colleagues are putting on the field. As for television:
"Saturday night’s game between Japan and Korea delivered a 37.8 rating in Japan, topping the 28.2 for the tournament opener on Thursday to rank as the highest-rated sports telecast in that country since the 2006 World Baseball Classic Final between Japan and Cuba (43.4), including the 2008 Beijing Olympics."
When you are outdrawing the Summer Olympics, you know that not only is product that you are putting on the field of the highest quality, but that you are also doing something right.
Are There Legitimate Prospects in Countries We Wouldn't Expect?
While the games at the World Baseball Classic are fantastic, many MLB fans are more interested in the players involved than the results themselves.
Might we see some of the players in our home ballparks before long?
"Absolutely, there are legitimate prospects all over the globe," remarked Archey. "You've got Alex Liddi pitching for the Mariners, the first player to reach the major leagues from Italy and a graduate of our European Academy. Germany has a hotshot center fielder playing in the qualifying round, (Max Kepler, Twins). The Dodgers first round pick last year (LHP Chris Reed) is from Great Britain, and the Reds have another member of the German team (1B Donald Lutz) in their organization."
Does he expect more European players to make their way over to the states?
"Our academies, not only in Europe, but around the world, have done a great job of not only promoting the game, but in helping these athletes develop to a level where they are legitimate prospects who could, one day, find themselves in the major leagues."
Have any countries impressed him more than others?
"Every one of the countries competing this year continues to make great strides forward with their programs, but Germany and the Czech Republic have been very impressive. The Czech Republic recently beat the Dutch in the European Championships, and that's not a small accomplishment."
Where Do We Go from Here?
There's no question that the World Baseball Classic has been a success in each of its previous two incarnations. This year's tournament promises to be the best yet.
But what's next?
"The goal, honestly, is to have the next one," said Archey. "After 2009, we wanted to get more countries involved, and we've done that, expanding the field to 28 teams (including qualifiers) for 2013. Of course people have ideas about how to improve things, but I'd like to give the tournament a chance to evolve on it's own, see where it leads us."
Every game of the qualifying rounds are being streamed live, free of charge, on the WBC website.
I watched some of yesterday's action and took in both Germany's 16-1 drubbing of the Czech Republic and Israel's 4-2 victory over Spain this afternoon.
Paul Archey and his team have done an outstanding job of putting together this year's World Baseball Classic, and while we are only in the qualifying rounds, there is some quality baseball being played by athletes you're likely to see in the majors sooner rather than later.
If you have some free time this weekend, I highly recommend adding the WBC qualifying games to your viewing schedule.