American sports legends are built on gritty underdog stories. They are the plot line to every sports movie, the magic of the NCAA Tournament, and the dream of every sports obsessed child.
Sports media devour these stories to pull at the heart strings of impassioned viewers and readers and to capture the attention of the casual or indifferent passer by.
It is rare if ever that a story of this magnitude could seemingly pass through the filter of modern media and not get the attention it rightfully deserves, but on Mar. 10, for the second time, the Netherlands defeated the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, knocking them out of baseball’s version of the World Cup.
The Netherlands boast only two active major league players, (CF Greg Halman of the Seattle Mariners and SP Rick VandenHurk of the Florida Marlins), and neither player is featured on their team’s active depth charts.
The Dominican Republic took the field to oppose the Dutch with 23 current major-league ballplayers, including four that played in last year’s All-Star game.
Traditional sports viewers understand the impact of this upset and appreciate it as the Dutch version of USA 4-USSR 3, but casual Americans still cannot get overly involved in a world competition of the national pastime where the finals take place on their home soil.
The arguments are clear. Fans want the players of their team to focus on preparing for the only season that matters to those fans. They do not want their stars getting injured in an exhibition.
They want their players to get the same amount of at-bats as they would in spring training. What those same fans also feel but cannot say is this: Baseball is our game, and winning this tournament only verifies that further, whereas if we lose, we must hear about our collapse and the rise of our sport in other markets.
It will be international basketball in the years before the Redeem Team all over again. Too much to lose. Too little to gain.
As a fanbase, we must accept that the sport has grown beyond our borders. Its continued growth depends on international interest, and events like the World Baseball Classic are the best way to promote baseball against other sports.
Fans of the other countries in the tournament have made the event into their own World Series, and we as fans, with our stars involved, should not feel like we are above it.
Players find inventive ways to injure themselves all the time (cross reference Sosa, Sammy, and sneezing). If they do get injured, what difference does it make if it is in a spring training exhibition or the World Baseball Classic?
In Europe, professionals in each of the premier leagues leave their teams for a short time when chosen to play for their countries in international competition. It is seen as a privilege and an honor for the players, and a necessary dilemma for their teams, who are happy to know that they have such promotable players on their squad.
This is a chance for fans of different clubs to set aside their differences. New York fans and Boston fans can cheer along side each other as Derek Jeter and Dustin Pedroia turn an inning ending double play.
Best of all is that the tournament produces a postseason energy.
As printed on ESPN.com, San Diego Padres pitcher Jake Peavy said after a narrow victory for the United States against Canada, "This is a playoff atmosphere. Everything is on the line, you're doing everything you can to win and advance in this tournament, and playing for your country just takes that through the roof. It's as good an atmosphere as it gets, I believe."
The World Baseball Classic is a gift to fans who love competitive baseball. These exhibitions may have nothing to do with our favorite clubs, but they are certainly not meaningless, and all who watch already have a favorite team by default.
On Mar. 17, with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the ninth, the United States trailed by two runs. Kevin Youkilis walked to bring the team within one of tying the game, and David Wright singled in two more to not only eliminate Puerto Rico, but to send the United States into the tournament semifinals.
In a scene that used to come only in the playoffs, Wright was mobbed around second base by the overjoyed children who had moments before been some of the highest paid professional players in the game. The Olympics are shown on network stations. This game was shown on the MLB network.