In recent years, top American professional athletes have proudly represented their country, most notably in basketball, with NBA superstars suiting up to compete in the Olympics and FIBA world championship tournaments.
Unfortunately, America's pastime has not benefited from the same type of popularity among its stars.
One look at the roster for USA's World Baseball Classic squad will likely yield the question, "Who are these guys?" or "There are more American stars than this, right?"
While marquee names such as David Wright, R.A. Dickey and Ryan Braun are present, where are the Josh Hamiltons, the Andrew McCutchens or the Justin Verlanders? The answer, of course, is spring training.
Moving the international competition to the offseason could produce a better showing for the best players in the world.
As it stands, Major League Baseball players have a choice: represent their country in the World Baseball Classic or remain with their MLB squads to work on getting in shape and improving chemistry with their professional teammates.
Those who decide to play in the WBC give up valuable practice time and throw themselves into full-blown competition when they may not be in shape yet. By the time the WBC ends, it's pretty much time to suit up for the regular season.
It is no surprise that many established stars opt to train. Playing in non-exhibition games at this point in the year robs players of the opportunity to tinker with their game. Spring training is when hitters experiment with new batting stances and pitchers try to add new weapons to their arsenals.
They can't do that if they're playing in games that count.
December seems like a logical time for the international event, as many countries begin their offseasons not long beforehand. This way, players get a brief resting period after their season ends, but they're still in shape for the tournament. Once the WBC is over, they'll still have a break before spring training in February, and they'll have the full spring to prepare for the next season.
Of course, this is all under the assumption that spring training is the reason why more top players aren't getting involved. It could just be that they don't care.
Compare it to the NBA. Only two players who were All-Stars in 2004 played on the Olympic team in Athens, and Team USA failed to win the gold for the first time since pro players became eligible. By 2008, nine All-Stars represented the United States in Beijing and earned back some pride for their country.
Now look at baseball. In the first WBC, Team USA didn't even place, and in the second they came in fourth. Now, the third time around, there is still a dearth of star power. The country that birthed the game cannot be bothered to prove its dominance.
So is it that the timing is impractical, or do players just not care? I'd like to think it's the former.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!