The Globalization of Baseball

Michael McMasterContributor IIIMay 18, 2009

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - MARCH 11:  Fans of Puerto Rico cheer against The Netherlands during the 2009 World Baseball Classic Pool D match on March 11, 2009 at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

In the United States, baseball is much more than a sport. It is a tradition, passed down from generations, woven into the beautiful fabric of American society.

Although the origins of America’s game are unknown, Americans cling to the unlikely belief that our great game was created by a Union soldier, Abner Doubleday, in Cooperstown, N.Y., back in 1839.

Over the next two centuries, baseball evolved into a national phenomenon, making stars and heroes out of household names like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jackie Robinson.

Baseball became a cultural staple of the United States, and regardless of who invented it, baseball became America’s game.

But not anymore. Baseball is no longer America’s pastime, nor is it America’s game. Not because of the surge in popularity of lacrosse, or the new American love for football, but because we couldn’t keep it to ourselves.

Once America’s best kept secret, baseball has become an international phenomenon, gaining popularity in all of the world’s major continents.

The globalization of what was once America’s pastime seems now to dwarf the narrow scope of Major League Baseball.

And while the MLB may be the most competitive baseball league in the world, hundreds of capable and gifted athletes choose (or are forced) to play abroad in countries like Japan and Cuba.

Baseball can no longer be contained within the borders of America’s 50 states. In March, 16 nations will competed in cities around the globe to prove their nation’s skill in an ever-growing sport. In the first round of competition, teams played in Mexico City; San Juan, P.R.; Tokyo; and Toronto.

However, while international competition is often met with intense rivalry and avid support from patriots, the World Baseball Classic seems to have been met with little enthusiasm in the United States.

There are several reasons that Americans seem uninterested in the World Baseball Classic. First, some of America’s best athletes have not been present. Among pitchers, such stars as C.C. Sabathia, Roy Halladay, and Jon Lester (all top five in ERA last season) were missing from Team USA’s lineup this year.

Among hitters, there were also many prominent names missing from the list, and many athletes seemed eager to back out due to the slightest injuries.

Also, Americans have a baseball superiority complex. And even though Japan handily defeated Cuba, 10-6 in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, long after the stars and stripes had been sent back to the land of the free and home of the brave, Americans still inexplicably believed in their own unchallenged baseball superiority.

But despite American ignorance, the World Baseball Classic is unlikely to ever be as lopsided as Olympic basketball, no matter who is playing.

Derek Jeter and the rest of the American squad are far from favorites, and the competition will always be a challenge for Team USA.

However, for whatever reason, Americans seem to continue to assume that the Classic will be analogous to Beijing 2008, where Kobe and LeBron humored Albania before going out for drinks on their three-week vacation to China. Of course, they came home adorned in red, white, blue, and gold.

The World Baseball Classic has effectively replaced baseball in the Olympics, and while Canadian shuffle-board on ice can still be rewarded with gold, baseball now has its own international competition.

Baseball is no longer America’s sport; now, it belongs to the world. The World Baseball Classic provides a stage for the world to compete. As nations compete, the world will look on, and hopefully, America will too.