I may be the only one in the United States outside of the Player's Union, but I don't care: I'm stoked for the World Baseball Classic.
Since the excitement of this summer's European Football Championship and the Summer Olympics, I've been looking forward to an international competition that would bring together the best players of the sport I love.
Don't get me wrong, Olympic Baseball is cool and all, but give me Francisco Liriano trying to break Joe Mauer's ankles with a slider, not Nate Schierholtz trying to take out Yang Yang in a relatively meaningless pool-play game.
Here's why you, too, should love the World Baseball Classic.
1. The Players are Excited for it.
Games are always more fun when the players care, and they care about this one. The union had to overcome barriers from not only the commisioner's office and the owners, but also the Bush Administration, among several other organizations that made surprise claims in the game.
It's only going to get better once Selig leaves his post (he is staunchly opposed to the series for marketing reasons too complex to explain here) and they are already well on their way to making the WBC not only relevant, but a real prize for the winning nation. The players want the trophy and are going to play hard to get it.
2. There is No Clear Favorite
There are five or six nations that can legitimately win the title this year. The US, Venezuela, The Dominican Republic, Cuba, and the current holders, Japan will all field competitive teams that would put the fear of God into most major league rosters. Mexico will also be a tough comer but may need a few more years to be a serious contender.
Even teams from the Netherlands, Australia, and Canada will provide serious challenges in the group stages, and an upset or two could push them on to the knockout stages. Almost every game will be hotly contested and should provide a pretty high entertainment value.
3. It's Great for the Development of Baseball as a World Game
Baseball has a long and proud tradition in Japan, Korea, and China, and it is getting stronger in the rest of the Pacific Rim. South and Central America have become hot beds of young talent, and Caribbean scouts are becoming increasingly adept at identifying great young players to come to the States and ply their trade.
This is excellent for baseball; how could a burgeoning talent base be anything but a positive?
It needs to go further, though, expansion into Europe is a must for Baseball. Softball has already been yanked from the Olympics, if baseball doesn't start turning heads in the IOC (read: Among European nations), it too may have to beg for its spot. The Dutch and Italians are fielding sides this year, with hopefully more to follow in 2012.
As long as the owners don't try to sunder this year's tournament and will allow the best players to represent their countries, the 2009 World Baseball Classic will be a great marketing tool for Major League Baseball and for the game in general.
For the fans, its a chance to see new faces, like Yu Darvish, face off against the best the game has to offer with more on the line than just pride. The U.S. walked into the 2006 games a little overconfident and found out how good the rest of the world is.
Perhaps it's time for baseball's own version of the redeem team.
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