Yesterday on 790 The Zone, David Pollack and Mike Bell were poking fun at the World Baseball Classic. They're hardly alone in this regard, as other than ESPN's tepid coverage of the event (and they've got all the ponies in this race), coverage and interest in this event has been marginal at best in the country that deems baseball its' national pastime.
I still don't understand why. Americans love baseball. Americans love contrived made-for-TV events. The World Cup (understandably) and the Olympics (less so) are covered with respect and admiration. The passion (not to mention TV ratings) surrounding the events in Latin America, Asia and even Canada was intense and as rollicking as anything in the World Cup or the Olympics.
I've touched on some of the problems with the WBC here, but I think on a larger scale that while they still love the sport, American baseball fans are just fed up with baseball and Bud Selig in general. They view any changes or innovation he brings to the table (interleague play, the All-Star game 'counting', instant replay, etc.) with skepticism and trepidation. American baseball fans simply want to cheer for their Braves, Yankees, Pirates, Angels or whatever and forget anything else that goes on in the game outside of their team's season. Unfortunately, this probably includes this tournament, which has been exciting as hell thus far and has featured two impressive wins by the U.S. team.
Case in point: Tonight's U.S.-Venezuela game for the Pool C championship will be televised on ESPN Deportes and MLB Network...two stations most people don't get. What will be on the widely available ESPN2? Netherlands-Puerto Rico. Only in America.
Some other thoughts on the tournament thus far:
I still can't wrap my head around the Dominican team loaded with major leaguers losing twice to a Netherlands squad that features two big leaguers. This all in front of what essentially amounted to a home crowd in Puerto Rico's stadium. The WBC was the Dominican's stage to shine, as they are never players in either the Olympics, World Cup, or any other intercontinental event. They blew it.
Why was Willy Aybar, known to Braves' fans as that guy we got for Betemit that went AWOL and landed in rehab, playing first base in the 11th inning? I haven't exactly followed Aybar's career since he left the Braves, but I thought he was a prototypical middle infielder. As I watched him misread two standard plays that led to the winning runs, I couldn't help but think he looked horribly out-of-position at first. Kind of like me in my epic six-error performance at first during the father-son fraternity softball game my sophomore year.
The Dominican roster was put together like one of Isiah Thomas' Knicks squads. There were alot of past-their-prime players. Unless you count David Ortiz and apparently Aybar, there were no first basemen. Their two best players, Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes play the same position, and for some reason Miguel Tejada was still on the team.
That said, four of the five runs the Dominicans gave up were unearned, and they scored 12 runs to their opponents five. Much like in a five or seven game playoff series, the best team doesn't necessarily win. I gotta think the Dominicans would beat the Dutch at least 70% of the time. C'est la vie.
Got to give the Netherlands credit though. Pitching coach Bert Blyleven's staff has a 1.67 ERA thus far against stacked Dominican and Puetro Rico lineups, and the Dutch have not trailed for 25 of the 29 innings they've played thus far. Their bats will have to wake up if they want to pull this off again in Round 2, but it's a nice story.
Mexico will try to avoid the fate of the D.R. in tonight's rematch in Mexico City against the Aussies for the right to lose to Cuba tomorrow. This Australia squad is no joke, as they led the Cubans 4-1 heading into the 7th inning last night before their 'pen imploded. Add that to the fact the Mexcians will be without two starters that were injured against South Africa and we could be looking at a Round 2 with the Netherlands and Australia.
Haven't said much about the U.S. squad, but their performance against a good Venezuela team was dominating and a joy to watch, Chipper's first aggravating injury of 2009 notwithstanding. The U.S. offense should be able to keep them in any game.
Does anyone know who picked this squad? Youkilis, Adam Dunn, Braun, Wright, McCann, etc? It's like a sabermetrican's wet dream. Maybe that has more to do with their success thus far than all the chemistry and camraderie? Because I'm pretty sure every squad still standing is still running out of the dugout after every run crosses home plate.