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The Great Debate: Has baseball hit a home run?

By Matt Patton and Chris Bellamy

Matt Patton

World Baseball Classic will be exciting for everyone

In the first round of the inaugural World Baseball Classic we’ll get to see a showdown between the Dominican Republic and Australia. Excited yet? You will be.

The Dominicans’ roster includes a star-studded lineup with Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran, Vladimir Guerrero, David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, and Miguel Tejada.

Australia has….uhhh…Adrian Burnside and a bunch of guys we don’t know about here in the United States. But somehow, Australia could pull it off.

There’s a possibility that they’ll have guys who are very talented and have success against Pedro Martinez or Bartolo Colon.

That’s what will make this so great. Not only will we get to see U.S. All-Stars competing in more than a one-game tournament, but we’ll also get introduced to a world of baseball we don’t know.

And it’ll be crazy because there will be upsets, new strategies and team compatibility that we have grown to love in college basketball’s NCAA tournament.

A world tournament. Not a new idea, but certainly an exciting one. There’s just something great about watching smaller, usually less-talented underdog teams step up and knock off top-ranked teams.

The Classic should provide plenty of that. Baseball has an individual emphasis far greater than football or basketball, strengthening the chances of upsets.

If a pitcher is having an off day, or if a slugger can’t seem to find his swing, it can cost a team the ball game.

However, a game like baseball also allows lesser-known athletes chances of making a game-sealing hit or save.

As another example, the United States is set to square off against Mexico in the first round of the tournament.

On paper, Mexico doesn’t stand a chance. The United States boasts a lineup including Roger Clemens, Dontrelle Willis, Ben Sheets and Roy Halladay.

If for some reason they allow many runs to be scored, they’ll have players like Barry Bonds, Adam Dunn, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixiera swinging the stick.As for Mexico, they’ve got Esteban Loaiza, Elmer Dessens and Vinny Castilla to rely on. In all respect to Mexico, they shouldn’t win. But it doesn’t mean they won’t.

Maybe somebody like Gerardo Garcia will have an incredible day, while Roger Clemens gives up several runs, and Mexico walks away with a win. That will be exciting to watch. Not just here in the United States, but think about how fired up the people in Mexico will be if that happens.

It’ll be like a March Madness felt around the world, rather than just here in the United States. It’ll be great to see these guys play their hearts out for their own country. That pride and desire to represent their country with greatness will likely be the fuel toward causing upsets.

This seems to be a great thing for the world as well as for Major League Baseball. Excitement is already swelling, and it’s only a matter of time before this Classic ignites the world.

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Chris Bellamy

In how many different languages can you say, ‘Who cares?’

Are they serious about this? For 18 days in March, with conference tournaments deciding the NCAA field, leading up to March Madness, the greatest two weeks of the year, people actually expect American sports fans to shift their attention to a meaningless baseball tournament that doesn’t hold any emotional attachment to anyone?

Come again?

I’ll be honest-personally, I’m excited about the World Baseball Classic, mostly because I just love baseball, and deep in the shadows of my heart I have a vain hope that a Japanese player will puncture Johnny Damon’s throat with a throwing star.

But seriously, the organizers of the WBC couldn’t have planned this for February, the month every sports fan hates, the month where we all need a little distraction? No, the geniuses in charge decided it would be a good idea to do it right in the middle of probably the most hectic month of the sporting year.

Not only will March Madness just be gaining steam when the first pitch of the WBC is thrown, but the NBA and (for a few of us) NHL playoff races will be heating up, and endless NFL draft analysis will be consuming hours of the day. And we’re expected to drop everything to cheer on “Team USA” (as if that has any meaning anymore) even when we all know the Dominican Republic is going to kick our red, white and blue asses?

But no, it’s not just the fact that we’re going to lose that the WBC will be nothing more than a casual curiosity. The simple fact is that we, the American sports fans, generally just don’t care about team sports on an international stage. That doesn’t speak for all of us, but a pretty significant majority, nonetheless.

The 1980 U.S. hockey team is the closest we came to identifying with one national team-and even then, we were the proverbial underdog that defied all the odds and then, and only then, won the hearts of a nation. Before that historic run, only hockey die-hards paid much attention to U.S. hockey.

The original 1992 “Dream Team” was a phenomenon as well, but there was a novelty factor involved. Not only was it the first year NBA players were allowed to compete, but that team boasted the best group ever put together on a single roster. And we knew we would wipe the floor with every other country that stood in our way. It’s easy to have pride in a case like that.

Nowadays, no one cares about U.S. basketball. The last two times a team was put together, there were people in this country openly rooting against the NBA superstars wearing Team USA duds, mostly because the common American sports fan is disenchanted with NBA players in general.

And if that’s the case with the NBA, it’s even truer for major-league baseball. The MLB has had a black eye for years now, one that keeps getting more purple and swollen, and one that won’t go away for a while. Baseball fans have soured on the game, and the players themselves, and not without reason, considering the state of the game. WBC organizers can hardly expect sports fans to put their qualms and cynicism aside for this little tournament when there is so much else going on to occupy their time.

But even so, the nature of baseball itself doesn’t lend well to the concept of an international tournament. I like the idea because I love the game. But more than any other mainstream American sport, people who watch baseball watch because of one particular team. Every football fan in the country watches as much football as he or she can, no matter who is playing and no matter what the stakes. NBA fans will always turn on a good game, no matter if their respective teams are involved or not. And die-hard hockey fans…well, they’ll take hockey any way, and any time, they can get it.

With baseball, that’s just not the case. At least not anymore. Forty years ago, maybe. I love baseball, but as much as I want to believe otherwise, I probably wouldn’t love it nearly as much if I didn’t have my Red Sox occupying my brain every single day from April to October. If I didn’t have the Sox, baseball really wouldn’t matter. Many of you die-hard Sox or Cubs or Indians or Yankees fans know what I’m talking about. That’s where the WBC loses viewers. Sure, we can see a few of our favorite players in action, scattered among a few different countries, but it’s not the same. It’s no different from the All-Star Game-and nobody cares about that so-called “midsummer classic.”

It isn’t that the World Baseball Classic can’t work. As an idea, it’s worth exploring. It might be a nice new light in which to see the game. But with so much else going on this March, and with nothing of worth really riding on the outcome, it’s going to be a hard sell.

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