Why I Love the World Baseball Classic

In the last few days, I've seen Chris Snelling hit two home runs in Mexico City as part of an Australian rout. I've seen Phillippe Aumont get himself into the mother of all jams and then make an obscenely good US lineup look silly. I've seen Jose Lopez rip apart Italy, dismissed it as coming against inferior competition, and then saw him beat up Roy Oswalt. And I've seen Felix mix his pitches.

But for all I love seeing once and future Mariners do well, that's not why I find this tournament so compelling. I could see Aumont, Lopez, and Felix playing in Peoria (Doyle might be a little harder to track down, but enh). Not only that, but there are a host of other reasons why I shouldn't like the WBC. It pushes back the start of the season, prolonging the time I'm without my beloved Mariners, and there's a real chance that our players might get injured while on national duty. And while it sucks seeing a player get injured*, it's even worse when they're not even playing for the club that employs them.

But for all the downsides to the World Baseball Classic, I love it. To the fans, it's meaningful baseball. To the players, it's meaningful baseball. There's something on the line, and it shows. Watch a Japan-Korea matchup in the Tokyo Dome. Hell, watch the Mexico-Australia game in Mexico City, or Puerto Rico playing at home. Those guys mean business, and it's the type of attachment we just don't see in 'normal' play; the atmosphere in most of the games has been absolutely phenomenal, especially when the home team's been involved. These games all feel like the postseason, and unlike the postseason it isn't full of teams that I hate. Want to root for the underdog? Australia and the Netherlands are right up your alley. Want to see one of the greatest collections of talent ever assembled? The USA fits the bill. Want a rivalry that puts everything MLB has to offer to absolute shame? Hellooo Japan and Korea.

It's a really rare treat to be able to watch games that can put you at the edge of your seat in March. Today we saw the Dutch, who have Randall Simon as their three-hole hitter, make a decent effort of holding off Puerto Rico (until their somewhat sub-optimal strategy of 'walk everyone, miraculously get out of jam' eventually failed them in the 8th). Who'd have thought that a game that featured Eugene Kingsale could ever be so tense or so compelling? Or that half of LL would start screaming at some random 19 year old Dutch kid to throw strikes to Carlos Beltran with the bases loaded and two down in the 7th? I doubt the Mariners will have me that nervous all season.

These are epic games and epic stories, minnows squeaking past giants and then superpowers battling one another to a standstill. Because of the fickleness of baseball, most teams competing in the tournament are in with a shout, and that means that both the players and the fans are beyond excited. If you haven't tuned into a game yet, do yourself a favour and try it. You don't even need a rooting interest for this tournament to be fun.

And if the storylines and drama aren't enough for you, I have one last argument: 3 years ago, the World Baseball Classic made Ichiro smile, and the man deserves to be happy every once in a while. Thank god for baseball.

*Unless they are annoying.


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