The WBC is officially underway! I haven't written much about it yet, but I've been pretty excited for the tournament. And this time, my perception is that despite the vocal naysayers here and there, overall interest in the tournament is better now than it was the first time around.
I was able to attend two games last season--USA vs. Mexico and USA vs. Canada in round one. Unfortunately, much to my surprise, there won't be any games held here in Altoona, PA. So I'll have to settle for TV. But at least I have HDTV this time around on the Deuce (even if I'm a poor Dish subscriber and don't have access to MLB Network).
I think the main reason I like the WBC so much is that it provides some additional context to the players we see in the regular season. I think one of the things that we often lose sight of with the players is their identity as individuals. We see the people on our team as "our" heroes, but the truth is that they're employees of a large conglomerate who ultimately are playing for our team because a) that's who drafted them, or b) that's who offered them the best contract. They will have loyalty to their teammates, and over time some may adopt a city as their second home. But I think for most players, their team and "home" city is just the place where they go to work. That's probably especially true for players born outside of the USA.
My perception is that the World Baseball Classic is different. Players are playing for their true home countries (or, at least, the country of their ancestors). My sense is that many of them take real pride in these games and play them with an intensity that is at least on the level of the regular season, if not the postseason. On top of that, you get to see the fan pride on display from the home countries. Last year, the Mexico vs. USA game was amazing, simply because of the enthusiasm shown by the fans of team Mexico. It verged on a postseason atmosphere, but with a flair that made it distinctly different from what you see from traditional US fans.
On top of that, this tournament should be greatly enhanced thanks to some key rule changes. The most important of these is the adoption of a double-elimination format, rather than the round-robin + ludicrous tiebreakers we saw in the last tourney. As I've written before, that gets these games much closer to feeling like real baseball. It doesn't hurt that at least some of the teams that have been assembled--even if they could have been better--are legitimate squads of all-stars, almost certainly better than any modern MLB team (some, of course, are more on the level of a college squad--but hey, that sets up a neat David and Goliath-type drama).
I'm not sure that the WBC will ever be on the level of something like the World Cup. But I think it's going to continue to grow in popularity and importance over the years. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go finish watching my recording of the China/Japan game while I try to simultaneously grade some papers.
A couple of links:
Patriot has written a few things of late on the WBC. And for the record, despite the fact that I'm a card-carrying liberal and thrilled about Obama, I'm pretty nationalistic myself--and I love to see the nationalism of other countries on display.
Aaron at East Side Chronicle has written a ton about the WBC over the past many months. Here's his WBC 2009 tag link. Everything from rule changes, roster composition, previews of players and teams, etc. Great resource--and always interesting to see the opinions of this event (and others in baseball) from an informed fan/part-time scout living in Far East.