WASHINGTON (CBSDC) – In case you missed Team USA losing to the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic Thursday night, you’re in the majority.
With the game tied 1-1 heading into the 9th inning, Craig Kimbrel of the Atlanta Braves took the mound and proceeded to give up the go-ahead run and the nail in the coffin, ultimately giving the D.R. the decisive 3-1 victory.
Of course, most Americans wouldn’t find out the result of that game – which forces Team USA into a win-or-you’re-done scenario – until Friday morning, if at all, because the promotional wheels just aren’t turning properly.
For its first six years the tournament appeared on an every-three years rotation, before moving to an every-four years format to more accurately reflect the schedule of the Olympics, from which baseball was dropped for the first time in 2012. But each time the tournament comes around, the casual sports fan treats it the same way.
Pretend they’ve never heard of it, give it the ‘Oh, yea, I’ll have to check that out,’ then ask what happened once it’s over … at best.
The world loves international competition. It evokes nationalism; the spirit of ‘My country is better than yours,’ and Americans love proclaiming their dominance over inferior countries.
So what is it that’s holding the World Baseball Classic back from taking that next step into mainstream popularity?
It’s certainly not the level of excitement surrounding the games.
Marlins Park erupted when Erick Aybar brought Nelson Cruz home to give the Dominicans the lead over the Americans in the Top of the 9th, then matched, if not, surpassed that same boiling point when Jose Reyes singled Aybar in for a commanding lead.
You could blame the game being broadcast on the MLB Network, which many of even the most avid sports fans have yet to find on their dial, but that excuse doesn’t sway hockey fans from finding the Ice Hockey World Championship on the NHL Network, which is equally buried in the channel listings.
No, it has to be something else.
Maybe the teams involved just don’t exude the passion nationalism usually elicits on the global scale.
“I thank God,” Dominican manager Tony Pena said after the game. “I feel so emotional because this team has hung together since the first day. I don’t think I’ll ever again have a group of young men with the dedication, with the dignity in which they have represented our country.”
So enthusiasm can’t be it. The tears Pena fought to quell and the benches-clearing brawl between Mexico and Canada five days before were enough to prove that.
“Mike Trout’s not playing for [the Americans],” JP of the Junkies said Friday on 106.7 The Fan. “I don’t know how they assembled the team. Plenty of great American players aren’t playing. There are some really good American players playing.”
“Yea, a lot of guys said they didn’t want to do it,” Jason Bishop responded.
“Did they ask Bryce?” Eric Bickel asked.
“I think Bryce wanted to,” JP answered. “They didn’t ask him.”
“Someone is texting that Bryce declined USA,” Jason said. “I just Googled it. He actually declined the invite.”
Let’s pluck the five biggest names from the previous two American rosters and compare them with the five biggest of the team currently representing the U.S. Then we can arbitrarily decide if the rosters are contributing to the WBC’s lack of attention – at least stateside.
2006: Derek Jeter, Ken Griffey Jr., Roger Clemens, Johnny Damon, Alex Rodriguez
2009: Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones, Jimmy Rollins, Curtis Granderson, Roy Oswalt
2013: Ryan Braun, David Wright, R.A. Dickey, Adam Jones, Brandon Phillips
Team USA has made the transformation from a handful of Hall of Famers, with established veterans and rising stars mixed in, to a roster dominated by rising stars, and established veterans from smaller market teams.
Shown above is just a small sample of a trend that extends to the rest of the roster.
In America, big names sell. It’s an undeniable fact.
If you want to incentivize American viewers from the nooks and crannies of the country to find a television network for the first time, you better give them a damn good reason.
Ryan Braun is great.
But the best of the young and sexy along with the presiding elders of Major League Baseball – Bryce Harper and Derek Jeter – are better.
The infrastructure of nationalism, proper tournament format and quality players, is already there.
The World Baseball Classic just needs a little more glitz and glam to push it over the top.
Hopefully Major League Baseball can figure that out in the next four years. But for now Americans, don’t forget to support your team Friday night … if you can find it.
P.S. You can catch Team USA play for its life against Puerto Rico Friday night at 7:00 p.m. on MLB Network.