At the Tokyo Dome, the Taiwanese World Baseball Classic team lost to the Chinese World Baseball Classic team. Taiwanese fans cried. Literally bawled. They said they didn’t want Taiwan to continue going abroad to play other nations in baseball for humiliation’s sake.
Meanwhile at Rogers Centre in Toronto, 40,000 Canadians packed in to cheer on their Canadian World Baseball Classic team. The United States defeated them, however, but it barely made headlines.
Carlos Ruiz is the starting catcher for the Panamanian team. Really, he’s the country’s most popular player. The focus of that iconic game five photo, Ruiz was coaxed by the president of his country to play in the World Baseball Classic. Barack Obama did not call Jimmy Rollins.
Chan Ho Park wanted to play for his South Korean team. He really wanted to play. But he decided he couldn’t — instead, he had to win a starting rotation spot for the Phillies, the major league’s top team. He had to stay in America. He cried. Literally bawled.
And yet in America, we don’t care. Like when the World Cup invades our televisions — it truly invades — we yawn and carry on after it ends. Baseball is the great unifier, and yet it unifies nothing in the United States.
A division bell
If anything, baseball in America divides. Baseball fans are divided into 30 contingents. The media plays up the rivalries — Yankees vs. Red Sox, Phillies vs. Mets, Cubs vs. Cardinals, Dodgers vs. Giants. When our teams win, we not only celebrate victory, but we laugh in the face of our rivals. When Jimmy Rollins took the stage at the Phillies’ victory celebration, he assured a hard dig at the Mets. Why? What’s the point?
When the United States team assembled for the World Baseball Classic, we rued the idea of Rollins and Shane Victorino playing alongside David Wright. We expressed caution for the players’ performances after the classic. The major league season is much more important — that’s where rivarly is cultivated. That’s when we expend our emotions.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world cheers and hisses and lives and dies with what occurs on the field. For a tournament created three years ago.
A solution, then, to keep international interest high and keep major league players out of injury risk, is to turn the World Baseball Classic into an amateur tournament. Half the teams are filled to the brim with amateur players; why should there be an uneven field? Why not make the World Baseball Classic the substitute for the winter leagues every three years?
Most Americans view the classic as an unnecessary problem, and it can be fixed to satisfy everyone; still, we can’t deny what importance an event like this brings to other nations.
Chan Ho Park recently waxed about the impact he had on his nation. He was the first South Korean to reach the major leagues, and his fellow Koreans watched him madly. During tough economic times, people huddled around televisions early in the morning to watch Park pitch against major league teams. Early in his career he was astounding. He gave his countrymen hope.
Every fifth day South Koreans watched Park judiciously. If he could do it, anyone could. Children admired and imitated him. He was a national hero.
In 2006, Park represented South Korea in the World Baseball Classic and tossed 10 scoreless innings. He again gave his nation hope.
And here we are, 2009. Now it’s the United States under a cloud of economic horror. Some of the greatest baseball players from across the country have gathered to win a tournament, but to us, it’s just that: A ridiculous tournament that takes away from the intensity of a major league season.
Maybe a change to the tournament will put it in its rightful place.