“You know who ended up winning? Baseball did, sports did, sportsmanship did,” Velez said. “What you saw here tonight, we have to do this more frequently.” By JEFF BLAIR
SAN DIEGO (23 March 2006) — The organizers of the World Baseball Classic knew they’d hit on a winning formula the second Team USA was eliminated from the event and Alex Rodriguez talked for 45 minutes about what he’ll do differently in 2009.
It was a refrain heard elsewhere throughout the event, which culminated Monday night with Japan’s 10-6 win over Cuba at Petco Park in San Diego.
And after Cuba’s loss on Monday, here was Cuban slugger Frederich Cepeda saying that while the event should show the International Olympic Committee that baseball deserves to stay in the Games, an even better idea would be to play the tournament every two years.
After Cepeda, it was Ichiro Suzuki’s turn to sing its praises – the stony Ichiro, aloof and driven mostly by personal statistics and money.
Ichiro, saying: “I didn’t even think about the upcoming regular season of 2006. It’s not an ideal thing for a player to think, but I didn’t really care if I would get injured in this game; that’s how much I really wanted to win.”
a remarkable moment during his postgame news conference…
The Cubans stole the show, of course. And while manager Higinio Velez may not have accurately characterized the makeup of the Major League Baseball Players Association, there was a remarkable moment during his postgame news conference on Monday when he rose to the defence of major-league players, of which only two, Ichiro and Japanese closer Akinori Otsuka, played in the final.
“We have shown already what Cuban baseball can do,” Velez said. “I cannot speak of the differences that exist between Cuban baseball and major-leaguers, but one thing I can say: If there are people we admire, we respect and we love, they are the major-leaguers.
“We admire them, we follow them, we see how they play. We have great respect for them, and what they got and what they get and what they still have is something that they obtained through sacrifice, through their sweat. Nothing they get is for free.
“More than 95 per cent of the major-leaguers in the U.S. come from the very low classes, from the humble classes, so what they do is with their effort, with their sweat, their sacrifice and with their love for baseball.”
The next WBC will be played in 2009 and Gene Orza, the No. 2 man at the players’ association, has already said he’s committed to holding the event at the same time of the year and so, too, is commissioner Bud Selig. What may change is that the games will be scheduled a week later in March.
Although there is a growing body of support for the idea of playing the semi-finals and finals in July during the all-star break – perhaps in the same city as the All-Star Game – the Asian teams are said to be less enamoured with the concept.
The fans liked the concept and, apparently, the timing, too. A total of 737,112 came out for the 39 games at the six venues.
And while baseball didn’t care about North American television ratings – it received $25-million (U.S.) upfront for Japanese television rights alone, which covered half the cost of the event – ESPN-2, a network in search of an identity, pulled in ratings that were in some cases equivalent to a good NBA game.
This won’t ever be the World Cup of soccer. Nothing will be. But the WBC won’t be a rump event such as the world hockey championships, either. There must be a mix of umpires from each competing country, with major-league umpires by all means involved, and greater care must be taken so that the home plate umpire for each game is from a neutral country. One of the pools ought to play its preliminary games in Havana or Mexico City.
The WBC gave us Adam Stern’s inside-the-park home run. A Canadian win over the United States, our very own Miracle On Grass. It gave us the Lion King, Korean first baseman Seung Yeop Lee. And it allowed North America to spend time with Sadaharu Oh, the gentle soul who is the career home-run leader among professionals with 868, a man of regal bearing who greets his players with an honest-to-goodness handshake and a bow – not a high five or fist tap.
“You know who ended up winning? Baseball did, sports did, sportsmanship did,” Velez said. “What you saw here tonight, we have to do this more frequently.”
Frankly, 2009 can’t come soon enough.