Classic underscores baseball's global reach
The best part of the World Baseball Classic has been, to put it directly, the baseball.
The event was not, in its first two appearances, one more reason for sports-related jingoism. It was, instead, a forum for appreciating and encouraging the international growth of the game.
With the announcement of the provisional rosters for the 2013 World Baseball Classic, there is genuine anticipation for the third edition of the tournament. And the anticipation is not driven by the notion that Team USA absolutely must win at its very own game.
Perhaps our non-nationalistic appreciation of the Classic has been formed by the fact that the U.S. team hasn't yet reached the finals. Maybe we have retreated into non-nationalistic appreciation as a rationalization for the shortcomings of our national team.
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But that's not really it. North American eyes have been opened by this tournament. When it first was played in 2006, there was on display a terrific brand of fundamentally sound, precise baseball, by the teams representing Japan and South Korea.
Japan won the Classic in 2006, while South Korea had the best overall record in tournament play. These teams played baseball the way it was meant to be played.
The Classic reminded us as well of the tremendous talent being poured into the North American game by Latin American nations. Once politics were taken out of the equation and the focus was returned to baseball, the team from Cuba was allowed into the tournament. And then it was a revelation for Cuba, which finished second to Japan while establishing its worth against some of the very best competition in the world.
Japan won again in 2009, with Korea finishing second. In both tournaments, Daisuke Matsuzaka was named Most Valuable Player. This year, neither the Japanese nor the Koreans will have a Major League player on its roster. But you will still be able to count on both teams being sound in the fundamentals of the game and as precise as possible in the execution of those fundamentals.
The Latin American clubs again will have significant talent. So will Canada. The Dominican Republic alone will have 10 All-Stars on its roster.
Team USA, based on the provisional roster, will have a virtual All-Star lineup at the everyday positions. It will include notable starting pitchers, but its roster will lack some of the game's best pitchers. Still, this is a squad that, on paper, should stack up against any in the rest of the world.
This same view, of course, was also held in the first two Classics. The American team went 7-7 in those two tournaments. The U.S. teams were obviously competitive, but they were not the class of the fields -- star-studded roster or not.
But for American baseball fans, these did not have to be particularly painful developments. What the first two Classics demonstrated was that the level of play around the rest of the globe was even higher than we originally thought. If that turned out to be a competitive difficulty for Team USA, that was unfortunate for Team USA, but it was good for the cause of international baseball and good for the general growth of the game.
The ideal American scenario would be a Classic in which the level of competition is once again admirably high, with Team USA emerging as the eventual winner.
But, as we have already seen, this tournament has succeeded without that sort of result.
The World Baseball Classic has its own international language, which turns out to be an appreciation of the grand old game. No matter which nation wins, the real winner of the Classic has been baseball. This event has twice been an advertisement for the game's global reach. And this March we should be treated to more of the same.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.