Yes, well, that is one embracing feature of the WBC: Every team wants to beat the United States. It is the U.S. team that makes this tournament official in some grand way, much in the way Tiger Woods makes a golf tournament “official.” This, even though the United States did not finish in the Top 3 in either of the previous World Baseball Classics. The doesn’t really matter. This is where baseball began.
I think, if this U.S. team keeps winning, there will be some buzz about the tournament here. I don’t know how much. Some. It still isn’t the point though.
The point is baseball is an infinitely better sport because it is played around the world. The different approaches … the different motivations … the different backgrounds … all these lead to new and wonderful kind of baseball. The WBC matters because the game should be played around the world — not so much for the business end (though MLB is working on television deals around the world) but for the diversity of the game. You know, baseball was growing stale in the 1930s and 1940s, and then Jackie Robinson crossed the line, and players from the Negro Leagues helped make the game faster and more exciting. The game needed an influx not only of new talent, but new ideas and a new energy.
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One of my favorite baseball anecdotes comes from Vladimir Guerrero. You know how much fun it was to watch Vlady play ball — it was wonderful. Guerrero would swing at anything. Seriously: Anything. The guy was known to swing at low flying planes. But the thing is, he could hit anything too. He had this big swing, with a crazy uppercut, and he would take wild swings at balls in the dirt, balls over his head, balls behind him — and smack them up the middle for hits. The guy hit .318 for his career.
Anyway, one day he was telling the reporter Mel Antonen about this game he would play as a child in the Dominican Republic, and it suddenly came together. The game was called “La Placa.” In the game, a pitcher would try to bounce a ball past a batter and knock over a license plate that was standing behind the ball. The batter’s job was to protect that license plate.
Think about that for a minute — it’s a little bit of baseball, a little bit of cricket, and a lot of the Dominican Republic. A ball, a stick of some kind, a bent license plate, that’s all they needed to create something magical. Guerrero was, apparently, amazing at it. Sure, it shaped him. When he was right, nobody could throw a ball by him. “That game,” Guerrero said of “La Placa,” “taught me my uppercut.” And that uppercut — well, baseball would not have been the same without it.
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