The news that the Adelaide Bite have made a managerial change and not renewed Tony Harris’ contract has sparked more discussion on the why it is that our National Coach does not coach at the ABL. This question gained some traction following the disappointing results of Australia’s involvement in the World Baseball Classic and the inevitable debate on where the fault lay – with the selection or the management of the team.
This is one such comment as a result of our announcement of Houston Astros scout Charlie Aliano’s appointment as the Bite’s head coach [see post below]:-
“One day I look forward to reading a posting which confirms changes to the management and coaching staff of the Australian National Team. Charlie Aliano now has his chance to shine in Adelaide and the question I have is why doesn’t Jon Deeble manage an ABL team? Athens 2004 was a long time ago and frankly Deeble should prove himself against all the ABL field managers as I think competition is a good thing for him and to prove his skills. Kevin Jordan did a lot with a thinly stretched Bandits team last year and perhaps Deeble might show his stuff managing Melbourne, but achievements a decade old are exactly that”.
Jon Deeble replaced Mike Young as the National manager in 2000 for the Sydney Olympics and was again the Olympic manager in 2004 in Athens when Australia won the Silver medal. Australia did not qualify for the 2008 Olympics. Jon has also managed the Australian team at the 2006 [finished 13th], 2009 [12th] and 2013 [16th - last] World Baseball Classics.
So the question is – should the National Manager coach an ABL team and so pit himself against other Managers in the country for the right to manage the national team?
Joe Torre, left, MLB Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations, speaks alongside St. Louis Cardinals teammate Bob Gibson, Wednesday, April 10, 2013, in La Vista, Neb. Torre said his experience as manager of Team USA in the World Baseball Classic has convinced him that the sport belongs in the Olympics. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
By Eric Olson
LA VISTA,— Joe Torre’s first experience in international baseball convinced him that the sport should be back in the Olympics.
Torre managed Team USA in the World Baseball Classic last month and said he was impressed with how invested the players were in the games even though they had to leave spring training to participate.
The Americans lost in the semifinals of the 16-nation tournament. The Dominican Republic defeated Puerto Rico in the championship game.
“The World Baseball Classic has showed you the three times it’s been played that other countries have caught on and done a pretty good job of playing baseball,” Torre said.
Torre was in the Omaha suburb of La Vista for a banquet celebrating the unveiling of a statue of his St. Louis Cardinals teammate and Omaha native Bob Gibson. Former Cardinals Tim McCarver and Bill White also were on hand.
The statue of the Hall of Fame pitcher will stand at Werner Park, the home stadium of the minor league Omaha Storm Chasers.
Torre is a Major League Baseball executive vice president but not directly involved in MLB’s efforts to return the sport to the Olympics.
Baseball and softball have been out of the Games since 2008 and have merged in a bid to return in 2020. They are competing against seven other sports for a single spot on the program.
The IOC board will meet next month in St. Petersburg, Russia, to select one or more sports to submit for final consideration to the IOC general assembly in September.
“I’m a realist. I’d like to believe it will happen,” Torre said. “The reason I can’t give you better than that is because I’d like to be sitting across the table and trying to make a case for it, and I’m sort of on the sidelines. That’s not a criticism. That’s the way we’re set up in MLB.”
Torre said that while Japan, Cuba and Taiwan along with the United States, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic are the elite baseball-playing nations, the Netherlands and Brazil are among the nations improving rapidly.
“To me, it’s really disappointing if we don’t get people’s attention by what’s been going on in the world and how many more countries are getting interested in promoting the game of baseball,” Torre said.
Though the WBC was overshadowed by spring training and the NCAA basketball tournament in the United States, WBC organizers said the event exceeded global broadcast and ticket sales targets.
“You look at how they filled the ballparks in Puerto Rico and Japan when they were playing there,” Torre said.
Torre said there probably isn’t a better time of year to play the WBC, which will next be held in 2017. He said it would be too much to ask major leaguers to play the WBC late in the year after many of them had played 200 spring-training and regular-season games and playoffs.
“Right now, unless somebody says something to me that sort of strikes a chord, we’re just going to have to keep doing this,” he said.
Torre said he would not be in favor of eliminating the All-Star Game and putting the major league season on hiatus for three weeks at midseason in years when the WBC is played.
“I’ve heard rumblings of that,” he said. “You can’t stop baseball for three weeks. I know they do it in hockey (in Olympic years), but we really can’t do it. There’s a rhythm to our game.”
by Tony Capobianco/TucsonCitizen.com
The World Baseball Classic enjoyed its finest edition in 2013 and a lot of countries have benefited from it. Italy’s competitive run to the second round have boosted interest in the sport. Despite being driven by players from Curacao, the Netherlands’ semi-final success is also expected to boost interest.
“Any success you have on the world stage will definitely help baseball in their country,” said Australian Trent Oeltjen of the Los Angeles Angels. Like in Italy, I hear they’re going crazy over there for the Italian team.”
Even in Australia, where the former English colony have cricket as a popular sport, the sport of baseball is slowly growing there. The national team went winless in Pool B but their success in the past, along with a growing number of Australian Major Leaguers has allowed baseball to grow.
“It is getting a lot better,” Oeltjen said. “When I won the silver medal in Athens and more and more people making the Major Leagues out of Australia, there’s more of a following in Australia.”
In terms of Major League presence, having Australians making it to the Major Leagues help build the interest of baseball in that country more than anything else. Since the beginning of the 21st century, 21 Australians have made it to the Major Leagues. 16 of them are pitchers.
“We have a lot of lefties,” said Australian pitcher Travis Blackley of the Oakland Athletics. “It seems like a lot of lefties always sign out of Australia. What position do lefties normally sign as?”
In this era of baseball, pitchers are like quarterbacks. It is actually easier for pitchers to make it through the minor leagues in into MLB than other positions. Why pitchers go from Australia to the Major Leagues is sometimes because of the lack of pitching mileage that Aussie pitchers have compared to American pitchers.
“We also don’t throw as much as you guys so when its gets to the point where we come over here,” said Australian pitcher Peter Moylan of the Los Angeles Dodgers. “We throw half as much as you guys. So I feel like our arms haven’t been through as much. Kids in high school, kids in travel-ball teams over here, they throw every day. I didn’t throw every day until I was signed and that was when I was 17 years old.”
There’s not that many power hitters coming out of Australia, nor is there many position players in general coming out of Australia. They haven’t been conditioned to face and beat top level pitching like those in the college and minor league system here in America.
“You guys see live pitching from a real young age over here,” Moylan said. “We don’t see live pitching until we turn 11 or 12 years old. So the whole development you guys get is the key what makes guys better hitters.”
However Blackley believes that because many pitchers have made it to the Major Leagues and even in the minor leagues, they’ll better prepare the Aussie hitters to follow the trend. But it will take some time.
“You’ll see that number start to get better,” Blackley said. “They’re starting to get a lot more young good hitters coming through because they’re facing a lot these pitchers now that have made it pretty deep into their careers in America where there’s Double A, Triple A. That just makes the hitting better. Even if they get dominated at first, they start to get better.”
Baseball interest in Australia has recently grown to the point to where Major League Baseball helped found the Australian Baseball League, which goes on during the MLB offseason. Major Leaguers like Blackley would go back to Australia to pitch in order to stay in shape. But players there have a different look at Blackley when he pitched in the ABL.
“I noticed that I pitched in Australia this offseason and guys were pretty pumped up in the box looking to get a hit off me,” Blackley said. “There’s a little bit more pressure on me pitching over there. Everyone watching expects you to strike them out, everyone. They definitely hold me to a higher standard if I’m out there pitching even though I’m out there throwing offseason. They expect me to dominate and it’s not realistic.”
Their profiles have grown as professional athletes in Australia, some more than others. Their presence in the sport has truly helped grow baseball there. Trent Oeltjen has a little league near his home where teams there replicate the MLB teams that Oeltjen played for such as the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers.
“I did a few more TV interviews and radio interviews but still to the general public,” Moylan said. “I was still just a regular guy walking down the street.”
“This didn’t happen in the past,” Blackley said. “It wasn’t a big deal at all. The people in my sport tried to make a bigger deal out of me. I think they were trying to promote the sport.”
“It’s funny because there’s a band in Australia that’s one of my favorite bands and the main guy out of that band is a huge baseball fan. And we got along like a house on fire. I hung out with him almost every week. I went on tour with him. He’s a massive Oriole fan. But he’s now an A’s fan as well but he says, ‘I can go for you against the Orioles if your pitching.’ Now he’s like, ‘I’m an O’s fan and an A’s fan, BUT, if they’re head to head I’m an O’s fan. If you’re pitching I’m an A’s fan.’”
There are many more Australians playing professional baseball in the minor leagues now than before so it’s only a matter of time until their presence makes a similar impact in Major League Baseball as Latin America has over the year, whether or not that impact grows Australia’s interest in baseball remains to be seen.
“I think it lifts the profile of baseball amongst people who are interested in baseball,” Moylan said. “It’s not going to make adventure to people who are Aussie Rules Football fans and have not watched a baseball game. It’s not something that people grew up on.”
With the conclusion of the 2013 World Baseball Classic, which saw the Dominican Republic winning the title in the championship game over Puerto Rico, the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) has updated its Men’s Baseball World Rankings.
As a result of Australia’s poor showing it has been dropped from 10th to 13th.
Eric Bynum/BaseballdeWorld reports the following:-
With the update the results from the 2013 World Baseball Classic are replacing the results from the 2009 World Baseball Classic in the Men’s Baseball World Rankings.
New WBC and IBAF World Champion Dominican Republic made the biggest leap, going from 13 to 7, as the team of manager Tony Pena replaced 55.02 points from 2009 with 300.00 points for winning the title. The Dominican Republic has not been in the top 10 of the year-end rankings since its introduction in 2008.
World Baseball Classic runner up Puerto Rico also moved into the top 10 of the Men’s Baseball Ranking, climbing from 12 to 8 (2009: 82.98 points for WBC; 2013: 240.00 points for WBC).
At the top of the standings Cuba, USA and Japan maintained their positions. However Cuba and the United States both will lose 250 points during the 2013 season, as tournament results from the 2009 cycle (IBAF Baseball World Cup, IBAF 16U Baseball World Championship) will be taken off in the fall.
Chinese Taipei, which already led all teams in points for 2012, moved from 5 to 4 thanks to their qualification for the second round at the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Surprise semi-finalist The Netherlands climbed from 7 to 5, their best position in the Men’s Baseball Rankings since their year-end 5th position in 2011.
Canada remains in 6th, followed by the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Korea and Venezuela, which round out the top 10. With Cuba, USA, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela, COPABE/IBAF America is represented with five countries in the top 10 of the Men’s Baseball Rankings.
Korea suffered the biggest drop, losing 184.98 points due to their ninth-place finish at the 2013 WBC. In 2009 Korea had reached the championship game, which they had lost to Japan.
By John Paul Morosi/foxsports
After Team USA was eliminated from the World Baseball Classic, we heard the usual lines about the inability of Americans to meet expectations in the tournament.
That’s not entirely accurate.
After unexpectedly eliminating Venezuela in the first round and the U.S. in the second, the Puerto Ricans pulled off an even bigger upset Sunday night. Behind starting pitcher Mario Santiago, who spent last season with SK Wyverns of the Korean Baseball Organization, Puerto Rico stunned twice-defending champion Japan, 3-1, to earn a spot in Tuesday’s championship game.
The Puerto Ricans will meet the winner of Monday’s semifinal between the Dominican Republic and The Netherlands. Considering they were enormous underdogs when the tournament began, the Puerto Rican players could say that they don’t care which team they play.
But that would be a lie.
“Of course, we’d like to play the Dominican,” Puerto Rican shortstop Mike Aviles said of their Caribbean rivals, who won the teams’ first two meetings in this WBC. “Everybody knows that.”
The Dutch have had most-charming-story status in this WBC, but it might be time to reevaluate. While The Netherlands claimed the IBAF World Cup as recently as 2011, Puerto Rico hasn’t won an international baseball championship since the 2000 Caribbean World Series — a yearly event to which its winter league champion has an automatic bid.
Last week, the Puerto Ricans were five outs from elimination against Team Italy before rallying to win. Sunday, they beat the WBC’s preeminent team even though three of their first four pitchers — Santiago, Jose De La Torre and Randy Fontanez — have never thrown a pitch in the major leagues.
“I hope they root for us in the championship game,” Aviles said. “We’re the underdogs. No one picked us to leave the Puerto Rico (first-round) pool. Everybody thought the Dominican and Venezuela were going to leave. Throughout the whole thing, we believed in ourselves.”
Aviles, who was born and raised in New York, is a U.S. citizen. So are his teammates who were born on the island, by virtue of Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory. Debate persists in Puerto Rico over how seriously the commonwealth should pursue statehood. No one knows how a divided U.S. Congress would handle the matter if it reached Washington.
In sports, though, Puerto Rico operates as a nation unto itself. Puerto Rico has its own baseball federation and, thus, its own team in the WBC. Aviles and manager Edwin Rodriguez each referred to Puerto Rico as a “country” during interviews Sunday. After such an historic win, that was appropriate. The “small little place of about 4 million people,” as Aviles described it, is the first team to eliminate Japan in WBC play.
U.S. fans in search of a rooting interest should note that every Puerto Rican run in Sunday’s game was driven in by a player born on the mainland: Aviles delivered a tone-setting RBI single in the first inning, and Alex Rios — the native of Coffee, Ala. — struck the clinching two-run homer in the seventh.
“My mom and dad were born in Puerto Rico, my grandparents were born in Puerto Rico,” Aviles said. “I’ve always said, if I had an opportunity to play for the USA or Puerto Rico, I’d always pick Puerto Rico. It’s my heritage. It’s who I am. It’s what I’ve been my whole life. I’ve been Puerto Rican. Regardless of whether I was born and raised there, it’s my identity.”
Amid hopes that the WBC will grow the sport in non-traditional baseball countries — Brazil, China, Italy, The Netherlands — Puerto Rico needs this tournament, too, and will benefit immensely from what has occurred over the past week. Major League Baseball already treats Puerto Rico as a state for the purposes of the amateur draft — which generally works against young players on the island. Rather than enjoy (lucrative) free-agent rights like their peers in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, signing bonuses for Puerto Ricans are more tightly controlled through the draft system.
The appeal of other sports, such as basketball, also has limited the number of Puerto Rican players arriving to the big leagues. The end result is that just five Puerto Rican-born pitchers — starter Jonathan Sanchez and relievers Javier Lopez, J.C. Romero, Xavier Cedeño and Jonathan Albaladejo — appeared in the majors last year. Of that group, only Romero and Cedeño are pitching in the WBC.
(That said, it’s not as if the Puerto Ricans have deployed a semipro lineup in the WBC. Leadoff man Angel Pagan just signed a $40 million contract, Carlos Beltran is one of the elite switch-hitters of his time, and Yadier Molina is, in the words of Rodriguez and Santiago, “the best catcher in the world.”)
Rodriguez said he addressed the state of baseball in Puerto Rico during his first team meeting. “The last 10 or 15 years, Puerto Rican baseball had been a little bit down,” Rodriguez said. “I think that a good performance from the team in this tournament will put Puerto Rican baseball back on the map — and I think we already accomplished that.
“Everybody talks about the draft, which started in 1989 in Puerto Rico. If you had told me five, seven years ago — right after the draft started in Puerto Rico — that that was part of not having more big leaguers, I would say yes. But that was more than 20 years ago. We haven’t been able to make adjustments. I don’t blame the draft. I have to blame the system in Puerto Rico. We have to take responsibility. We have to make adjustments. This game is about adjustments. We have to make that happen.”
Winning has a way of doing that. The young eyes in San Juan, Carolina and Ponce must be mesmerized by the sight of their countrymen humbling the world’s biggest baseball stars.
“What we’re doing here is starting to give the little kids more hope that good things can happen, good players can come out of that small little area,” Aviles said. “It’s a small little island, but that doesn’t mean it has to be forgotten about.”
One more win, and they’ll be telling stories about this team for generations. And if it’s against the Dominican … well, that will make the fairytale better. Only in America, indeed.
Australian Umpire Paul Hyham (left) has been appointed to the World Baseball Classic Semi-Finals and Championship Game.
By Trish Quayle/ABF
Following his successful performance through WBC Exhibition Games (Florida), Round One (Puerto Rico) and Round Two (Florida), Paul has been appointed the following games for the finals series this week at AT&T Park, San Francisco:
First Semi Final: Sunday 17 March 6:00pm, Puerto Rico v Japan, RIGHT FIELD.
Second Semi Final: Monday 18 March 6:00pm (Tuesday 19 March 12noon ADST) The Netherlands v Dominican Republic, THIRD BASE.
Championship Game: Tuesday 19 March 5:00pm (Wednesday 20 March 11:00am ADST) TBD, FIRST BASE.
The ABF and the umpiring community are very proud of Paul’s achievements and we congratulate him on his international success.
Puerto Rico holds on to top USA 4-3. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
By Jerry Crasnick/ESPN.com
MIAMI — The United States was in the process of going down meekly to Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic on Friday when a scout in attendance acknowledged the obvious. “I think these guys are ready to get back to their camps,” he said. “Especially the guys on contending teams.”
This is not entirely true, it turns out. In the late innings, Team USA mounted a charge and came one clutch hit away from earning an all-expenses paid trip to San Francisco. But that hit never came, and the U.S. lost 4-3 to cap another disappointing appearance in the Classic. While Japan, the Netherlands, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico prepare to square off at AT&T Park in the semifinals beginning Sunday, the Americans will be watching the proceedings from afar. Or, just as likely, not watching at all.
That development came as a crushing disappointment to Cincinnati second baseman Brandon Phillips, who won’t be appearing in any Chamber of Commerce ads anytime soon for the Reds’ spring training home in Goodyear, Ariz.
“I’ve got to go back to Goodyear, which I don’t want to go back to, so it sucks, man,” Phillips lamented. “It sucks bad. I wanted to go to San Francisco so bad.”
When the Team USA players scatter to Goodyear and Maryvale, Viera, Port Charlotte and numerous other Florida and Arizona locales this weekend, they will take along warm memories of their two-week WBC bonding experience. They claim that they care and act as if they care and vow to spread the word to their teammates that the Classic is one heck of an entertaining diversion for two weeks in March.
But to this point, the U.S. is making a habit of standing forlornly in the dugout and watching as other nations’ representatives wave flags and jump around the infield in celebration.
For the third straight time, the U.S. calls it a day at the WBC without sniffing the finals. In the inaugural 2006 tournament, Team USA failed to survive the second round. In 2009, the Americans bowed out with a 9-4 loss to Japan in the semis. This year things began promisingly enough, but back-to-back losses to Puerto Rico and the Dominican evened the United States’ overall record in the Classic at 10-10.
Maybe the tournament is serving its intended purpose if it’s spurring interest in Japan, the Latin locales and up-and-coming baseball countries such as Italy and the Netherlands. But if American baseball officials want their team to have more of an impact in future Classics, questions need to be asked about logistical or roster makeup issues that might be putting Team USA at a disadvantage.
While the Dominicans treat these games like a life-and-death experience and celebrate like Little Leaguers in Williamsport, the Americans refrain from showing emotion because they’re intent on “respecting the game.” While Puerto Rican manager Edwin Rodriguez is less afraid of making a move because it might hurt somebody’s feelings, U.S. manager Joe Torre has to balance the desire to win with a mandate to make sure each player is handled in the manner prescribed by his individual club. And as more observers have wondered of late, should participation in the WBC be mandatory rather than optional?
They’re all valid questions, yet Torre reacted peevishly when asked if there is some logistical element to the Classic that has contributed to three straight U.S. letdowns. He preferred to chalk up the latest result to the baseball gods, or the twists of fate that accompany baseball in a small sample size.
“John Elway had to win a Super Bowl for everybody to consider him a great, great player,” Torre said. “It doesn’t always happen. Ernie Banks never was in a World Series. It doesn’t mean he wasn’t a great player. It’s just what happens in a short series.
“It’s not easy to do. The one thing I’ve always talked to my players about is you want to make people happy and have people respect you, but to me it’s more important to respect each other, because you’re the only ones that know how tough it is to do what you do.”
Nevertheless, one sequence in Friday’s game was particularly instructive. USA starter Ryan Vogelsong was pitching well and had thrown 73 pitches, or seven short of his 80-pitch limit, with two out in the sixth. But Torre went to the mound and pulled him, in part because he wanted to make sure that Vogelsong was in fine working order when he rejoins the San Francisco Giants. Torre was going to push the envelope with only one pitcher in this tournament and it was Blue Jays knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.
“Even though there’s a pitch limit, it didn’t mean we were going to get there,” Torre said. “When you have [starters] going from 65 to 80 pitches, in that regard it’s still spring training, and we weren’t going to push anybody.”
The decision to pull Vogelsong backfired when Torre called on Cleveland reliever Vinnie Pestano and stuck with him on a night when he clearly didn’t have it. Pestano walked the bases loaded, walked the lefty-hitting Carlos Rivera to force in a run when Torre chose not to bring in Jeremy Affeldt, and gave up a two-run double to Andy Gonzalez to put the U.S. in a 4-0 hole.
The Americans never recovered, in part because of a failure to hit pitchers with undistinguished résumés. Nelson Figueroa pitched his heart out Friday night, but we’re talking about a 38-year-old journeyman who is 20-35 with a 4.55 ERA over nine big league seasons. Then Giovanni Soto, Jose De La Torre, Xavier Cedeno, Fernando Cabrera and J.C. Romero took it to the house. It was one thing when the Dominican Republic shut down Team USA with a bullpen led by Fernando Rodney, Octavio Dotel, Kelvin Herrera, Santiago Casilla and Pedro Strop. This was something else entirely.
Maybe things would have been different if David Wright, the driving force in the Team USA lineup, hadn’t gone down with an intercostal strain before the 3-1 loss to the Dominicans on Thursday. But the U.S. batting order still featured enough talent and big names to produce more offense than it did in the Classic. Wright’s grand slam against Italy during the first round in Phoenix was the only U.S. homer of the entire tournament. In the three games against Puerto Rico and the Dominican in Miami, the Americans batted .252 with four extra-base hits.
“Certainly we didn’t swing the bats great,” said outfielder Ryan Braun. “There are no excuses, and there’s no rhyme or reason for it. I think when you’re not swinging the bats well collectively, everybody tries a little bit harder to pick each other up. It’s human nature.”
While American baseball fans are still deciding whether they want to embrace the tournament, the games certainly are a treat to watch, and the players who participate universally rave about the experience. Wright so desperately wanted to keep playing, he practically had to be dragged off the field. And Braun and Phillips said they will be happy to spread the World Baseball Classic gospel to anyone who inquires.
“I didn’t know how big baseball was in other countries,” Phillips said. “When you see other countries play, you’re like, ‘Wow, this is why I love playing this game.’ You just see how everybody’s passion is totally different than in our country. I can’t wait to go back and just tell everybody how much fun I really had. If they have the chance, they should really do it.”
Maybe a new wave of participants led by Bryce Harper, Mike Trout & Co. will finally get Team USA over the top four years from now. Or perhaps the Japanese and the Latin countries are more cut out for the event and will continue to dominate Classics to come. The Americans have four years between now and the 2017 event to try to figure out the answer.
The Dominican Republic celebrates after scoring two runs in the ninth inning to defeat the U.S. 3-1 in the second round of the World Baseball Classic on Thursday night.
By Bruce Arthur/National Post
MIAMI — “I mean, you know, I never had this much fun,” said Toronto shortstop Jose Reyes, his jersey dusty and battered, his face as bright as day. “So when I hit the ball and got on base I was jumping around like a little kid. Because, you know, this is for our country. We play for our country. We give everything we have on the field because this is for our country.”
That was it. That was it right there. That was why the World Baseball Classic might be worth the trouble.
Let’s back up. It was during the eighth inning that people started looking up the WBC’s rules for extra innings, because the game was tied, and the knot seemed firm. The rule, it turns out, is that beginning in the 13th inning teams start with men at first and second, which seems like the beginning of a joke involving the Mitt Romneys of the world, born on third and thinking they hit a triple. But no, those are the rules. Baseball is about arms, and arms must be preserved.
This tournament is a strange half-thing, flawed and ridiculous in so many ways. But Thursday night the United States and the Dominican Republic — especially the Dominican Republic — showed why the World Baseball Classic might have a chance to transcend its own collection of strange and unavoidable compromises.
It might transcend it because the games can be great, and the crowds can make them great. On Thursday, the pro-Dominican crowd was a riot of noise for nine innings, honking horns and banging drums and making Marlins Park, this post-modern mausoleum, feel alive. And the game was a tense thing, wound inning by inning, until the ninth.
It was 1-1 going into the ninth, after a quality if occasionally tricky start from Toronto’s R.A. Dickey — five innings, five hits, one run on a Hanley Ramirez homer, one walk, and a passed ball charged to catcher J.P. Arencibia — and good work from Minnesota’s Samuel Deduno, along with both bullpens. U.S. manager Joe Torre put out Craig Kimbrel of Atlanta, who was among the most dominant pitchers in baseball history last season. He struck out almost two-thirds of the batters he faced; he never allowed more than one hit in an inning; he never allowed more than one run.
And he trotted out there and started firing his hellacious fastball, and Nelson Cruz doubled, and the Dominican dugout exploded. Cruz advanced to third on a groundout, and Erick Aybar was inserted as a pinch-hitter. He fouled off the first fastball, took a ball, then watched a slider nearly a foot outside get called a strike by home plate umpire Angel Hernandez, who must have won a contest to get the gig. (His strike zone might have touched both dugouts.) Aybar was apoplectic, and he was facing a two-strike count against a guy who turns bats into broomsticks.
And the crowd jangled and bellowed and honked and roared, and the best part of baseball — that suspense between pitches — was alive in the ballpark, too.
Aybar composed himself, stepped back in, and muscled a single to right, and the Dominican dugout erupted again. The unwritten rules of baseball are not to over-celebrate, but the World Baseball Classic treats the unwritten rules like a napkin. The Dominicans celebrate on the field, and nobody minds.
“I don’t know what to compare it to,” said American reliever Steve Cishek. “[The fans] were just yelling non-stop the entire game, and when you get out there it’s a whole ‘nother level, people just screaming all the time. It was unbelievable.”
People love to talk about how most of America doesn’t really care about this tournament, and the evidence is hard to dispute, but the rest of the world has plenty of people who care. It’s a beautiful sight, when anyone cares to look.
Up came Jose Reyes, and he hit a 95-mile-per-hour fastball to right to make it 3-1, and Reyes celebrated on first like the base was electrified. The crowd reacted like their seats were, too. Tumult.
“They beat a great one,” said American manager Joe Torre. “[Kimbrel] is something special now, and …. that’s his pitch. One-on-one, they beat us today.”
And when Fernando Rodney closed the game the Dominicans raced out of their dugout and streamed out of the bullpen and it was like they had won the lottery, every one of them. They will advance to the finals in San Francisco, four years after losing twice to the Netherlands in the opening round.
The sound didn’t leave the ballpark for a long time. The horns and the drums and the shaking just moved up into the concourses, then out onto the streets, and you could still barely hear the players give their post-game interviews in the dugouts. The United States has to beat Puerto Rico Friday to join the Dominican Republic in the finals, and they were already looking ahead to that game. They still marvelled at this one, though.
“Aw, I mean, I love it,” said Kimbrel, taking the loss in stride. “It’s been a great experience. It feels like October, not March.”
It mattered, and that’s what makes it worth something. After the game, manager Tony Pena had to try hard not to cry.
“I think God, and really, I feel so emotional because when we were putting together this team, these young men who are here, they stayed present from the first day,” said Pena. “And I don’t think I’ll have again a group of young men with the dedication, with the dignity with which they have represented our country.
“God prepared the scenario for us, and prepared the scene for Erick so Erick could make the hit that he did … as I said before, the Dominican people, it’s giving a group of young men that is representing the 10-million inhabitants of the Dominican Republic. When you want to, you can.”
Attendance Reaches Nearly One Half Million For Games In Six Countries and Territories on Three Continents
2013 Tournament Smashes Several Previous Highs
The World Baseball Classic has recorded its largest attendance in its history through the completion of the first round. The competition has registered nearly one half million fans (463,017) for games completed prior to the second round. This total does not include the second round games that have taken place in the Tokyo Dome. The previous record entering the second round was 453,374 in 2009.
With the goal of growing the sport around the world, the tournament has expanded to feature 28 countries playing first round and qualifying games in six countries and territories on three continents.
The 2013 tournament set a record with the largest attendance ever for a baseball game in Taiwan when a crowd of 23,431 watched Chinese Taipei play Korea in Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium on March 5th.
The First Round Pool in Arizona, which registered a total of 115,183, surpassed the attendance of the First Round Pool in Arizona in 2006 (91,205). The First Round Pool in Arizona also hosted the game that registered the highest attendance of the entire first round when the United States vs. Mexico at Chase Field attracted 44,256 on March 8th. This game was the second most attended World Baseball Classic game ever in North America trailing only the 2009 Championship Game which registered 54,846 at Dodger Stadium. It is also the third most attended game in the tournament’s history.
In addition, the First Round Pool in Puerto Rico registered total attendance of 95,058, which represents the highest attendance for a World Baseball Classic pool there in the tournament’s history surpassing the previous high recorded in the Second Round of the 2006 tournament (92,163). This is the fourth World Baseball Classic pool that Puerto Rico has hosted.
By Mike Berardino/BaseballAmerica.com
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.—Paul Seiler was returning from yet another international meeting in early February when he passed through customs at Miami International Airport.
As executive director/CEO of USA Baseball, Seiler is used to his bag tag drawing looks and even questions from fans eager to talk about the sport.
This time, the customs agent took the questioning one step further.
“You playing in Miami?” the man said.
Seiler admittedly was momentarily “caught off guard” before realizing the agent had connected the dots and was talking about the World Baseball Classic. Seiler gladly explained Team USA would have to survive and opening-round pool in Arizona in order to reach Marlins Park for the second round.
“For me that was pretty cool,” Seiler says. “Here’s a guy who knows the WBC is going to be played in his city in a month. He even mentioned a player we had on our team this time. He was right on it.”
As the World Baseball Classic draws closer to launching its third incarnation, there is plenty of similar anecdotal evidence to suggest the event is gaining traction and popularity, if not quite poised for an exponential leap forward.
Tickets sold out in one day for the three Pool B games involving first-round host Taiwan in Taichung. Marlins closer Steve Cishek said it gave him “goose bumps” when he got the call from Team USA manager Joe Torre informing him he had been selected for the provisional roster.
Former big league outfielder Ernie Young, who remains deeply involved in USA Baseball after winning a gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, reports more people near his Arizona home are wearing the USA World Baseball Classic hat. “That right there tells me people have gotten into the whole WBC concept,” Young says.
Then there is Jorge Otsuka, longtime president of the Brazilian Baseball and Softball Confederation, who sat beaming throughout a dreadfully boring logistics session during the Winter Meetings in Nashville.
Brazil and Spain earned their way into the 16-team field for the first time by winning two of the four qualifying tournaments played last fall as the WBC expanded from 16 to 28 teams. With a team managed by Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, Brazil is apparently looking forward to this event with great anticipation, even as soccer’s World Cup (2014) and the Summer Olympics (2016) prepare to descend upon the futbol-mad country.
After the meeting finally ended, Seiler walked over to Otsuka and asked his friend a question.
“Jorge,” he said, “what’s your deal?”
Otsuka, still smiling, just shook his head in amazement.
“Look,” he said, “at where we are.”
Profitable And Widespread
By almost any objective measure, there is no denying the World Baseball Classic has been a success on multiple levels since it was introduced in 2006.
Start with profitability. Despite massive startup costs incurred by Major League Baseball, which runs the event, the WBC has managed to generate modest profits each time.
In turn, MLB has distributed roughly $15 million to various baseball federations around the world in keeping with its stated aim of increasing the game’s platform and footprint internationally.
Through two events, total WBC attendance has exceeded 1.5 million, and that number should climb even higher this time around with an expanded field and a full four years to promote interest. Attendance for the opening round in 2009 was 38 percent higher than it was for the first round in the inaugural WBC. More than 450,000 fans attended opening-round games four years ago, and total attendance for the event was more than 800,000, which rivals some Winter Olympics.
A first-round game in 2009 between Japan and South Korea posted a 37.8 rating in Japan, making that the highest-rated sports telecast in Japan since the 2006 WBC final between Japan and Cuba (43.4). That included, amazingly enough, the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Ratings back home were even higher when Japan rallied to clip South Korea in the final, claiming its second straight WBC championship.
Paul Archey, senior vice president of international business operations for Major League Baseball, says he still gets asked by South Korean journalists why their manager opted to pitch to Ichiro Suzuki with a base open and one more out needed for the title.
“That’s the first question I get there,” says Archey, adding the Korea Baseball Organization, the nation’s top pro league, has enjoyed record attendance since the advent of the WBC.
When the Japanese players’ union forged an agreement with Nippon Professional Baseball, enabling that country to send the two-time champions back to defend their WBC title, the news was splashed across the front page of newspapers throughout the country and national television networks interrupted broadcasts to carry the news conference live.
“I would say the World Baseball Classic has been without question an overwhelming success for us,” Archey says. “There’s not an initiative we’ve done internationally that has really accomplished more in growing the game than the WBC.”
And yet there is a nagging sense the WBC has not fully realized its potential, especially stateside.
After airing games on ESPN the first two times, television rights have been taken in-house for WBC 3, leaving the MLB Network to cloak the coverage in the proper mix of pomp and inquisition for its 70 million households.
No billion-dollar, March Madness-style TV windfalls for the WBC. Not yet, at least.
Roster composition for Team USA remains a significant challenge as well.
Even with Joe Torre stepping into the manager’s role, Team USA again was met with a heavy dose of rejection when compiling its 28-man roster. Pitchers, in particular, have been hard to lure for an event that asks them to compete on an international stage at a point in the spring when they are typically still building up their arms.
Just three starting pitchers were left on the roster after injury concerns and a newborn baby prompted Braves righthander Kris Medlen to back out, and even Andy Pettitte opted against reuniting with Torre, his longtime manager with the Yankees.
Reigning National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, now of the Blue Jays, topped that short list. The veteran knuckleballer is joined by Giants righty Ryan Vogelsong and Rangers lefty Derek Holland.
Team USA tried to lure Tigers ace Justin Verlander, who pitched for the Collegiate National Team in 2004, and held a spot open on the roster with that in mind. But when Verlander wouldn’t commit, the U.S. moved on, adding Nationals lefthander Gio Gonzalez to the rotation. As consolation prizes go, the reigning MLB wins leader with 21 last year isn’t bad.
“I could see why people or why organizations think it’s not a good idea for a pitcher to go,” Cishek says. “For me, I go into spring training prepared for the regular season anyway. I’m game ready, so for me it wasn’t going to be a big deal.”
The rubber-armed Cishek is in the minority there.
Bob Watson, who served as Team USA general manager for the first two WBC events as well as for the Sydney Olympics, laughs when asked what sort of resistance he encountered in 2006 and ’09. “Let’s put it this way, it was lower than 75 percent (who accepted),” Watson says.
Former union official Gene Orza handled most of the preliminary work, Watson says. “He was our guy who went out and rounded up the players. They didn’t want it to feel like the commissioner’s office or Team USA was putting the pressure on. They had the Players Association do it. Gene would contact the player and the agent.”
Another veteran baseball executive who was apprised of the process insists the rejection rate was even higher when it came to pitchers.
“I’d say it was 80 percent who said ‘no,’ ” the executive said. “For every 10 pitchers you asked, you might get two of them. You would go down the list of whatever stat you think is most important for a starting pitcher. You would ask the No. 1 guy. He’d say ‘no,’ then you’d go down to the No. 2 guy and he’d say ‘no.’ It was really a simple process.”
Incredibly frustrating, too.
When To Play
In large part because of those frustrations, sentiment has grown on the U.S. side and within major league front offices to change the scheduling of the WBC and push at least the back end of it away from the incredibly crowded sports month of March.
Early talk about playing the full event in November seems to have subsided. Now it’s more about whether it might be feasible to break apart the four semifinalists, for example, and play that part of the WBC during an expanded all-star break in July.
“Make it a seven-day all-star break and play a WBC tournament then,” Watson says. “You could still have the home run derby and the All-Star Game. Major League Baseball has got some smart guys plus some computers to figure that kind of stuff out, but I believe it could be done.”
Watson, who is interrupting his retirement to help coordinate the WBC venue in San Juan, Puerto Rico, this March, maintains the overall quality of play would improve because players from all nations would be in midseason form by that time.
“What happens so much in spring training is twofold,” Watson says. “Physically and mentally guys are not in sync to let it out like they would during the season—the right fielder making that strong throw to the plate, or somebody scoring from first on a ball in the gap or a pitcher really extending himself.
“In the middle of the season, you don’t have to worry about that. Plus, you probably would get more of your stars to participate. The season would already be in full swing. You wouldn’t hear all this about getting hurt and whatever.”
Seiler, who worked closely with Watson on the first two WBC endeavors for Team USA, is admittedly “intrigued” by the notion of completing the showcase event in July.
“I think at the surface you have an unbelievably great event,” Seiler says. “It’s global, and when you factor in the level of player interest, fan interest, merchandising, television . . . I mean, it is a solid, solid event. But I am of the opinion it might need a little bit of tweaking. There may be some things that have to be looked at and maybe separated.”
Plenty Of Challenges
No one has to remind Archey of the challenges that still remain for the World Baseball Classic. In his role with Major League Baseball, he remains deeply involved with (and protective of) the event on every level.
That’s why however successful the WBC is again this time on the international stage, no matter how many times he circles the globe and accumulates an obscene total of air miles, Archey understands the event cannot truly grow up until the U.S. market fully buys in.
“At this point it’s fair to say the World Baseball Classic brand and the tournament probably means more internationally,” Archey says, “if you look at viewership numbers and the attention that it has received here in the first two (stagings).”
He points to the 7-7 combined record for Team USA under managers Buck Martinez (2006) and Davey Johnson (2009) as one of the primary reasons for that interest lag on these shores.
Mexico eliminated the United States in the second round in 2006. Four years ago, Japan sent Team USA home in the semifinals.
“They haven’t won one, so we haven’t had a chance to see them play in the finals against Japan or Cuba or the Dominican,” Archey says. “We’re still building on that. Probably right now you could say that’s our biggest challenge—for this country. That same challenge doesn’t exist in many other (WBC) countries.”
With that in mind, Archey’s office prepared a “Fact or Fiction?” release for media and MLB organizations that seeks to dispel what he terms the “five biggest myths” of the WBC.
Among the surprising findings:
• Of the 73 players on the majors’ Opening Day disabled list in 2009, just two (Ichiro Suzuki and Dutch righthander Rick VandenHurk) participated in that year’s WBC.
• Players who did not participate in the 2009 WBC were nearly twice as likely to spend time on the DL in the first month of the regular season. The April DL rate was 17.8 percent for non-WBC players compared to 9.5 percent for those who did play in the WBC.
• In 2009, 52 MLB All-Stars competed in the WBC. Their combined résumés featured 10 MVP awards and four Cy Young awards.
• The eight major league clubs that had at least five players participating in the 2009 WBC had a combined April record of 96-79 (.549).
“A lot of people want to talk about the players who aren’t there,” Seiler says, “but nobody wants to talk about the fact Shane Victorino is sending me a text on Christmas Day saying, ‘Hey, what are my chances of being on the team?’ Or that David Wright was the one of the first players to commit. There is energy from the players.”
That WBC “myth-busting” release also attempted to quiet those who would still clamor for a major scheduling adjustment such as a July culmination. While Archey admits there isn’t a “perfect time” to hold the WBC, he and the 15-member WBC steering committee remain committed to a March conclusion.
“This isn’t just a Major League Baseball event; this is a global tournament,” Archey says.
“While (July) may work for us because we’re at our all-star break, you’ve got Japan, you have (South) Korea, you have Cuba, Taiwan, Australia and other countries who are in different places in their leagues and their competitions.”
Japan, for instance, would not only have to interrupt and reconfigure its professional season in order to make a WBC-in-July plan work, it would have to build in additional time on either side of the event in order for its players to “re-acclimate and re-start their season,” Archey points out.
All of this would be done with no guarantee of participation in that stage of the WBC, which only figures to become less predictable as the gospel of baseball continues to spread to new corners of the globe.
There also would be the added expense of a potential second trip to North America, no small consideration when factoring in the millions Major League Baseball already spends to transport, house, feed, insure and otherwise subsidize ballplayers from the 28 countries that participate in the WBC.
“I’m not sure separating the tournament into two parts like that is a great thing,” Archey says. “Once you start to lay out all the pros and cons of moving it to different times, March always comes back as the best time.
“It’s not ideal. It’s not perfect for everyone, but it’s certainly the best time when you look at getting the most players involved as a lead-in to our season and the business side. It’s not just (about) our league.”
Baseball, it seems, now belongs to the world, no matter what the International Olympic Committee believes.
That becomes a little more obvious with each passing World Baseball Classic.
As the smiling face of Brazilian baseball official Jorge Otsuka can attest.
Mike Berardino is a freelance writer based in South Florida