Wednesday, February 20, 2013

World Baseball Classic is a break from monotony of Spring Training

I'm a big Detroit Tigers fan and pay a lot of attention to baseball during the Major League (MLB) season, but I have to admit that I normally tune out spring training and don't start following the action until after the first pitch of Opening Day.  This year though the upcoming World Baseball Classic has caught my attention and I'm looking forward to watching some ball games and checking out stats & scores this March in a tournament that matches up national teams from across the globe in a competition to see who will win the bragging rights as the country with the best baseball players.

The World Baseball Classic is hoping to create an expanded reach and appeal for the game in a similar format to what the World Cup has done for soccer.  FIFA, the world athletic governing body for soccer, holds a championship every four years called the World Cup which pit countries fielding teams with their nation's best players in patriotic competition against one another fighting to be the global champ!  Almost all the players for all the team's in the World Cup are top tier professional athletes who play in leagues in various countries but they come home to play for their national teams in this respected tournament.  You may think of the Super Bowl as the most watched sporting event, but in fact the most watched sporting event is the World Cup which had more than 700 million viewers tune in to watch its 2010 championship game that took place in South Africa. The baseball community has taken note and is working to emulate the World Cup with its own tournament, the World Baseball Classic.

This will be the third World Baseball Classic with previous tournaments being held in 2006 & 2009 and each year the competition and talent participating gets better.  While the rosters may still not be the "best of the best" some notable players are participating this year and all the teams consist of players who are on professional teams (Japan's players are all professional players from their country's version of our Major League) or full-time national squads (Cuba fields a team that plays exclusively in international matches for their country).  The countries fielding teams in 2013 are:  Australia , Brazil , Canada , China , Cuba , the Dominican Republic , Spain , Italy , Japan , South Korea , Mexico , the Kingdom of the Netherlands , Puerto Rico , Taiwan , Venezuela and the United States.

What spurred my interest in the World Baseball Classic this year was hearing about some of the big name Detroit Tigers that will be playing for Venezuela in the tournament.  The Tiger's MLB Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez will be playing for Team Venezuela.  Venezuela has more than 95 players on MLB rosters and their lineup will be full of MLB talent including power hitter Pablo Sandoval who led the San Francisco Giants in their World Series victory against the Tigers in 2012.  This team will be fun to watch and has a great chance of winning the Classic.

Japan is a predicted favorite this year after winning the tournament the last two times it has been played in 2006 & 2009.  Japan defeated Cuba in 2006 and South Korea in 2009 championship games to win the title of "World Champion" by the tournament's sanctioning body, the International Baseball Federation (IBAF).  Japan's team will consist entirely of professional baseball players who are on the roster's of clubs within the country's own pro league.  It will be fun and interesting to see how these players match up against the MLB talent that will be in the tournament.

The Dominican Republic will be fielding a great team that also has a great chance of winning it all.  Well known MLB players Adrian Beltre, Robinson Cano, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, and Nelson Cruz will be taking the field for the Dominican Republic.  Miguel Tejada who was the American League MVP in 2002 and the MLB All-Star Game in 2005 will be playing for the team as well hoping that it will spur some attention to get a Major League team to pick him up for a comeback after he wasn't invited to Spring Training by any club this year.  Another player on this team hoping it will aid him in a MLB comeback is Jose Valverde.  Valverde was the closer for the Detroit Tigers and one of the best closers in the MLB during the 2011 season but in 2012 his pitching fell apart causing him to be benched and killing the Tigers chances to win the World Series.  He'll be playing in the World Baseball Classic hoping to redeem his reputation and generate some interest from a MLB club to pick him up for the 2013 season.  This team is full of talent and is sure to play some enjoyable games to watch.

Excuse my borrowing a phrase from the NCAA's March Madness but the "Cinderella Team" for this tournament appears to be the Dutch National Team.  I would have never thought of the Netherlands as a baseball powerhouse but this team is the all-time leader in European Championship titles and has won that title 5 of the 7 last years.  In 2009 the team made it to the second round of the World Baseball Classic and defeated the Dominican Republic twice during the tournament in dramatic wins.  This is a team that could slip under the radar and move deep into the tournament.

The United States squad isn't full of All-Star Game names but it has a solid line-up of MLB talent that will give the team a good chance of winning the World Baseball Classic.  The team has the New York Mets 20 game winner R.A. Dickey on the roster along with Ryan Vogelsong and Jeremy Afeld pitchers from World Series champs the Giants.  Joe Mauer and Ryan Braun provide some big bats that can score runs.  I'm bummed we don't have a Tiger on the roster (Justin Verlander did give it some serious consideration but I don't think the Detroit front office was keen on having their number one asset risk an injury) but am still looking forward to watching our home team play against international competition.  The U.S. does have an edge too with the fact that is has the weakest pool in the first round (playing against Mexico, Italy and Canada) and is guaranteed games played in the United States in every round.  It will play Round 1 games in Phoenix and if it makes it to Round 2 will play in Miami.  The tournament championship game will be played in San Francisco on March 19, 2013. Let's go USA!!!

All the World Baseball Classic games will be televised on the Major League Baseball cable tv network.  I'm bummed that the games won't be on ESPN or FoxSports because MLBtv isn't included in my cable package from WOW! but I'll probably subscribe to their online service so I can watch the games on my iPad on my own schedule.  For more info on MLBtv visit

The IBAF on their website describes the World Baseball Classic:

The tournament is the first of its kind to have national baseball teams feature professional players from the major leagues around the world including Major League Baseball; the Summer Olympics had regularly featured college and minor-league players because the Games conflict with the major league seasons in both North America and Asia, and the Baseball World Cup historically did not have major leaguers participate. In addition to providing a format for the best baseball players in the world to compete against one another while representing their home countries, the World Baseball Classic was created in order to further promote the game around the globe.

To check out the schedule of games and rosters for the teams visit:

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