(J. Lucroy; Photo: Newsday.com)
Team USA’s latest flop in the World Baseball Classic has ignited yet another round of debate over whether Team USA is enthusiastic, prepared or skilled enough to play with the best international teams in March. Granted, the timing of the event is a bit off to begin with when it comes to when most U.S. players are ready to play games at a high level. Still, what are we doing wrong here? It seems every time this event comes around, Team USA’s roster looks pretty good, but then several players get injured or back out before the tournament starts.
I really like the WBC as an idea, and I was looking forward to it again this year. But it’s not very much fun for fans of Team USA to watch thousands of fans screaming for hours for the other team, having a great old time, and meanwhile observe grave, sedate looks on the faces of U.S. players as things slip away again. It’s a cut-throat tournament, no doubt. It’s like playing a couple Wild Card games and if it doesn’t work out, you’re done. But it just seems the passion isn’t there, especially when some of the key games are being played on U.S. soil. Team USA appears to wilt under the pressure. So what if there are a lot of fans of Team Republica Dominicana or Puerto Rico in attendance. You’re playing in Arizona and Miami! Where the heck is the advantage…and shouldn’t there be one? In Jerry Crasnick’s article linked above, Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips has the following quote: ‘When you see other countries play…You just see how everybody’s passion is totally different than in our country’. Do U.S. fans not care about the WBC?
Certainly, some fans do. I saw those who came out to the games waving flags and cheering on Team USA. Admittedly, I did not rush out and purchase airfare, lodging and tickets. But there weren’t enough folks out in support. Perhaps U.S. fans are playing hard to get. Maybe they need to see some real production and success out of the U.S. squad before they get emotionally invested in this event. Maybe they need to see the best U.S. players on the field. I really can’t blame them for that. When the U.S. moved on to Miami, I thought they had a decent shot to jump from there to San Francisco. The pitching seemed to be OK, despite my disagreement with having knuckler R.A. Dickey as the #1 starter, and the hitting was good enough. But then in the games against the Dominican and Puerto Rico, the U.S. revealed just how badly discombobulated the team was, once again, and also how heavily outgunned they were in terms of fan support in a U.S. city, albeit one with an enormous Hispanic and Latino American community.
I heard some rumblings nominating Miller Park as one of the U.S. sites for the event in the future. I think that notion raises some interesting scenarios. I would be curious to see what kind of differences it would make to hold WBC games in cold-weather cities with retractable-roof stadiums. Toronto hosted some first-round games in the past. Would Milwaukee pack the house and scream its head off for the WBC? Or does it just not make sense to send the WBC into snow-covered cities? I don’t know. I do know the Dominican and Puerto Rican teams were filled with All-stars and simply outplayed the U.S. this year. But I also find myself wondering what the U.S. could have done to avoid yet another bounce from the Classic. We’ve got plenty of time to think about it. Thanks go to all the American players and coaches for their efforts; hopefully this country can figure this conundrum out by the time the next one rolls around.