Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Other World Competition in 2006

While most of the world focuses on the 2006 FIFA World Cup, a select number of us are anticipating the first ever World Baseball Classic in March. 16 countries will compete for global dominance over a two and a half week stretch, in what is the first international competition ever featuring baseball's top players.

A few preliminary notes about the WBC:

• There's uncertainty about whether or not the Cuban National Team will be able to compete in the games in the United States. Their Round Robin games are held in Puerto Rico, but if they have advance to the elimination round - which is probably going to happen - they'd have to play in the States. I hope they can find a way to make this work, the Cubans are one of the most talented teams in the pool - and a Cuba/US matchup could flicker the dying embers of the Cold War rivalry in sports. It might even lead to Rocky Balboa fighting in Havana on Christmas Day next year.

• The rules about nationality are pretty relaxed, you can play for your country of birth or residency, or that of your parents and grandparents. A few interesting things have come up because of this:

• ARod, born in the States to Dominican Parents, is undecided on which country to play for, but leaning towards the DR. I see no problem whatever his choice is, but check out this quote:

"I think the Latino teams are going to have a major advantage," he said. "I think that American team might take it more like an exhibition and these guys are kind of playing for their religion down there, the pride of their country."

I hope this isn't a deciding factor for him. Just when we thought ARod couldn't be any more unlikeable, he might be jumping on the bandwagon of the team he thinks has a better chance of winning. Or I'm reading too much into this. Regardless, I hate the guy. Hopefully he leaves the karate chop at home for the WBC, no matter who's jersey he's wearing.

• Team Italy has assembled a team composed of players who are of Italian descent, but not Italian themselves. I don't see them going anywhere with the lineup they have right now; with these criteria. I wonder if anyone gave thought to assembling a Team Israel; I would have preferred to see this - led by Shawn Green, Jason Marquis, Gabe Kapler, and Kevin Youkilis, I would have had them as a sleeper to make the Quarterfinals.

The full list of players committed so far can be seen here.

As for the tournament itself, it's not shaping up to be the biggest success right now. Some teams aren't allowing their players to participate, while on the business end they have yet to line up a major network to televise the games. That being said, there's still time to pull things together. But if the US does as poorly as ARod predicts, then this will probably be the only World Baseball Classic - at least on this continent. I hope it isn't, as this tournament holds a lot of promise. I'll be keeping an eye on how things develop in the three two and a half months leading up to the tournament. I could see this being the (non-March Madness) highlight of the spring, or one of the biggest flops in recent years. We'll have to wait and see.

Final note: I'm not familiar enough with the Japanese and Cuban teams to comment on them, so excluding them I'd have to rank the Dominicans, the Americans, the Venezuelans, and the Canadians at the top 4 teams - in that order. No disrespect meant to to Puerto Rico, but I think Canada's pitching will be a surprise in the tournament.


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