Hey, the WBC isn’t so bad after all

Ben Cook

March 08, 2013 at 2:20 pm.

Italy catcher Drew Butera is congratulated by teammates after hitting a home run in the team's win over Mexico. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

As a longtime baseball fan, I’ve made no attempt to hide my displeasure for the World Baseball Classic. I thought it was a contrived tournament whose only place was as a less- than-satisfying alternative to baseball in the Olympics.

Bud Selig’s place in the formation and promotion of the WBC also did nothing to endear the Classic to me. I’ve never been a Selig fan either, blaming him for everything from Interleague play, to the Houston Astros playing in the American League, the All-Star Game deciding the World Series host and even the DH.

I realize the DH came in 1973 before Selig’s influence as a commissioner, but as long as I’m knocking the commissioner I thought I would include a few other pet peeves like the DH, the Fritz Peterson-Mike Kekich wife swap, Ron Bloomberg’s hair and the Curse of the Billy Goat.

But I digress, back to my problem with the World Baseball Classic.

Actually, my problem was not so much with the playing of the Classic as it is with the timing and the effect it could have on the Major League baseball season. It could have an effect on a player’s body in terms of fatigue, weary arms or legs. A pennant and possible World Series championship could hang in the balance because a player who played in the World Baseball Classic ran out of gas. That doesn’t even take into account injuries that may be suffered by WBC players.

The New York Yankees will probably not be so accommodating for their players participating in future WBCs after Mark Teixeira strained his wrist at a WBC practice and will be out for eight to ten weeks. I know the same thing could have just as easily happened at a Yankees workout, but the fact is it didn’t.

“I’ve been swinging with a weighted bat off the tee for the past probably four years now, just because I feel like it keeps me strong,” Teixeira said. “It really loosens me up. I was swinging with my weighted bat, and it was the fifth or sixth swing off the tee before batting practice on Tuesday, and I just felt something kind of tighten up in my wrist. I went into the training room right afterward.”

Was risking a World Series ring worth chasing a medal in the contrived medal chase at the WBC? I don’t think so.

But I may have to apologize to the World Baseball Classic. Since I’ve had to work from home this spring, I’ve spent many hours sitting on my couch with my laptop on my lap and the television on for company. Daytime TV is not great unless you happen to like reruns of sitcoms that weren’t even funny the first time around. So I’ve been tuning in to MLB Network and the baseball network broadcasting spring training games from Florida and Arizona featuring players wearing numbers that would be better suited for offensive linemen.

And the MLB Network has been broadcasting live games from the World Baseball Classic and I have enjoyed them. The level of play is better than I thought it would be, but I’ve been more impressed with the passion the players and fans have shown during the early stages of the WBC.

After Italy rallied for a come-from-behind upset win over Mexico on Thursday, Italy catcher Drew Butera of the Minnesota Twins said the excitement level of the game was hard to describe.

“Once you experience it for yourself,” Butera said, “it’s on a completely different level.”

By the same token, losing has caused great despair among the same group.

“They take this to heart,” Mexico manager Rick Renteria said in describing the mood in the Mexico clubhouse after the defeat. “You could see the emotion Italy had when they came out on top. … You know what? Tomorrow’s another day. Keep your heads up.”

The USA team opens action on Friday and will play three times over the weekend and I plan to be watching. They will not be playing for a World Series ring but for a gold medal. And that’s not bad at all.

It seems the World Baseball Classic has taught this old dog a new trick.

I may have changed my feeling about the World Baseball Classic, but I absolutely refuse to rethink my position on Selig and the damage he has done to my game.