International Experiment Pays Off

Bud Selig's kind of had an iffy track record with me. Interleague play, the travesty that is the All Star Game that counts, and raking in the money while turning a blind eye to steroids until he could no longer ignore their impact on the game for starters. On the other hand, I really like the current playoff system with three divisions and a wild card. However, Selig's greatest achievement may just be the World Baseball Classic.

I was one of the few who was totally stoked when the first WBC was held three years ago. During that inaugural event, I fell in love with a scrappy team from South Korea, led by the slugging exploits of Seung-Yeop Lee. This year, I still love the Koreans, the Puerto Ricans (My main man crush, Geovany Soto, is playing!), and the Netherlands. I'm even feeling some love for the good ol' USA. The USA didn't seem to take the event seriously last year and folded early. Many US fans still don't seem to care, but the USA team is fired up this year, determined not to make another early exit. They seem looser, yet at the same time more determined.

I know there's a lot of people who can't get with this tournament. Those people are missing out. Many of the teams have shown marked improvement from the first WBC. Italy won a game for crying out loud. And the Netherlands, with no current major league players, depantsed the mighty Dominican Republic not once, but twice. They did so with good pitching, some timely hitting, and a little help from some bad D on the Dominican's part. Unfortunately, it was Carlos Marmol who took the L for the DR last night, but at least he wasn't wearing a Cub uni at the time. To see the Netherlands celebrate was truly something special and even though I wasn't able to see the game (Side Note: MediaCom sucks balls. No MLB Network or ESPN Deportes in my area. Asshats.) At the press conference afterward, manager Rod Delmonico was visibly overcome with emotion as he expressed his pride in his players. If you saw that and didn't feel anything, then maybe you don't like baseball as much as you think you do. Regardless of what the Netherlands do from here in the WBC, they will always have this moment, when they took down one of the best teams in baseball. The Italian team also laid down a stunner, eliminating Canada from the WBC before being eliminated by Venezuela themselves. I see this as a good sign that baseball is taking root in these countries and the level of talent is on the rise.

And then there's the story of Ian Snell. Snell is pitching for Puerto Rico, despite the fact that he's technically African-American. The man who married Snell's mother and raised Snell since he was two years old is Puerto Rican. Snell's own wife is Puerto Rican. He considers himself Puerto Rican. So when he made his case, he was allowed to pitch for PR in the WBC. Snell was so excited when he got his jersey, he sent a cell phone picture of it to his wife. He's very proud to be able to represent his step-father's heritage, the man he considers to be his real father. That's pretty damn cool.

The other great thing about this tourney is the chance to see a mixture of MLB talent, guys from the minors, some guys who have been out of the majors but still capable of playing, and a lot of young dudes that are looking to make a mark. It was really nice to see the respect and love afforded to Bernie Williams when he played for Puerto Rico the other night. I enjoyed seeing former Cubs Randall "Sausage Killer" Simon and Julio Zuleta again, as well as guys like Andres Galarraga and Bert Blyleven in the dugouts. Plus I got to see Alessandro Maestri, the Cubs' Italian prospect dealing against a tough Venezuelan team.
The whole damn thing is pretty cool this year. I love the enthusiasm of the players for this tournament. There are guys dancing and laughing in the dugouts (even in the USA dugout!) and a lot of mutual respect between teams. If this is the international future of the game, I think it's pretty damn bright. And if you're missing it, well, shame on you, because you're missing something pretty special.

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