Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Another Great WBC Piece

At this rate, I might have to change the name of the blog to "World Baseball Classic Despiser," but I couldn't help putting this one up. This one's from Mike Downey of the Chicago Tribune:

Nothing classic about world baseball event
Mike Downey

February 20, 2006

A week from Friday, a new tournament known as the World Baseball Classic will get under way in Tokyo with a game between Korea and Chinese Taipei.

A few days later, the United States and Mexico will meet in Phoenix, followed by a game I know most of you have been waiting for all of your lives—yes, hold onto your hats, world baseball fans, it's Canada vs. South Africa.

Wow, the betting in Vegas must be furious on that.

Of all the misbegotten, low-interest, no-need, who-cares athletic events ever dreamed up, the World Baseball Classic has to be high on the charts.

The only possible benefit of this entire 17-day ballapalooza is to remind fans for the billionth time that the White Sox are the World Series champions—not, as so many of you stubbornly insist on calling them, the "world champs."

I previously considered the Davis Cup of tennis to be the most meaningless and ludicrous sports spectacle of the ages, mainly in the way it wants people to be pleased about a tour pro "representing our country" in a match with some guy from Chile. I defy anyone to reflect your entire time on the planet Earth and come up with a single memory about a Davis Cup.

But this baseball thing also is a real doozy. I have heard it called a once-in-a-lifetime event, so let's hope it turns out to be once in our lifetime.

Sixteen nations have entered teams in the WBC, including those international men of mystery known for their great baseball in much the same way Iraq is known for its great NASCAR races, Italy and the Netherlands.

I haven't felt this kind of global excitement since, oh, Sunday, when there was a Winter Olympics showdown between Japan and Britain in women's ice hockey. (Japan won 10-5. British fans must be desolate.)

I recently went into a sporting-goods store that prominently displayed authentic World Baseball Classic jerseys from a variety of teams. Hanging on a rack in all their splendor, there they were: Dominicana, Nederland, Italia. Stores like these give the Dutch-American population of the greater Chicago area a rare opportunity to show its support for Netherlands baseball.

I believe that I can safely speak for Nederlanders everywhere when I say that they haven't been looking forward to a baseball game this much since the days when the red-bearded pitcher Bert Blyleven took the mound bearing an uncanny resemblance to Vincent van Gogh.

Last I looked, Netherlands' roster included a lot of names familiar to Major League Baseball's fans from coast-to-coast—by which I mean from the Atlantic to the Pacific, not from Amsterdam to Rotterdam.

Among them are Andruw Jones, Randall Simon, Shea Hillenbrand, Danny Haren and Mark Mulder, all of whom can't wait, I expect, to go out there and show America that when it comes to baseball, nobody can play it like the Dutch.

Mulder is from South Holland. I don't mean the southern section of Holland. I mean South Holland, a south suburb of Chicago. He grew up near Justin Huisman, who also is on Netherlands' roster for the WBC. Huisman was born in nearby Harvey, which as you know is a hotbed for Dutch-American baseball talent.

I am sure that when Mulder and Huisman were little kids, playing catch in their back yard, they dreamed of the day they could play baseball for the kingdom of the Netherlands.

Jason Grilli is a pitcher on Italy's roster for the tournament. Grilli had a cup of espresso with the White Sox a couple of seasons ago, but he didn't get to be a part of the 2005 World Series team. So this WBC could be a career highlight for a fine young Italian, even one like Grilli who actually comes from a suburb of Detroit.

NBC even promises to call him Grilli on the air, not "Grill."

I don't know what this WBC hopes to prove. The ballplayers will play baseball, but will they slide hard into a guy to knock the ball out of his glove? Will they hum a fastball under a guy's armpit to back him off the plate?

With a month of spring games, a 162-game schedule from April to October and then three more weeks of playoffs involving the White Sox, this is the last thing I feel the world needed in 2006 ... a longer baseball season.

But if the U.S. wins, get ready. There will be a wild victory parade, with at least 10 or 20 people in the streets.

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