Thursday, March 5, 2009

International enthusiasm for the national pastime

While home trying to get over my nasty cold, I was able to watch a replay of the first 2009 World Baseball Classic game between China and Japan.

The game was played in Tokyo, Japan, one of the most baseball-obsessed countries in the world. It was a sell-out and the fans were vocal, banging drums and blowing horns to cheer for their team.

Japan won 4-0 over an inexperienced Chinese team. I was impressed with the enthusiasm for world baseball. Here in America, it seems throughout the off-season, players have been going out of their way to avoid playing in the event, whether it be for team USA or any other country.

I know money is the ultimate deciding factor in those decisions. But I don't think it's such a bad idea that pro athletes play for their country. The Olympics remains the premier international competition, now with professionals playing team sports like basketball and hockey. It also seems to work for soccer's World Cup and golf's Ryder Cup.

I think a competition like this can grow to become a great event, even if there are maximum pitch-counts and other odd rules, like beginning in the 13th inning, each team bats with runners on first and second.

Americans still call baseball the national pastime, but the national sport really is football. The WBC is another reminder about why we love baseball. Just watching the game today, headache and all, I remembered why I enjoy watching games in the summer. The pace ... the anticipation of the pitch ... the fact that I could check three other channels between plays.

Baseball is never going to become a world game like soccer, but I enjoyed seeing other countries excited about it. That is one thing you don't see with football.

By the way, Japan played very well, fitting of a defending world champion. Even China, a country that has had professional baseball for seven years (that's 126 less than America), and one win in international competition, showed signs that it could develop into a competitive team.

Team USA opens WBC play on Saturday against Canada in Toronto. Let's hope the Asian enthusiasm for the event rubs off in North America.

No comments: