This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
Three weeks ago I was one of the naysayers. Now I'm a peppy cheerleader on the bandwagon. The championship game of the World Baseball Classic this Monday night, between Japan and Cuba, actually brought me to tears. It was a see-saw, dramatic game and when Japan won it, I went to that place of wondering what it must be like to be the losing team and have to sit quietly and watch the winners literally jump for joy in exuberance. In a moment of inspired sportsmanship, the Cubans let a few minutes pass and then, with great class, they slowly and in single file approached the celebrating pile of Japanese players. Then they waited. The joy of the Japanese was now literally flaunted in their faces. And still they waited. When the celebration began to wane, a couple of Japanese players noticed the Cubans and tugged on each others' sleeves. Then the whole team, without saying a word, rose and deftly fell into single file as well. That's when I found myself welling up with tears. The two lines traversed each other, shaking hands, patting each other on the shoulders. When's the last time you saw a World Series losing team take the field to congratulate the champs? It was a touching moment. And the Cubans, the losers, returned to Havana to a congratulatory parade as well.
Over the course of the tournament, the South Koreans, the Dominicans, the Venezualans, the Puerto Ricans, the Mexicans, the Japanese, the Cubans showcased their high skill level and, moreso, proved their long-standing passion for the game that has for quite a long time been misnamed "America's pastime." Baseball is a world-wide phenomenon. It's outrageous that it has been taken off the Olympic roster, which will happen after the Beijing Games in 2008. But this World Classic has all the makings of one day rivaling soccer in terms of global participation and pride. During recent Olympic Games, we don't seem to care about the medal count, country by country, as we used to. The end of the Cold War crushed the rivalry we used to have with Russia and East Germany. This Baseball Classic roused national fervor on several continents like no other sporting event in recent memory.
I'm not the first one to suggest this, that we no longer call the Fall Classic the World Series. We should call it the Fall Classic. And then a couple of weeks later, the real World Series should be played, country versus country.
And one more point about the World Baseball Classic. Baseball insiders say we'll never go backwards in terms of gargantuan salaries. Once a precedent is set, there's no turning back. Watching the Cubans, in their baggy uniforms, turn double plays and hit balls out of the park, surely threw a magnifying glass on the American salaries. Players who make absolutely nothing, zero, beat players with contracts as fat as $252 million. I know in my business of sports broadcasting, the entire pay scale grid has decreased many-fold since the Golden Days of the '80's. Producers who routinely made $400k a year now work for $150k. Why can't we slowly bring the baseball numbers down, too? All it takes is one resolved owner of a high-power team to get the momentum going. It just may be that the new World Series, with countries other than the U.S. strutting their considerably less paid stuff, will bring Major League Baseball down to a consumer reality. And by the time we're paying our players under the astronomical scale they're used to now, maybe more fans will flock to the stadiums, when they can afford the parking, the hot dog, and the souvenir cap.
Before I sign off, a comment about Candace Parker's two dunks, as she led her Tennessee team against Army, the first time a woman has dunked in an NCAA tournament game. Purists argue that dunking is not the goal of the women's game. It's all about clean play-making, crisp passes and assists. But let's get real, the women will always be compared to the men. So the dunk must come and, as did thousands of fans who went wild when she dunked at the Constant Convocation Center in Norfolk, Virginia, we must applaud Candace Parker.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.