This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
There's controversy in the baseball universe already this year, and we're only at the outset of spring training. Controversy that swirls around an event called the World Baseball Classic, which gets under way tomorrow. In concept alone, this is a great idea. A long-anticipated international tournament where we can witness just how good the rest of the world is at America's pastime. Countries where baseball dynasties have grown with rich history spanning more than a hundred years--Japan, Cuba, the Dominican Republic--at last get a chance to put teams of their own on proud display in tournament play. The worldwide audience getting to see them compared to the Americans, instead of following individual foreign stars assimilated into our Major Leagues. Sixteen countries representing their respective baseball legacies. In concept, a great idea. Yet a sporting event fraught with wrinkles and pitfalls, nonetheless.
The timing is all wrong. Spring training might seem a happy-go-lucky few weeks in the Florida sunshine, a time when fans can squeeze in pretty close to their favorite players for batting practice, maybe even exchange some banter with them on their way to the parking lot. But for all its easy-going veneer, Barry Bonds joking around in an endearing drag send-up of Paula Abdul, spring training is a crucial time when Major Leaguers get the kinks worked out and put the fine tuning on their skills before showing they're worth the multiple millions they're paid over the long haul of the upcoming season. Hideki Matsui, for one, evidently takes spring training very seriously. Even though he is a verifiable superstar in his native Japan, inciting throngs of screaming teenagers to a decibel far beyond what American fans put out for Tom Cruise, he will not suit up in his country's honor tomorrow because he says he owes the Yankees his full attention throughout spring training.
This is a tournament that should be played just after the World Series, in late October, the way the NFL schedules the Pro Bowl just after the Super Bowl. Separation from the regular season would serve as the best backdrop for an international competition. Potential injuries wouldn't be such a risk.
There are giant holes also in the fabric of the notion that this tournament will reveal the hierarchy of the world's greatest baseball teams. Cuba's the prime example. The Classic purports to showcase the best players in the world from each of the 16 countries. But El Duque or any of the other Cubans who have defected and play for Major League teams now won't be on the Cuban team roster. Nor will they be in the United States dugout. They should take the field for their homeland and help prove the true strength of Cuban baseball. A diluted Cuban team begs the question. What's the point of this Classic?