This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
The first World Baseball Classic, three years ago, was a big hit. Even though the U.S. didn't win the tournament, fans filled the stands and the television ratings were robust. So here we are again. The second installment of the international classic started today in Japan, but the buzz isn't so peppy this time around. A largely negative vibe has enshrouded the Classic, with criticism that it's really nothing more significant than spring training exhibition and, as a matter of fact, gets in the way of spring training. Many of our biggest stars opted out. Ryan Howard. Vladimir Guerrero. CC Sabathia. Word is that the WBC does not work in early March, when players aren't in a groove yet. Last time around, a number of pitchers who played the Classic suffered through the regular season with injuries. The Cubbies' outfielder Alfonso Soriano speaks for a lot of guys when he says he needs all of spring training to get ready for his job. It's not a good time for the WBC.
I can appreciate that some players find the Classic an ill-timed distraction from their MLB duties, but I am sure am glad many of them are excited to play for their countries, especially in light of the fact that baseball has now been removed from the Olympic calendar.
Of the 448 players that make up the rosters of the 16 countries, about half of them play in our Major Leagues. For the foreigners among them, the ones who bring much pride to their respective countries as they showcase their skills throughout the baseball season here, it's rewarding to now see them play for their homelands in the Classic. Miguel Cabrera suiting up for Venezuela, David Ortiz for the Dominican Republic, Carlos Beltrán for Puerto Rico. The Major Leaguers beam when they state that nothing means more to them than wearing the name of their country across their chests.
Back in 2006, the star of the show, and the star of the winning team, Japan, was the young Daisuke Matsuzaka. The lefty's command performance from the mound in the Classic landed him a whopper contract with the Boston Red Sox. Again, we will be watching the sterling Japanese team closely. Four or five of their starters could impress enough to wind up with Major League offers. Japan's best in-country pitcher these days is 22 year-old right-hander Yu Darvish. Darvish could be the Dice-K discovery of this Classic.
Korea, Canada, the Dominican, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico all sport rosters loaded with talent. And Cuba, of course, is always a country of baseball genius. With scant resources, the Cuban national team made it to the final game against Japan last time, just as they made it to the gold medal game against Korea last August at the Beijing Olympic Games.
It's actually odd that we call baseball America's pastime. Football. Basketball. Those are America's games. Foreigners now play American style football and basketball, but those games are rooted in the fields of American suburbs, the blacktop playgrounds of American urban centers. Baseball has century-old histories in Japan and Cuba and Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.
We consider the World Series the World Championships because the two best teams in the Major Leagues compete for the title. But I predict that the World Baseball Classic will one day evolve into a more true-World Championships. The best players in the world, but instead of all playing for American teams, they'll be playing for their respective countries.
No doubt the Classic will eventually fare better if moved to summertime, perhaps as a replacement to the All-Star game, but even in early March, I'm eager to tune in, all the way to the championship game at Dodger Stadium on March 23.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.