|2003 Topps Traded #T50 Gene Kingsale|
I've been mildly interested in the World Baseball Classic so far, I've watched the majority of both Team USA games and will likely tune in for much of tonight's game as well. I haven't seen much of the other teams besides an inning here and an inning there. So, imagine my surprise when I saw that the Dutch, featuring former Tigers Gene Kingsale and Randall Simon beat the Dominican Republic a few days ago. Great upset, good story etc. Ultimately, this is inconsequential. Except it wasn't. Last night, they went out and beat the Dominicans again, this time in extra innings, with Mr. Kingsale scoring the winning run. Contrary to popular belief, this may be the best thing to ever happen to the WBC.
Allow me to explain. The DR was heavily favored and has some of the most recognizable and marketable talent in the game. Their inclusion in the tournament would help drive ratings and sell tickets. Their elimination is an unmitigated disaster from a marketing perspective in subsequent rounds. However, if the WBC is to become a long-term and credible international tournament, this may have been a best-case scenario.
In 2006, the United States was eliminated in embarrassing fashion in pool play. The nation was disgusted, wrote the WBC off as a joke and stopped caring. Flash forward to 2009 and Team USA is radically restructured, with a different culture and an unwavering dedication for redeeming the United States and to win this tournament. Team USA is committed and prepared to win, and will do anything to reach that goal.
Now, its the Dominicans' turn. If baseball in Latin America is any indication, their elimination will be a national embarrassment that dwarfs what Team USA felt in 2006. I truly cannot imagine that a country that serious about baseball, with a talent base so broad and successful, would not give everything that they have to destroy the competition when the tournament returns in 2013.
The World Baseball Classic originated as a contrived international competition that was more of a MLB advertisement than a legitimate tournament. It worked well in 2006, but as the novelty wears off, there is the fear that it will become more of a burden than a worthwhile enterprise. All of that has changed. They key to international competition is buy-in from the players that the games matter. They matter to the US. They matter to all of the smaller countries that have played valiantly for national pride and their own chance at the spotlight, or to the Cubans who try to play their way into professional baseball. I'm guessing that now they'll matter to the Dominican Republic--too late for this year, but just in time give the tournament the competitive spirit and sense of importance that it will need to be successful in the long run.