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Opinion

No respect in U.S. for World Baseball Classic

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April 2, 2009

As the subtle signs of spring quickly approach, baseball fans across America look forward to Opening Day of Major League BaseballÑa time-honored national tradition that only gets better with age.

“There is no sports event like Opening Day of baseball, the sense of beating back the forces of darkness and the National Football League,” writer George Vecsey elegantly described it.

But this year feels slightly different. Even though it is only April, with the Fall Classic months away, audiences across the world have already been treated to one of the finest, most aesthetically beautiful games ever played; a contest filled with drama, passion and astonishing displays of skill; proving that even in its infancy, the World Baseball Classic successfully showcased everything that is great about the sport on a global level.

It’s too bad that so few in the U.S. cared enough to pay attention, much less actually going to the games to support their team.

On the evening of March 22, young Japanese pitching phenom Yu Darvish unleashed a wicked, biting slider that USA slugger Adam Dunn could only watch dart past him, eliminating the American team from the tournament and setting up an all-east final between Japan and South Korea, who destroyed Venezuela the night before. For the second time in the brief history of the WBC, the U.S. can no longer claim that it ranks among the world’s best.

The championship game between South Korea and Japan featured defensive precision, situational hitting and a nerve-wrecking extra-inning finale topped off by Korean right-hander Chang-Yong Lim’s fateful decision to put one of the greatest hitters of the modern era to the ultimate test with two runners in scoring position. Ichiro, a surgeon with a bat, did not miss. It was one of the greatest games I have ever seen.

Because of all the tremendous talent that exists in the U.S., the only reason to point to for the general lack of interest in America is apathy. It’s disgusting and shameful. As long as there is a long list of superstars such as Grady Sizemore, Ryan Howard, C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Jonathan Papelbon who cautiously chose not to participate, the event will not get the respect or attention it deserves from U.S. fans, which is tragic.

The players that did take part wore their team colors with pride and should be commended for their decision to fight for the honor of the National Pastime, but their carefree attitude when bounced from the tournament sharply contrasts with Ichiro’s rare display of emotion in 2006. After losing a preliminary-round game against Korea, He screamed in rage and seethed to the media later, “I want to beat the teams in the Asia round so badly they’ll never think of beating Japan for the coming 30 years,” he said. “The fans can expect a lot from us.”

This is the kind of intensity that American fans should demand from Team USA, and in return, members of the team should expect full fan support rather than empty stadiums.  Perhaps they could mirror the example set by the 55,000 boisterous Korean and Japanese fans plastered in face paint who packed Dodger Stadium to witness the historic final between the two teams.

The World Baseball Classic may have several flaws, and it does come at an awkward time in relation to spring training, but it will only reach its true potential when Team USA stops treating the event as an exhibition rather than an important competition with national pride at stake.

As we look forward to what guarantees to be another MLB season for the ages, I hope that in 2013, Team USA can conjure up enough heart and desire to help reach the rapidly-improving WBC reach its full potential.

Andrew Phelps is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.