"Meaningful & Memorable" WBC Baseball & the MLB's/NHL's Olympic Dilemma
SAN DIEGO-While I hadn't planned on penning my first Sportsblog.com blog of 2017 until sometime after the first draft of my Canada 150- themed history book on Edward Barron Chandler and Sir Albert James Smith was completed sometime in mid-late April, I, like the Nova Scotia groundhog Shubenacadie Sam, decided to emerge from yet another mundane Maritime winter to write about how much I have enjoyed the 2017 World Baseball Classic (WBC); it truly has provided "meaningful & memorable" March baseball for millions of baseball fans around the globe who, like me, have endured a long winter without baseball since the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians collided in Game 7* of the most memorable and entertaining World Series since David Freese's heroics in the both the 2011 National League Championship and World Series:
Where does one even begin to start with regards to the 2017 WBC, an international showcase of the world's best baseball talent that, like a fine wine, seems to get better with age? While I admit that I did not follow much of the earlier action (other than Team Canada's and Japan's games), I have been glued to the television set during the most recent round of round robin pool action, especially the four-team pool of the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the United States that has been whittled down to just two teams: Puerto Rico and the United States; the former plays the Netherlands on Monday, March 20 @ 10:00 pm Atlantic/9:00 pm Eastern while the United States plays Japan on Tuesday night at the same time in the second semi-final game. The winners of these two games will face each other in the finals on Wednesday night (same time), again in Los Angeles, California, (For a complete preview of the World Baseball Classic's two semi-final games, please visit the link below):
At this time, however, I prefer to reflect on some of more memorable recent individual and meaningful team performances of the following three teams: the now dethroned 2013 WBC Champion Dominican Republic, the United States, and arguably the odds on favourite, Puerto Rico.
Early on in the tournament, the Dominican Republic's offense clicked on all cylinders, leaving many experts (including me) to believe that they were the team to beat again this year. However, the DR ran into some shutdown pitching against Puerto Rico and, to a lesser extent, the United States, a team whose starters amassed quite the scoreless innings streak until Team USA/Toronto Blue Jays' starter Marcus Stroman allowed 4 in the first inning of his most recent WBC start. In any event, the difference in last night's game with Team USA and Team Dominican Republic was that USA came through when they needed to with the big hit (Gioncarlo Stanton's rocket two-run homer), and, with the glove vis-a-vis Adam Jones' robbery of his Baltimore Orioles' teammate Manny Machado, who's been a human highlight reel this WBC for the Dominican Republic, on what should have been a solo home run. To me, Adam Jones' taking away what should have been a Machado solo homer was the play of the game. Why you might ask? Because if Jones doesn't take that homer away from Machado then the DR's next batter (team captain Robinson Cano) would have tied the game at 4-4. Instead, Cano's opposite field solo homer only made the score 4 to 3 USA instead of 4 to 4. In his post-game interview with the MLB Network's/FOX Sports' JP Morosi, Team USA's Adam Jones, who admittedly has never played in a World Series, compared the atmosphere last night in San Diego's Petco Park (the house that the late, great Tony Gwynn built) to playing in the World Series.
Other memorable and meaningful moments WBC moments for me includes Puerto Rico's (especially Yadier Molina's) stellar offensive and defensive performance throughout the tournament, notwithstanding seeing Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado with dyed blonde goatees. Finally, Team USA's Nolan Arranado's costly two-running throwing error against Puerto Rico proved to be the difference as the United States fell just short (6 to 5) in the ninth inning on a two-run triple by Giants' shortstop Brandon Crawford. His Team USA/San Francisco Giants' teammate Buster Posey also homered earlier in that game against the undefeated Team Puerto Rico (who went 3 and 0 in the most recent pool action).
While the DR had Nelson Cruz, Starling Marte and the ultra-hot hitting Gregor Polanco effectively manly the DR's outfield (and at the plate) during the aforementioned elimination game, conspicuous by his absence was the Toronto Blue Jays' Jose Bautista who was nursing a sore back. While only time will tell if Joey Bats' sore back will become an issue following his impending return to the Grapefruit League/Spring Training in Dunedin, Florida, Jays' fans, teammates and the organization alike will be monitoring the situation closely after an injury plagued 2016 season.
While back injuries to the aforementioned Jose Bautista and Venezuela's Miguel Cabrera are always a concern during the WBC, such injuries (which could just as easily arise in Spring Training), the positives that the WBC brings far exceeds the risk of injury. Unlike the World Cup of Hockey, in my view the WBC is the only international event that Major League Baseball needs to be concerned with at this time (even though baseball and softball return to the Summer Olympics in 2020). Conversely, the National Hockey League (NHL) 's very international identity relies on their participation in the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympic Games. For a generation of NHL fans who grew up watching the world's best hockey players play at the Olympics (they don'r remember as I do the days in which only the world's best amateur hockey players laced up for the Olympics), the NHL and its players' association need to be involved in the Winter Olympics more than MLB needs to be involved in the upcoming Summer Olympics' Games in Tokyo (As of press time, no deal is in place for the NHL and its players to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics).
There are several reasons why potential MLB participation in the Summer Olympics would not make sense (to clarify, to the best of my knowledge, at this point there is no formal or public MLB interest in participating in the Summer Olympics at any point in the near future). At any rate, one problem for MLB would be that it would be too long of a league shutdown (bye-bye All-Star Game, as is the case in the NHL during Olympic years); the MLB's 162 game season is stretched to the limit as it is without starting earlier or ending later in the event MLB and its players ever decided to play in the Summer Olympics. Secondly, while some would argue that not all of MLB's best players participate in the WBC, I would argue that considerable talent from all of the participating countries have made for a very evenly matched and competitive tournament. Finally, in my view, the World Baseball Classic is the perfect time (March) and venue to showcase the world's best baseball talent.
Unlike the NHL, who let the genie out of the bottle by sending its best players to the Olympics (every other international tournament, including the World Cup of Hockey, pales in comparison--don't even get me started on the annual, and redundant, World Hockey Championship, especially when they take place in empty arenas in, like STAR WARS, a galaxy, far, far away from hockey nations such as Canada), the WBC has been allowed to grow organically in an era where baseball has not been a Summer Olympic event. Consequently, the WBC has become baseball's premier international event. If MLB were ever to send players to the Summer Olympics (and there's no guarantee that the best would necessarily want to), then both Olympic Baseball and the World Baseball Classic (WBC) would be diminished as international events in much the same way that the World Cup of Hockey is diminished by the existence of NHL participation in the Winter Olympics. That being said, in the event that non-NHL participation in the Winter Olympics becomes the norm, the World Cup of Hockey (which takes place in September prior to the start of the NHL regular season), like the WBC, will flourish as the sport's top international event. Only the NBA seems to be a natural fit for the Olympics.
In any event, enjoy the remainder of the 2017 World Baseball Classic, MLB Spring Training and the start of the 2017 MLB Regular Season. See you sometime in mid-to-late April/early May (if not before) with my first "official" MLB Sportsblog of the 2017 MLB Regular Season (which begins in two weeks on Sunday, April 2 with a trio of games, which include the defending World Series' Champion Chicago Cubs & the St. Louis Cardinals.