SAN FRANCISCO — The third World Baseball Classic has come and gone with the Dominican Republic ending Japan's double reign atop the baseball world. Like the two editions before it, the 2013 WBC captured some headlines with exciting games, big television ratings in international markets and, yes, even with some collective apathy from a stubborn American market that remains as unwilling to buy into the tournament as the country's biggest stars.
Despite that big stumbling block, the next WBC is already scheduled for 2017 and MLB executive Tim Brosnan said on Tuesday night that Bud Selig remains "1,000 percent committed" to holding another one. But for the fourth one to be better than the first three, there have to be changes made. So, just like I did in 2009, I'd like to offer a few ways to improve the event for the next time around.
1. Hold this thing in summer already: The World Baseball Classic will never become all that it can be as long as they continue holding it at a time when no one's in top shape and most of the country is busy picking their NCAA brackets. Convincing MLB's owners to stop the season for a week or 10 days in the middle of the season will be a tall order — that's when it's easiest to sell tickets, after all — but there has to be a way, especially if you're OK with the WBC serving as an All-Star alternative every four years. So much of selling a big event is perception and putting the regular season on hold would send a strong message that the WBC is an important event worthy of the casual fan's attention. What's more, this event deserves its own stage, something it's never going to get during March Madness.
2. Hold all the games in one city: It's nice to see games being played in different cities like Tokyo, San Francisco and San Juan. But it's also cool to see the different cultures getting together in one city for some baseball, which leads me to point out a current deficiency: Under this current setup, only four countries are in a city at the same time. Can you imagine all 16 in one place? A true midsummer WBC would require a compressed schedule and almost zero travel so one American ballpark would be the best route to go. One site would also be a plus as baseball could focus its marketing and ticket-selling efforts in one area instead of eight. Let cities bid on the event, just like they do for the Olympics and World Cup. What city wouldn't want to attract money-spending and room-renting tourists from across the world?
3. Hold an opening ceremonies of sorts: There's no current official start to the WBC. Games open up in the Eastern Hemisphere as the rest of the world sleeps and many casual fans in this country feel like they're already behind by the time North America pool play begins. The first three suggestions here are all intertwined but if you're already holding games in one city in the middle of the summer, there's a chance to have a huge international celebration of baseball both on the field and through around-the-town events like fanfests and clinics. All-Stars from around the world can participate and the opening game can feature the defending champion against one of the world's big powers. Hook people from the start.
4. Start the games earlier: Another WBC, another year when the semifinal games are starting after 9 p.m. on the East Coast. I will never understand why they do this when they're trying to sell people on the event.
5. Make the players and fans watch the Olympic hockey competition in 2014: Nothing drives me more nuts than to hear people who call themselves baseball fans saying they don't want their favorite players participating in the WBC because of injury risk. NHL players face the same injury risks when they compete in the Olympics every four years, yet it's considered a huge honor to get the call from your national team and represent your country on the ice. While NHL players aren't yet guaranteed to appear in Sochi next winter, all of the public politicking you hear from hockey players is for participation. There's no reason why baseball players and fans can't feel that same international pride every four years.
Look, as those who have paid attention the past three installments know, there really is a good event here. But I think Bud Selig and Major League Baseball just needs to show a bit more confidence to make it a can't-miss event instead of an afterthought that's tacked onto the front end of the season.
After all, if they don't treat it like it's big time, who will?
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