At the conclusion of the United States Men’s Hockey Team abrupt elimination from the 2014 Winter Olympics after a 5-0 loss to Finland, it concluded the rooting interest for many around the nation for the remainder of the games in Sochi.
Fleeting care was brought about after defeating the mighty mother-host country of Russia just a week ago, and ahead of their semifinal collision with our friendly neighbors to the north, enthusiasm was at its peak.
Two days later, those outside the ponds of Minnesota and the frozen lakes of upstate New York could seem to care less about an event that the United States did not even medal in. Sure, the players cared; but did the fans?
The same can be said for baseball’s version of the Olympics: the World Baseball Classic.
Ahead of this season, we will not have Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto stripped away from bunting drills and fielding practice in Goodyear, Arizona, but will rather keep them under the weary eye of all the members of the media that will be hawking them for quotes the next seven months anyway.
The central question is this: do the fans care enough about the World Baseball Classic?
In theory, of course fans care. If the game were to be presented on the MLB Network or some other national syndicate, the game would draw acceptable ratings. There may be interest, but it is a fleeting interest at best.
The issue with the WBC is that it only comes along every four years. Unlike our Redlegs that take the field year after year with subtle changes to the roster we have become so accustomed to, the rosters of each country can change drastically within four years.
While in attendance at last year’s games in Phoenix, Arizona, the differences in crowd enthusiasm was palpable. Unquestionably, it was the United States that had the most crowd support, but after the loss on Opening Night to the Mexican national team, it sounded like a Primera Division game inside of Chase Field.
Just an afternoon later, the Canadian and Mexican national teams got into a bench-clearing brawl, displaying just how much it meant to them.
After advancing to the second round of the tournament, the virtual All-Star team that the United States boasted was promptly eliminated after back-to-back losses to both the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. For the tournament as a whole, they finished a less-than-inspiring 3-3 overall, returning home with a sixth place finish.
Finishing in front of the some of the very best talent in the world, in fourth place, was the Netherlands. While they boast super prospect Xander Bogaerts and the game’s best defensive shortstop, Andrelton Simmons, they hardly strike fear into opposing pitchers. Their own pitching staff did not contain one single Major League pitcher. (It did contain Reds minor league prospect Loek van Mil.)
Also placing ahead of the hand-selected All-Star team was a country that did not even get to pick from their very best pool of players: Cuba. Since international rules deem that once a player defects, he may not associate himself with Cuban baseball in any fashion, those that have become All-Stars over in the states cannot compete for their home nation.
Of course, none of the players on the club were under contract to Major League teams, but as recent as yesterday, shortstop Erisbel Arruebarruena signed himself a 5-year/$25 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Noticeably absent from that roster was his soon-to-be teammate, Yasiel Puig. On the pitching side, National League Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez and the Reds own, Aroldis Chapman were also not eligible.
How can this be possible that countries with inferior levels of talent can manage to consistently finish in front of the United States in their own country’s pastime? The U.S. currently has a reign of dominance in basketball, and since there would truly be no competition for football, they have cornered the market on that as well.
There is no question that baseball has gone global, but have those of us within the U.S. borders neglected the game that we all grew up on?