World Baseball Classic

I was there in 2006 when the inaugural World Baseball Classic began play. One of the venues chosen for these games was Chase Field. I was eagerly looking forward to what was being touted as the baseball equivalent to the soccer World Cup. Finally major league baseball players from around the world would suit up and see which country had the strongest team. The rosters looked like a who’s who of baseball’s greatest stars. Unlike the annual all-star game these World Baseball Classic games actually meant something or at least that was what we were led to believe. I was there in attendance to watch the round-robin pool play which included Team USA. After the first couple of games I began to realize that this wasn’t anything like I was expecting. Many of the major league players were not yet in playing shape while others were viewing this as a glorified exhibition series. The players on Team USA were going through the motions and it was soon evident that they were destined to an early departure from the tournament.

The timing of the games was also something of a mystery. With Cactus League spring training in full swing (no pun intended); teams were fractured with some of the players playing in the World Classic while others were back in camp trying to prepare for the regular season. It made player development and preparation difficult and led to other potential issues. Many of the players who participated in the World Baseball Classic ended up having down seasons and there seemed to be more nagging injuries than normal. With a sample size of just one tournament it is impossible to say whether the WBC had caused these additional injuries or downturn in player’s statistics but at least in my mind it was a data point to consider when the tournament came around again.

Today marked the day when the national teams would announce their final rosters for the 2009 World Baseball Classic that begins play on March 5. Even before the announcement many of the game’s biggest stars had already opted out of participating. Where 2006 seemed like all the stars were involved; this year it seemed as though there were many more choosing not to be a part. Arizona Diamondbacks ace Brandon Webb had already declined an invitation as had co-ace Dan Haren. Closer Chad Qualls likewise bowed out citing the upcoming birth of his child as the reason. St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols also declined an invitation as did free agent Manny Ramirez. The number of players choosing not to play grows on a daily basis. This trend does not bode well for the long-term viability of the WBC. It does significantly help the Cactus League in Arizona and Grapefruit League in Florida. Baseball fans are more apt to attend a spring training game than a WBC contest if their favorite players are with their teams rather than playing for their countries.

When the rosters were announced today the Arizona Diamondbacks still saw several of their players chosen to be among the world’s best players. Eight Diamondbacks will be participating in the upcoming Classic representing 6 different countries. It is interesting to note that none of the six countries include the United States. All of the Diamondbacks players chosen will play for other countries. The list of Arizona players includes Tony Pena who will play for the Dominican Republic, Travis Blackley and Trent Oeltjen who will both play for Australia, Luke Carlin playing for Canada, Augie Ojeda and Agustin Murillo playing for Mexico, Felipe Lopez who will play for Puerto Rico, and Gerardo Parra playing for his native Venezuela.

Each of these players enthusiastically accepted the challenge and will be leaving the Diamondbacks Spring Training facility next week to begin their quest to become the world champion of baseball. The remaining Diamondbacks will continue working out in Tucson and the Valley of the Sun preparing for the season opener on April 6 against the Colorado Rockies. We wish the WBC Diamondbacks players the best of luck and hope that this year will not see any adverse effects from these additional games.

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