Saturday, March 07, 2009

Out to Conquer the World

Today in Toronto, the United States begins its quest to capture the second World Baseball Classic, as they take on Toronto at the SkyDome (Rogers Centre) at 2 PM. (I refuse to call them "Team USA." I've always found having to put the word "team" in front of USA makes them seem like they are a bunch of ten-year olds, like they have to reminded they are a "team." Yikes. "U.S." "United States" or "USA" is good enough.)

I have long been a fan of a real baseball world championship, something similar to soccer's World Cup. (We all know referring to the World Series champions as "world champions" is a misnomer.) 16 teams are vying for the title, with Japan as the defending champions from the inaugural tournament held in 2006. (The next one will be held in 2013, and every four years afterwards.)

There have been problems with the WBC, as it is held during spring training. Other times of the year have been shot down, like at the All-Star break and after the World Series. It just isn't feasible to have the WBC during baseball's regular season, unless the number of games in the season is cut back (and that will NEVER happen). And in November, it's in the middle of the NFL season, so it might become almost an afterthought. So March seems to be the best alternative. Many players and teams are very leery of the WBC, as some fear injury to players who haven't been in training for a while yet in 2009. So many of the best players have passed on it.

The fan reaction in this country has been mixed to the WBC, as many see it as just a marketing attempt by MLB to further the game around the world, so for many fans it's just a pre-season tournament, and the real championship is still the World Series.

There are also some specific rules for the WBC, especially ones to protect pitchers, who are in the middle of spring training. Here are some of them:

A pitcher cannot pitch until
  1. a minimum of three days have passed since he last pitched, if he threw 50 or more pitches when he last pitched.
  2. a minimum of one day has passed since he last pitched, if he threw 30 or more pitches when he last pitched.
  3. a minimum of one day has passed since any second consecutive day on which the pitcher pitched.

A pitcher cannot pitch more than

  1. 70 pitches per game in Round One of the tournament.
  2. 85 pitches per game in Round Two of the tournament.
  3. 100 pitches per game in the Semifinals and Final of the tournament.
  • A pitcher can still finish a batter's plate appearance even if the limit is reached, but must come out after completing the plate appearance.

A game will be a called game if the leading team is ahead by

  1. 10 or more runs when the opposing team has batted in at least seven innings.
  2. 15 or more runs when the opposing team has batted in at least five innings.

The Designated Hitter rule applies for all the games.

I agree with all those rules. But there is one that is just asinine, in my opinion. An artificial one: if a game goes to the 13th inning, both teams will start that inning with runners on first and second automatically. That stupid rule comes from the Olympics, in a way to try to get runs in so the game won't go any longer. It reminds me too much of the shootout in hockey, or the OT rule in college football. It's trying to completely change the way a game is completed, and I hope no game reaches a 13th inning (but you know one will).

There are four rounds to the WBC, and the first round is double-elimination instead of round-robin. After the first games, the winners meet in Game 2, and the winner of that game goes to Round 2. The two losing teams from Game 1 meet, and the loser of that game is eliminated. Then the the two 1-1 teams play and the winner of that game goes to round 2, and the loser of that game is eliminated.

The US is in the same pool as Italy and Venezuela. All those games will be in Toronto. The Round 2 games will be in San Diego and Miami, and the semifinals and final will be in Los Angeles, at Dodger Stadium. Japan already has qualified for Round 2, winning their first two games. (China and South Korea will meet tomorrow to determine who will also go to Round 2 from Asia.)

The other groups are Pool B: Australia, Cuba, Mexico, South Africa; Pool D: Dominican Republic, Netherlands, Panama and Puerto Rico. The Red Sox have a number of players in the WBC, including Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis for the USA, Daisuke Matsuzaka for Japan, and David Ortiz for the Dominican. Check out the WBC web site for more info on the tourney, which will conclude with the final on March 23.

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