Players’ passion on display in World Baseball Classic
If the buzz inside Major League clubhouses is any indication, the fourth edition of the World Baseball Classic will be the biggest and most exciting international tournament the game has ever seen.
“This is a tournament that has grown over time in terms of level of recognition and excitement,” Ian Penny, Major League Baseball Players Association’s senior labor counsel, said Thursday at a press conference at Yankee Stadium. “As each tournament has taken place, the word of mouth in the clubhouse has gotten better and better.
“When you actually get into the game action, when you get into the clubhouse, you see the intensity on the field and you realize that the players take these games very seriously. They’re incredibly proud to put on their country’s jerseys and that’s building with each generation of the World Baseball Classic.”
Former Yankees and Mets pitcher Al Leiter attested to the growth of the World Baseball Classic and shed additional light on how the players view the tournament.
“I can tell you, as someone who was on team USA in 2006 when the WBC started … I know talking to a lot of the players, there’s a level of excitement,” Leiter said. “There’s no question that this is our marquee world event. I think the enthusiasm is certainly ebb and flow based on the success (of Team USA). Talking to a lot of players, they want it to grow.”
The first round of the 16-country tournament begins Monday in Seoul, South Korea (Chinese Taipei, Israel, Korea and the Netherlands) and Tuesday in Tokyo (Australia, China, Cuba and Japan). On Thursday, play begins in Miami (Canada, Colombia, Dominican Republic and the USA) and in Jalisco, Mexico (Italy, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela)
Leiter noted the last WBC final when the Dominican Republic defeated Puerto Rico and brought a new level of excitement to the tournament that could help spark the growth of baseball around the world. The former star left-hander believes a strong showing by Team USA could bring yet more excitement for the event.
“Watching the last WBC, and watching the Dominican baseball team truly look like they were having the time of their life and acting like 12-year-old little leaguers was infectious as a viewer and I enjoyed watching it,” Leiter said. “To me, the last WBC final showed a lot as a US born player. I thought it showed a look to how players in different countries play and how they show their enthusiasm.”
Penny and Leiter said players are the industry’s greatest ambassadors and want to share their passion for the game, whether it’s through their participation in the tournament or smaller events in countries where the sport is beginning to catch on.
“Players clearly get that local growth is important to the health of the game and to continuing to grow the game and make it healthy for the next generation of players,” Penny said. “What you’ll see is lots of outreach efforts where players are getting on planes to communities all across the globe, holding clinics and getting out there to get in touch with as many kids as possible.
“You find a lot of buy in from the major league players on the idea of spreading the game globally and getting into those communities that aren’t traditional baseball communities.”
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