There are a few people who are under the impression that nobody cares about the World Baseball Classic. As I write this, I'm behind a phalanx of Japanese reporters watching Team Japan take batting practice before an exhibition game. They're treating it like Kate Middleton is literally giving birth to a baby panda at the Oscars.
So somebody cares.
MLB: One-third of all TVs in Japan were turned to WBC for three first-round games, topping 2012 Summer Olympics.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) March 8, 2013
Somebody cares a lot. It's amazing to see. The WBC is a huge, huge deal in Japan, and the players take it quite seriously. It was a massive event in Venezuela, too, and you know that Cuba was interested up until the death-by-honkballing.
When it comes to the Dominican and U.S. teams, though, there's a perception that the bigger stars are treating this like all like a series of exhibition games. Here's Robinson Cano on a slide from Nick Punto:
"I was upset because it was the third time in a game," Cano said. "I don’t care if you slide in a double play, but when it’s a forceout at second base, the last thing you want is to get hurt like that. They’re passing the base. If I’m in the middle, I don’t care.
"He (Punto) says, like, ‘You know, I don’t want to hurt you.’ But that’s the third time. I don’t want anybody to get me hurt or anything like that because they just want to slide hard... I was mad."
Here is the slide in question:
I'd probably be more perturbed by the indelicate ass slap, but I'm not a baseball player. That was a third-out force, not a double-play takeout slide, so I kind of get Cano's point. But is there any chance of this being a kerfuffle in the World Series? On a scale of "running into right field, head tucked into arms, trying to avoid the throw to first" to "Matt Holliday staining his pants with Marco Scutaro's spleen," it's much closer to the former. At least part of Cano's irritation was that the slide came in a March game.
And if you're looking for evidence that the U.S. might have a lack of interest, who can forget Mike Trout's now-famous quote?
But I have two quick, apathy-related thoughts before the game between the Dominican Republic and the United States on Thursday.
1. If there is a little bit of apathy on the Dominican and American teams -- something I sincerely doubt -- you won't see it Thursday night. There will be fist pumps, and umpires will get yelled at. Players will run around like they're on fire, and bats will be thrown. The further the teams advance, the less it's going to feel like a game in March. If you want anecdotes about how seriously the American team is taking this, Ken Rosenthal has a good batch of notes for you.
2. All the WBC needs is history. Do you think the interest would be the same in Japan if they were bounced in the first rounds of 2006 and 2009? What do you think the next Canada/Mexico game will feel like? How many Dutch kids will be inspired to pick up a mitt if there is maximum honkbal in the finals? And no matter who wins the game on Thursday, it will add a layer to the next Dominican/U.S. game. A lopsided head-to-head history would make a difference in how these games feel. An even back-and-forth would make a difference.
I was a WBC skeptic before this year, and I can't get into it so much that I'm willing to chide the players who didn't choose to participate -- one tournament is a game, and the other, months-long tournament is a game that can earn hundreds of millions of dollars in future salary for the participants. There will always be a sense that the regular season is more important. But the gap has already closed a little since the start of the WBC. It'll close a little more next time, and more the time after that, and so on.
All it needs is time, and some good baseball.