I’ve taken many jabs at the WBC lately. Well, maybe not jabs, because I don’t actually hate it or anything. But I certainly have made a point of saying how little I care about it. A reader asked me what gives in the comments to the People in My Neighborhood post this afternoon:
Craig, I know you’ve talked about this somewhat before, but please enlighten me as to just why you’re so vehemently unconcerned about the WBC. I mean, I’m not going to follow every pitch or buy myself a South Africa jersey, but more baseball is a good thing, right? The chance to see players from other countries (Japan and Cuba, especially) is pretty cool. When else will you get to see Yu Darvish pitch?
Yeah, it’s a little contrived and it probably won’t be the best baseball ever played, but it should still be fairly high quality. So what gives?
Fair question. The answer is that I don’t have an acceptable answer. Or at least, I don’t have a rational, evidence-based answer. Rather, my apathy towards the WBC is merely a function of many of my long-held prejudices and predispositions forming a perfect storm of “meh.”
For starters, for as much as I love, love, love baseball, I have long been incapable of caring about spring training games. The news from camp, yes, but actually sitting and watching a game is just nothing I have ever taken a shine to. Maybe that would be different if someone invited me out to Arizona or something, but that doesn’t happen in my universe. I’ve thought hard about why I don’t care for spring training games, and I’ve decided that it’s simply an internal calendar thing. April is when baseball starts in my mind, and there’s not a lot I can do about it. These last few years with March opening days have truly put that predisposition to the test, and I’m not ashamed to admit that even though the games counted, it didn’t really feel like baseball season before April rolled around.
So the timing of it all is one thing. Another thing is far more fogeyish on my part, and it’s that the look, feel and sound of baseball games really matter to me. Baseball is comfort food for me, and for as embarrassing as it is to admit, I don’t take to it as well when I have to adjust to different uniforms, different levels and qualities of crowd noise, and all of that stuff. There are organized cheers in these things, and they jar me out of my baseball happy place for some reason. This is not insurmountable, obviously. The aesthetics of Major League Baseball are far different today than they were when I started watching in the 70s and 80s, and that hasn’t prevented me from adjusting. It’s just that, in connection with the previous item, it’s hard for me to want to adjust at this time of year for this type of ephemeral competition.
The final reason — and this one I’m somewhat less ashamed of, though I’m not sure if I should be — is that I find that pitting nation-state against nation-state in any competition is a passe exercise. I’m not in favor of one world government or anything, but I do have a mild Utopian streak in me, and I thus find the competition of countries to be a rather quaint and ultimately meaningless construct that I hope is one day supplanted by a little more oneness, ya know? Oh, I’ll grant the World Cup and the modern Olympics their current constructs because nations were more important when they started and I’ll grant them their setup for the sake of history, but we really aren’t in that world anymore. Or at least we should strive not to be. All of us have more things in common with some people in other countries than we do with some people in our own. With specific reference to sports, we all know that no country has a monopoly on top talent. Why then pit countries against one another? What, exactly, does it prove? The height of internationalism, in my mind at least, is when people from all over the world play together rather than divide up into categories determined by accident of birth. For the time being, that means all of the best baseball players playing in the Major Leagues. Or all of the best soccer players playing in the EPL or in Germany or Italy or whatever league is supposed to the best. At some point—like, when we master teleportation — I’ll want to see truly global leagues.
Take all of those things together, and I am simply left without an emotional toehold in the World Baseball Classic. The competition will be better in April, as will the aesthetics and the weather. Any young talent who reveals himself in the WBC will eventually find his way into the majors eventually, and I’ll see him (and his WBC video) then. The stakes seem phony to me. The payoff — real baseball — relatively minor in light of the approaching season.
I don’t suppose any of those things gives me license not to care, but they are the reason I don’t. Feel free to tell me why I’m wrong in the comments below.