Sunday March 22nd, 2009

LOS ANGELES -- 1. We can officially put an end to all the homemade ideas out there to play the World Baseball Classic in July, October, November or any other time of year except March. Commissioner Bud Selig said Saturday that while he is open to ideas to "tweak" the format of the tournament, he officially ruled out playing the tournament any other time but March.

"No," he said. "I don't see how that's possible."

Asked specifically about somehow hooking the WBC to the All-Star Game, Selig said, "July dates are the best dates for the [major league] clubs. The clubs are not going to give up extra dates [in July] and they shouldn't. There is no [other] viable time and it's too good of an opportunity internationally."

Hopefully Selig's statement puts a merciful end to any talk of turning Major League baseball stadiums dark when kids are out of school. Get used to it folks: there is no perfect time to play a tournament with players from all over the world, but March is the best option. It will be in March in 2013, March in 2017 and on and on.

2. The WBC is one Japan win away from getting a Korea-Japan matchup for the fifth time this year and the eighth time in the two World Baseball Classics. Is it too much of a good thing? Korea Baseball Organization spokesman Lee Jin-hyung told The Korea Times, "We told the WBC before the event that we are tired of meeting the same team several times. However, we are just a participant. It is hard to say that the game format is wrong."

The WBC, of course, loves Korea and Japan. They are the Yankees and Red Sox of international baseball. Both clubs generate huge international broadcast fees and ticket sales. Korea, in fact, is a bigger draw at Dodger Stadium than the United States. Korea's game Saturday night against Venezuela drew 43,378 fans -- more than is expected Sunday for the United States-Japan game. Asked to name the dream finals matchup for Monday, one baseball official said, "For revenues? Japan-Korea -- though it would be good for the U.S. to get there."

3. Did you catch Fidel Castro's blog upon Cuba getting knocked out of the WBC in the second round? He complained that the WBC orchestrated the matchups specifically to handicap the Cubans by placing them in the half of the bracket with Korea and Japan. Wrote Castro, "The organizers of the Classic decided that the three countries in the first three spots of world baseball shall play it out in San Diego, including Cuba arbitrarily in the Asian group despite the fact that we are definitely in the Caribbean . . . What was important for the organizers was to eliminate Cuba, a revolutionary country that has heroically resisted and has not been able to be defeated in the battle of ideas."

Well, no. WBC sources said there was no way Cuba could have been placed in the other bracket -- not with the second round held in Miami. The event risked massive protests and turning a baseball goodwill event into a political inferno by having Cuba play in Miami.

And there was this ominous bit of second-guessing from Castro; "I should point out that the leadership of the team in San Diego was very poor." Not a good time to be Higinio Velez, the Cuban manager.

4. First baseman Shuichi Murata of the Yokohama BayStars tore his hamstring in a meaningless seeding game Thursday against Korea. Can you imagine if Kevin Youkilis, the USA first baseman, returned to the Red Sox with such a severe injury rather than his chronic ankle issue? But don't expect an outcry from the BayStars about how the WBC is an exhibition that puts its professional players at unnecessary risk. One of the biggest elements holding back the growth of the WBC is the resistance -- if not outright objections -- from Major League owners and general managers.

"I need to work on some of them," Selig admitted. "There is a time in life to put the bests interests of the game ahead of your provincial, self-interests."

5. The Koreans bring batting armor gear to a whole new level, decked out in huge arm guards and leg guards. Why not just go up there with a suit of armor? Every time the Koreans reach base they drop parts like a 1972 Pinto. ...Venezuela looked downright nervous with its awful defensive play against Korea, beginning with a first-inning drop of a routine flyball by Bobby Abreu, who now is free to return to a treadmill as soon as possible in the Angels' spring camp. The United States, meanwhile, will put a very interesting defensive team on the field Sunday against Japan: Adam Dunn in right field, Mark DeRosa at first base and Derek Jeter at shortstop (while Jimmy Rollins, the superior defender at short, is assigned to DH duty). ...You have to admire USA third baseman David Wright, who made sure Sgt. Felix Perez, the wounded Iraq War veteran from Miami, traveled here to watch the USA play. Wright himself paid all expenses for the trip, then humbly declined a request to provide any public information about his gesture. His enthusiasm for the WBC and his class and professionalism have been highlights for Team USA. It is easy to imagine that for the 2013 WBC, Wright can fill the role of Jeter as the foremost major league ambassador for the tournament.

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