The World Baseball Classic a Global Salute to the Sport

By Michael Bandler
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - It begins with two kids, three kids, a group of kids - and a ball.  Add a stick - call it a bat - and you have baseball.

It is, by most measurements, an American game - invented in the United States sometime in the mid-19th century (the date is in dispute among groups of purists). 

Yet over the course of the 20th century, baseball has become a world sport.

Now, in recognition of the explosion of interest in the sport around the globe, the first annual World Baseball Classic will take place March 3-20 in venues in the United States, Japan and Puerto Rico.

When Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria was growing up, he says, he never thought of the game as American:  "It was just something we played."

Today this chairman of the Hispanic Language and Literature Department at Yale University, arguably the premier expert on the subject of Latinos in baseball, makes distinctions between baseball as an American sport and as a world game.

"In a sense, what is baseball but that primordial trip out, into the unknown, followed by the return home.  I compare it to the Homeric myth.  That's universal," he said in a February 17 interview with the Washington File.

"On the other hand, there are elements of Americanism within it.  First, there's individualism - represented by the pitcher, standing in the middle of the diamond and responsible for his own fate.  Then there are the fielders, who, when they make errors, must atone for them by doing better the next time.  And then there is the notion of team spirit, which exists in other sports but has a particular flavor in baseball.  At the end of the inning, you all come back to the dugout to exchange thoughts and perspectives on the game.  There's a special atmosphere of camaraderie, of family, of bonding."


The 20th century witnessed the growth of the game from a schoolyard pastime to a construct of professional leagues.  A white man's game, from the outset, it sparked, as a response, the rise of a different league for African Americans, paralleling the "majors."  This collection of teams, known as the Negro League, had its own heroes and its own hubs.  Increasingly over the decades, and rising to a crescendo after World War II, came a clamoring by black ballplayers for inclusion in the more heralded "majors."

In the second half of the 20th century, the game spread gradually to several continents.  In part, this resulted from the presence of American soldiers at U.S. bases overseas.  With the troops and their professional responsibilities came their leisure activities - principal among which was baseball.  As they played, formally and informally, citizens of other countries watched, learned and began to play.  In addition, traveling teams of major league players played exhibitions abroad.

Over the past few decades, with the expansion of the sport into leagues in countries such as Japan, the players there became more proficient, more talented and more versatile.  Gradually, American scouts took notice, and the bidding for players assumed a global dimension.

Fans took note as well, and learned something about the world around them - helped by their fascination with major league players like Roberto Clemente, and later with Ichiro Suzuki, Albert Pujols, Andruw Jones and Hee-Seop Choi. Following these players' exploits, kids across the United States who read players' biographies, trade baseball cards and listen to sportscasters cannot help but absorb some data about Japan, the Dominican Republic, the Netherlands Antilles and Korea.


The global popularity of the sport and the involvement of so many players from so many different countries and continents brought the concept of a world tournament to the minds of some of the sport’s most influential supporters.

With baseball stars from the Netherlands, Australia, Japan and Korea familiar faces to fans of U.S. major league baseball, creation of a world tournament was a natural progression.

The purpose of the four-round tournament, which features 15 teams from overseas plus a United States squad, is twofold - first, to build worldwide exposure for the game, and second, to encourage grassroots development of the sport and athletes in both traditional and nontraditional baseball nations.

The first round of play is taking place in five locales - Tokyo; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Orlando, Florida; and Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona.  The second round, featuring the winning teams of the first set, will unfold in San Juan and in Anaheim, California.  The semifinals and finals will take place in San Diego.

The World Baseball Classic is here, and if fans wonder what American-born Mike Piazza and David Dellucci are doing on the Italian team, and why Georgia-born Moises Alou is playing for the Dominican Republic, well, the individual choices have held sway. A player’s country eligibility was based on factors such as country of birth (or the country of birth of at least one parent) or country of current citizenship. Players who qualified for more than one nation’s team were allowed to choose which team they would join.

More information on the tournament is available on the World Baseball Classic Web site. For additional information, see Sports.