FOR THE WEEK OF FEB. 27, 2006
The first World Baseball Classic opens this week
The World Baseball Classic is a fresh example of newspaper athletic coverage that spills over into social, economic and political issues. Challenge students to find other sports-related news that isn't just about who wins.
International baseball games during March will test the ability of U.S.-based sports reporters, wire services and newspapers to take an even-handed approach to contests pitting American stars against foreign players. Invite class members to discuss whether the recent Olympics or other world events seem to be reported largely or entirely from a U.S. perspective. Should newspapers "root, root, root for the home team" or home country?
As with other sporting contests, from high school games to pro leagues, newspaper coverage of the World Baseball Classic can’t duplicate the immediacy and excitement of watching in person or on TV. Yet avid fans and casual spectators alike rely on print journalism as an important supplement for live action. Ask pupils to reflect on how the daily paper enhances understanding and appreciation of sports.
The Olympic flame went out Sunday in Torino, Italy, but fans of a warmer weather sport soon can catch another international competition. The first World Baseball Classic gets under way Friday at the Tokyo Dome in Japan’s capital. Sixteen nations are participating in the 17-day round-robin tournament to be televised by ESPN.
After Japan's first-round games, the event moves to San Juan, Puerto Rico; Orlando, Fla..; Phoenix, Ariz.; and Anaheim, Calif. before a one-game championship March 20 in San Diego, Calif. The idea is to reflect the sport’s international scope, showcasing top players from Italy, China, the Netherlands, Australia and elsewhere. The misnamed World Series each fall has only American teams and two from Canada, though nearly one-third of all Major League Baseball players now come from outside the United States. With a baseball boom in Latin America, the Caribbean and parts of Asia, American supremacy is under challenge.
Inevitably, a political flap is part of the upcoming global competition. The Bush administration in December said Cuba's team couldn’t play here. Puerto Rico then threatened to withdraw as a host site and the International Baseball Federation made noise about canceling the whole event. Washington finally relented after Cuba promised to donate any profits its team earns to Hurricane Katrina victims.
Organizers say: This is a way to spread baseball to more countries. "We have not made significant inroads [in Europe] and we hope that it will be our next frontier," explains Robert DuPuy, president of Major League Baseball. Its web site says: "The tournament's primary objectives are to increase global interest and introduce new fans and players to the game."
Skeptics say: This artificial stunt risks injuries to U.S. players before opening day. New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner is miffed that Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon and Alex Rodriguez will leave spring training for up to three weeks to participate. "If a player gets hurt, he's risking a lot," Steinbrenner said. Sports columnist Mike Downey of The Chicago Tribune wrote last week: "Of all the misbegotten, low-interest, no-need, who-cares athletic events ever dreamed up, the World Baseball Classic has to be high on the charts."
What’s ahead? Backers plan to repeat the event in 2009 and 2013, with the intent of holding it every four years like soccer’s World Cup and the Olympics. Indeed, the Classic is seen as filling the void that will be left when baseball is dropped from the Olympics after the 2008 summer games. But since World Series winners customarily are called the world champs, it's unclear how this event's top team will be identified to distinguish it.
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