WBC Fever

World Baseball Classic logo

My dad remarked that my latest batch of Facebook and Twitter postings were incomprehensible without context, and I expect that's so. The context? The World Baseball Classic.

The WBC has only been around since 2006. It's an international tournament kind of like the World Cup, except soccer nerds have had the World Cup a lot longer than us baseball nerds have had the WBC, so it's a way bigger deal—also, the rest of the world loves their soccer, but most countries don't know much about baseball. The idea behind the WBC is to change all that and grow interest in baseball gobally.

And it's working. Slowly, of course, but getting there. Baseball has been huge in some places forever, of course; Japan, Latin America, the Caribbean, Taiwan to a lesser extent. But now there are respectable leagues popping up elsewhere too. The Korean Baseball Organization doesn't have the history, of course, but is now at about the level of quality that the Japanese pro leagues were at 20 or 30 years ago. The Australian league is fledgling, but has produced a Major Leaguer here and there. And the Netherlands are now an international power; great players have come from Aruba and Curacau for a while, but now they're coming out of Amsterdam too.

I, of course, am a Japanophile, and the primary reason I love the WBC is that it's really my only chance to see players from the NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) leagues do their thing.

I've paid some attention to NPB for a long time, but it's hard to follow from afar. When I went to Japan in 2003(? or was it '02?), one of my first stops was the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum at the Tokyo Dome. It's a lot less impressive than the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, of course, but it's still pretty keen and I got to learn more of the history of the NPB  leagues and players. I chose a team to adopt as My Team in Japan (I went with the Hanshin Tigers for several reasons) and went to a preseason game in Osaka. From then on I've tried to follow the leagues on the Internet, but it takes a lot of effort; my command of Japanese is rudimentary at best, and even less useful when trying to read it. I can decipher a box score well enough ("Timely Hit!") and identify most of the player names with the help of a Kanji dictionary, but I can't read a game story or the Nikkan Sports page except on the abbreviated English language site. And forget watching televised games, at least so far. Internet feeds of NPB action exist here and there, but are inaccessible overseas (e.g. here). Highlights make it to YouTube once in a while.

So when the WBC rolls around, I stay up through the night to watch Team Japan. Tokyo always hosts at least one round of the tournament (this year they had two), and Team Japan gets prime time there, so their games are at 2:00am here (3:00am after DST kicks in, as Japan ignores such foolishness). So I've Tweeted reactions to the six games I've watched in the wee hours from the Tokyo Dome the last couple of weeks since nobody was staying up all night with me to watch. :)

This year's team has a lot of new-to-me faces. Some of the old guard have retired or joined the American Major Leagues and opted not to play/were left off the team this year. But that's cool, as I'm getting to know the latest batch of stars. My new favorite NPB player is Hiroshima Carp second baseman Ryosuke Kikuchi. He's made numerous outstanding defensive plays in the tournament and I've looked up some of his Carp highlights. My kind of ballplayer.

 

 

The guy on Team Japan Major League scouts seem to have their eye on is Tetsudo Yamada, who had a huge second round; he's achieved what the Japanese call the Triple-Threes—.300 batting average, 30 home runs, and 30 stolen bases—two years running now. He's also a second baseman, so he's been the DH in the WBC. Yokohama BayStars outfielder Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh is popular over there, and it's easy to see why, but he doesn't fit the mold of the Japanese style that I like so much; he's a bulky, slow-by-Japanese-standards home-run hitter. He's like a more disciplined Greg Luzinski, if you will.

Anyway, the Tokyo rounds are over, and Team Japan is so far undefeated as they prepare for the semifinals in Los Angeles starting Monday. So no more 5am tweets about needing to pull Kazuhisa Makida off the mound because he's doing his best José Mesa impression, or making Phil Collins song puns for Tsu-tsu-Tsutsugoh. I do wish I'd been able to come up with a good joke linking Tokyo Giants catcher Seiji Kobayashi to the no-win scenario, though...

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