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MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Selig pleased with Classic's impact beyond U.S.

MLB Commissioner: 'We are trying to internationalize the sport'

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MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

PHOENIX -- Commissioner Bud Selig said on Friday night the primary purpose of the World Baseball Classic is the internationalization of the sport. Thus, Selig indicated, the focus, even in America, should be on the overall success of the event, not just the performance of Team USA.

Selig spoke to a group of reporters at Chase Field during the USA-Mexico first-round Classic game. Team Mexico had been beaten by Italy on Thursday night, but it bounced back with a convincing 5-2 victory over the Americans.

Starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo was tough for Team Mexico. Starting pitcher R.A. Dickey was extremely hittable for Team USA. Mexico had a four-run lead after two innings. The game never budged significantly from that situation. There was a lot of time to digest the notion that Team USA was starting its portion of the tournament with a loss against a team it was favored to defeat.

In the previous two Classics, Team USA never finished higher than fourth place. This one loss hardly dooms the 2013 American team, but it doesn't lend a lot of optimism to the cause, either.

On the plus side, there was an extremely enthusiastic crowd of 44,256 at Chase Field on Friday night. The majority of the throng was clearly supporting Team Mexico, making the internationalization argument more compelling. When the final American out was recorded, a truly impressive decibel level was achieved by the followers of Team Mexico.

"This is our great vehicle to internationalize the sport," the Commissioner said of the Classic. "And while nothing in life is perfect -- I know there have been some questions about timing, and so on and so forth -- I think everybody has come to the conclusion that this is as good a time as any.

"I've been watching the games in Japan and elsewhere, and this is what we're trying to do. Internationalization of the sport is really the goal. And in my judgment, if we do it right, you won't recognize this sport in a decade.

"I'll be long gone -- and maybe some of you will be long gone, now that I think about it," Selig told his media audience with a smile. "But this has been great. There is a great atmosphere here, and I really feel good about it.

"This serves as a vehicle to lift our sport. Every player that you talk to loves it. Overall, you'll look back on this in retrospect someday and realize that you're watching a sport that is going to be legitimately worldwide."

Selig was asked about some prominent American players choosing not to participate in the Classic.

"I think the American team is pretty good," Selig replied. "You look around and you see [Ryan] Braun and [Joe] Mauer and [David] Wright and [Jimmy] Rollins -- that's pretty good.

"But look, the goal here is to internationalize the sport -- that's in everyone's best interest. The [MLB] Players Association has been great. Everybody understands the potential. If the USA team does well as time goes on, maybe that will improve. ... Most clubs have been very cooperative.

"But the objective here it to internationalize the sport and use all the mechanisms we can. It's succeeding, and it's succeeding very well."

To a series of questions regarding the American team, the Commissioner continued to stay with this message: "Remember, guys, we are trying to internationalize the sport.

"Television ratings in Japan were at an all-time high. That is big. That is really, really big. So is this doing what we set out to do? You bet it is.

"The more you can globalize a sport, the bigger the sport is, everywhere. I know how important it is to people here on a local basis. Baseball can grow economically and sociologically and be meaningful all over the world. That will make the sport better here and make the sport better in the world. And that is what we're supposed to be doing."

The Commissioner said that his long-term goal for baseball is "a real World Series," between the champions of different countries.

"Someday, you could get United States vs. Japan, just as an example," Selig said. "It's a long way off, but yes, I believe it. As a result, the sport, everywhere, including right here, will be much stronger.

"Internationalization has the potential to take the sport to heights that we can't imagine."

The Commissioner was asked if one of the improvements in this tournament would be a championship by Team USA.

"There are a lot of things that the Commissioner can control," Selig said with a smile, "but you know, there is one of them that I can't."

It is evident that the World Baseball Classic is both a vehicle for baseball's internationalization and an advertisement for the significant progress that has already been made in that direction.

The only problem with this tournament, from a purely American standpoint, has typically been the performance of the home team.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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