In each Classic to date, the level of the competition has improved and the excitement surrounding the games has become more intense. This is great for the spread of the sport around the globe. This year, The Kingdom of the Netherlands advanced to the semifinals.
Seeing the excitement for their national teams from the small Caribbean countries is wonderful. The national pride from these countries where baseball is a large part of their lifestyle reminds the world that sports can be patriotic. Unification of the countries that play baseball has ignited the interest for the upcoming Major League season.
The failure of the American team to reach the semifinals is disturbing. Managed by future Hall of Famer Joe Torre, Team USA had all Major Leaguers, many of whom have played in several All-Star Games. Before the tournament began, the media, at least in the U.S., thought the Americans wouldn't have trouble scoring. They were wrong. Unless Wright or Joe Mauer drove in runs, the Americans probably didn't score. They couldn't get on base. When they did, they lacked the necessary aggressiveness to make things happen and didn't link hits together, so they wasted countless scoring opportunities.
Overall, the Americans received great pitching, which kept them in the tournament through the second round. Despite a rough outing by Craig Kimbrel against the Dominican Republic on Thursday, the bullpen performed well. It was arguably the best bullpen in the tournament. Before the tournament started, Torre gave Greg Maddux, an inexperienced pitching coach, total control of the pitching staff. His respect for Maddux and his decisions were rewarded.
By far, the U.S. played the best defense of any team in the tournament. Several times, its superior defense kept it in the game, allowing its anemic offense to score enough to win. In the first game, Wright made a backhanded play that prevented a run-scoring double. Although this spectacular play injured his back and ultimately took him out of the tournament, at the time, it gave the U.S. an emotional lift.
Torre chose mostly Gold Glovers for his roster because he knew the importance of defense in a short tournament. If a team doesn't beat itself, it has a terrific chance of winning the championship. Team USA didn't beat itself. Both Brandon Phillips and Giancarlo Stanton made exceptional catches that preserved victories.
Unlike other teams in the tournament, especially ones from the Caribbean, the U.S. didn't exude enthusiasm. Whereas other teams in the tournament played for national pride, the players from the Americans mostly were worried about getting ready for the upcoming Major League season instead of doing well in the tournament. Oh, yes, during media interviews they said the correct things, but most of their actions on the field spoke about caution against injury.
This view has been stressed to the players by their Major League teams. Some organizations discourage their players from participating in the Classic because they might get injured and not be able to play on Opening Day. During the two-week tournament, everything is done to protect the health of the players. The teams are in constant communication with the Major League organizations. If there is any doubt about the health of a certain player, he doesn't play until his club clears him. During the tournament, the teams can't overuse a pitcher because the tournament has pitch counts in effect.
Still, when a professional player who chooses to represent his country has an injury occur in the Classic, the particular Major League club and its fans are in an uproar. Wright was the American player who appeared to care the most about the Classic, and when he had an unfortunate injury that might cause him to miss Opening Day, the Mets and their fans were outraged that he participated. They lost the fact that the same injury could have occurred while he was playing for the Mets in Spring Training.
Until the attitude toward the World Baseball Classic changes from the Major League organizations, Team USA probably will continue to disappoint. Despite having no team from the country where baseball originated, the semifinals and final will have much excitement and national pride on display.