Give World Classic a chance: It has a nice Olympic ring to it

March 05, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

A request to the World Baseball Classic's detractors, from George Steinbrenner down to the Camden Yards faithful fretting over the young rotation, and everybody in between:

Stop hatin'.

This is one of the best ideas Bud Selig has ever come up with - which, granted, isn't saying much, but it's still a good one. There is a lot of fine-tuning left to do, mainly about the timing, because the skepticism about holding the event during spring training (or during the Caribbean World Series) is legit.

Still, any attempt at creating the best tournament your sport has ever seen has to be applauded and supported. It shouldn't be shot down as much as it has been. The players overwhelmingly love it. They want it badly, playing for their countries, playing to be called No. 1 on the planet. What more could you ask for?

Here's what's more: that this international competition produces baseball as good as the hockey the past few Winter Olympics have produced.

And that it's as good as the basketball this summer's world championships and, better yet, the 2008 Summer Olympics will produce.

Good for baseball to get in on the globalization bandwagon. This will only make the greatest era in the history of professional sports even better. Golden Age? Yes, these times we're in now, this is the Golden Age. Be nostalgic about the 1920s, with Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey and Red Grange and Official Segregation if you want.

Now that everybody can play, and does play, on the highest levels, these are the best of times if you're a sports fan. You can have the days when doors were closed all over the place. Give me today, when all the doors are wide-open.

All those years the rest of the world laughed at this country's "World Series" - no more laughing. Well, some laughing, if a country besides the United States wins the Classic. But if, say, the Dominican Republic finishes on top, are we in Baltimore going to begrudge Miguel Tejada for having taken down Derek Jeter, A-Rod and Johnny Damon? We welcome them to our teams, so just extend that embrace to this entire tournament.

This all didn't really sink in until, believe it or not, the just-concluded Games in Turin. From beginning to end, that was phenomenal hockey, the quality of which is almost enough to make one a true puckhead, or at least deeply appreciative of how good the game can be when it's played right. They play it right every four years.

Then they come back here and play it wrong. You almost can't get too mad, though, because it only whets the appetite for the next Olympiad, when they leave the thugs and knuckleheads at home (except Canada and the U.S., which brought theirs this year and went home medal-less).

What hockey gave us this winter, basketball will give us in the summer of '08. We would have had it in Athens in '04, but the smack in the mouth the U.S. took was apparently the wakeup call it needed. It is much better for the game when the Americans show up and have their acts together - everybody, by the way, not just the players, who took too much of the blame for that mess.

Now it's been acknowledged that the team, from coach on down, was put together all wrong. That won't happen again. The first draft of players chosen to try out for this summer - the full 30-man tryout roster will be revealed this afternoon - looks and feels infinitely better than the mix-and-match bunch from before. There had better be a good reason why Allen Iverson, who wants to play for the U-S-of-A more than any other player, for the second straight Games, didn't make the cut. But there aren't any other glaring omissions or additions.

If the U.S. sends the best team possible to Beijing, then the real dream seeded by the original Dream Team in 1992 will come to pass. Then, Magic, Michael and Co. were too big for the rest of the world; later, their descendants weren't big enough for it.

Now the world has caught up. The playing field is level. There will be NBA stars all over the rosters of the medal contenders, as well as players raised in an era when the bar was raised, when high standards were set and met.

The game has gone this far: Slovenian players are talking serious trash about the United States. Bostjan Nachbar - 25, fourth year in the NBA, still growing, might develop - told ESPN.com last week, "One thing we can't forget is that they've been beaten - a lot of times." Whoa, Slovenia.

The United States is in trouble no matter who it sends in '08. This time, that's a good thing.

Same for the baseball team, which opens play Tuesday. Win, finish third (like the basketball team in Athens) or eighth (like the hockey team in Turin) - no matter what, it has a chance to be the best baseball you've ever seen.

All things considered, is that worth three weeks of spring training? Sure is. david.steele@hotmail.com

Read David Steele's blog at baltimoresun.com/steeleblog

Points after -- David Steele

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