WBC, room for improvement…

World Baseball Classic shatters attendance records heading into championship round – IBAF.

So, after attending both Semi-Final games in San Francisco and watching many of the games in held in Japan, Puerto Rico, Arizona and Miami on TV I’ve got some thoughts about the World Baseball Classic.

First, I think it’s a neat tournament.  It’s fun to watch these players compete for national pride against one another in a variety of settings.  I’m all for continuing this once-ever-four-year tradition and letting it grow and evolve.

Second, the US needs to take this tournament seriously.  The play of the US team this year and in the 2009 tournament was feeble.  Without David Wright the US would have been mathematically eliminated after two games.  One player does not a team make.  I suspect that MLB is going to have to exert some pressure on players and agents to get the US native players to take serious interest in participating, not to mention on their professional teams to allow participation.

Third, and this is really important – it’s idiotic to schedule the finals in a stadium where the weather makes attending at best uncomfortable, and at worst a non-starter.  Ryan and I will be there tonight for the final, but with rain in the forecast (and 40 degree temps) I doubt we’ll watch the whole game.  Sunday night’s crowd for the Semi between Japan and Puerto Rico was respectable, but that was obviously driven by the appearance of the Japanese team.  The crowd was full of Japan supporters.  Contrast that with Monday night’s game between the Netherlands and the Dominican Republic where there were far more empty seats than bodies in the stands and it was clear that without a big draw playing the March San Francisco weather was a big deterrent to attendance.

Read the article linked above and it’s clear that games in Miami, Puerto Rico, Arizona and Japan were very well attended.  Like I said, I watched many of the games on TV and only saw one contest in Japan that was poorly attended.  In PR, AZ and MI the stadium was packed.  Why?  Well, in Puerto Rico baseball is a big deal.  Oh yeah, and it’s warm there in March.  In Miami and Arizona the weather is also welcoming for a March baseball fan.  The Japanese games I saw were held in domed stadiums.

I love AT&T Park.  Great place to watch a ball game… in June. In March, not so much.  I stopped going to opening games for my beloved Oakland A’s years ago when MLB started insisting that the A’s open their season at home at night.  The Oakland Coliseum in April is chilly, at best, in April, and it’s typically about 10 degrees warmer in Oakland than it is in SF.  I’ve ranted at length about my objection to MLB games being held so early in spring and late in fall as they have been since the expansion of the season.  So it should surprise no one that I think the best path to success for the WBC games held in the US is to make sure the games are held where watching a 3 to 4 hour game at night is likely to be a pleasant experience.

My preference all along for the WBC would be for it to mirror the set-up of the World Cup – as a month-long break in the regular season, held in July.  Obviously, 30 MLB teams want nothing to do with this from a revenue standpoint, but it really does make the most sense.  Instead of asking players to be ready to play all-out competitive baseball at a point in the year when they’re typically just ramping up to be ready to play, I think the fan experience would be vastly improved by staging the games mid-season simply because the level of play would improve.  I also believe the injuries that players, agents and teams fear would be much less likely for fully geared up players than guys who are really just getting warmed up.

Beyond that, staging the WBC in mid-summer allows scheduling of games pretty much in any stadium in any of the countries competing from the Northern hemisphere.

Regardless, I hope the 2013 WBC is an object lesson to Bud Selig.  It’s got to be embarrassing to see an empty ballpark for the finale of the tournament after the preliminary rounds were so well attended when at least half of the reason for the thin crowd is as simple as typical March weather in San Francisco.

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