The Hot Column

Wayland Radin

The World Baseball Classic is just around the corner – it starts March 2 – and yet there has been little hype surrounding it. In fact, pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training is apparently a more newsworthy topic than an international tournament that has a legitimate chance of seeing the United States fall to another country, despite the fact that they are engaged in “America’s favorite pastime.”
If the United States isn’t careful, or doesn’t take this tournament seriously – as they apparently aren’t – then there is a very real chance we will not win. It seems that baseball did not learn from USA Basketball’s mistakes and mediocre performances in international competition over the past half decade.
Even this year’s Winter Olympics, particularly the embarrassing hockey game that ended in a tie with Latvia, should have shown the American sports community that the world has reached a point in most major sports that the United States can no longer just show up and be dominant.
Instead, as other countries do, the teams the United States fields must learn to play together. USA Basketball has finally taken this message to heart and will announce their roster for the 2007 World Championships and 2008 Olympics later this week. The team will practice and play together in Las Vegas this summer, and participate in global invitational tournaments and exhibition games to get used to international competition.
American baseball has not yet had to learn this lesson: Teamwork beats talent, at least in international competition where there is no question of how hard a team is trying.
But it is implicit in the competitive nature of the international athletes that they are all giving it their best all the time. There is no T.O. or Randy Moss on a successful international team. I’m afraid that baseball may have to learn this lesson about true teamwork the hard way.
Fortunately, there is really only one team this year that poses a serious threat to the United States in the World Baseball Classic. The Dominican Republic’s team will be focused on offense as they lack any big-name pitchers. However, with David Ortiz and Albert Pujols – arguably the two best power hitters in Major League Baseball – in the heart of the order, any team should be cautious, and any opposing pitcher might want to call in sick.