The games today went according to form. While solid fundamentally due to the coaching skills of Jim Lefebvre and Bruce Hurst, the Chinese team was thoroughly outmatched by Korea. China had only one hit for the first seven innings before a solo home run in the eighth got China its only run. In the game tonight — before by far the largest crowd so far of the week — Taipei did not have the pitching to match its Game 1 performance against Korea, and as a result were thoroughly trounced by Japan. So, as expected, Korea and Japan will take 2-0 records into their showdown tomorrow night, although both will be on their way to Anaheim for Round 2.
While tomorrow night’s game does not really matter overall, my expectation is that both teams will play to win the pool and beat their rival In the first round-robin of the first Classic, form prevailed. In the category of every time you go to a game you see something new, the catchers for both Korea and Taipei had their own resin bags sitting on the ground next to them, making a matched pair with their pitchers.
A real highlight of the trip was breakfast today at the United States Embasssy, hosted by Ambassador J. Thomas Schieffer and Mrs. Susanne Schieffer (pictured at right). Ambassador Schieffer, of course, was formerly involved as a principal of the Texas Rangers at the same time as President Bush and has previously served as the Ambassador to Australia. It is impossible to visit the magnificent and historic building, now almost 80 years old, and not think of General Douglas MacArthur walking up the driveway in September, 1945 for his meeting with the Emperor. The tournament also gives you a chance to reflect on how far we have come and how athletic competition can unite countries. Now teams from China, Taipei, Japan and Korea are competing for a chance to come to the United States and compete against other former — and in some cases current — political rivals. Having Ambassador Schieffer now ensconced in the embassy in Japan with his baseball background, love of the game, and memorabilia collection that is prominently displayed (including a glove Lou Gehrig used in a tour of Japan) made the event that much more special. Baseball is clearly spoken here — not just at the Tokyo Dome — but at the United States embassy as well. Gene Orza of the Players Association and I presented the Ambassador with a bat commemorating this first World Baseball Classic that we hope years from now will also be memorable.
The Tokyo Dome is an interesting place to watch a game. It is a lot like the Metrodome in Minneapolis, with the roof held up by an airlock so the entrance doors are all revolving doors or have two part entrances so the air can keep the roof up. It holds about 50,000. One feature of all the stadiums in Japan is that the screen that we have behind the plate in stadiums in the Major Leagues extends all the way down the foul lines for the protection of the fans. Even with that, every time a foul ball is hit into the stands, an usher in the section of the approaching ball blows a whistle and after the ball hits, the public address announcer admonishes fans in both Japanese and English to "Watch out for foul balls" and a similar message appears on the scoreboard in both languages. While the timing of the announcement may be odd, the warning is certainly clear. There are two exposed auxiliary sections down the line in front of the screens and each seat in those sections comes with a hard hat that patrons are expected to wear. The food vendors, all women, come to the bottom of each aisle, bow politely, display their wares and then start up the aisle. Beer is vended from coolers located on the vendors’ backs, and the assortment of food is quite wide — from bratwurst to sushi, and from dried seaweed to ice cream.
Interest in the event seems to be growing back in the States from what I see online, spurred by the assembly of the United States team. I saw two very positive articles on ESPN.com on the spirit of the event, one by Jayson Stark on how much this event means to the Latin players and countries and one by Jerry Crasnick talking about the U.S. team. As the rounds get under way in Orlando, Phoenix, and San Juan, that enthusiasm is bound to grow.
When we first starting talking about this event, the first thought was why not have it after the season is over in November. But as the event unfolded and more thought was given, November does not work for a lot of reasons. Our goal was to get as many of the best players in the world as possible, and everyone involved believed that March provided a much better chance of doing that than November. As Al Leiter said yesterday, not every great player has chosen to play, but there is assembled in the event the greatest collection of players ever for a single tournament or game. By November, the players would have gone through an entire Spring Training and played an entire 162-game season. Eighty percent of the players would have been off for an entire month, after the grind of the entire season. Those who had been through the playoffs and World Series would have played up to another 19 games and been asked to play after the emotional roller coaster of the postseason. Japanese and Korean players would have had a similar experience. Not a single one of the 16 baseball federations involved expressed the view that November was a better time. Our broadcast partners have a much tougher schedule in the fall with college and professional football filling up airtime and the start of the new fall season, so showing all the games would not have been likely. In addition, the cost of insurance for the players was much higher, since the risk of injury after a full season was greater than playing in the spring. On balance, very little commended November for the event.
I also respectfully disagree with those who say that the tournament severely disrupts Spring Training and consists of out-of-shape players. Certainly the four teams playing here in Japan are in great shape. Maybe 30 years ago, players came to camp in bad shape, mostly because they worked during the offseason at other jobs, but today, the overwhelming majority of the players come to Spring Training ready to play physically and use Spring Training to hone their skills. Most of the players participating in the tournament are veterans who would only play a few innings of each Spring Training game, and of course, half of the teams will go home after one round, and all but four will be done by the second week, so the number of players actually out for a protracted period of time compared to the number of players in all Major League camps is quite small. This modest disruption once every four years does not seem so bad in comparison to what we hope will be the overall impact of the event.