It’s that time of year where football’s memory has faded (despite the NFL’s best attempts at springtime fan content) and we eagerly anticipate the gates opening to the sights, sounds, and smells of America’s pastime. Oh sure there’s a small basketball tournament getting started, but there is some awesome baseball going on right now!
You might be thinking “oh yeah I suppose Spring Training is underway” and you’d be right. But even Spring Training is a little inside baseball for a less-than-hardcore fan. No, I’m talking about the 2017 World Baseball Classic, the pastime equivalent to the World Cup.
The WBC is a relatively new event, first played in 2005 largely as a result of the Olympics pulling baseball from the summer games, but also because baseball continues to grow in popularity globally. The somewhat expansive eligibility rules mean that you have the best players in MLB spread out among a number of global teams, and combined with some of the homegrown and minor league talent represented, it is truly a competitive event. This isn’t USA Basketball at the Olympics, you’ve got a host of teams that are competitive, such as the Dominican Republic, Japan, S. Korea, and Israel (yes, Israel!).
One of the most exciting games I have seen was this past Sunday, as the defending champion-Dominican Republic faced off against Colombia in a critical first round contest. The 10-3 extra-innings win for DR is deceptive to the game’s competitiveness. Besides the dramatic momentum changes and incredible plays, the game featured my first glimpse at a major rule change that MLB is considering, and which is going to be tested in minor league play this season:
Extra Innings: For any inning beginning with the 11th inning, the Federation Team at bat shall begin the inning with runners on first and second base. The batter who leads off an inning shall continue to be the batter who would lead off the inning in the absence of this extra-innings rule. The runner on first base shall be the player (or a substitute for such player) in the batting order immediately preceding the batter who leads off the inning. The runner on second base shall be the player (or a substitute for such player) in the batting order immediately preceding the runner on first base.
As a result, DR was able to start with nobody out and runners in scoring position, and boy did they capitalize. A seven-run rally was kicked off with a Wellington Castillo double that sent those free runners home, and DR never looked back. Likewise earlier that day (6AM on the east coast), Japan took advantage of the 11th inning rule to earn victory over the Netherlands in Tokyo. I wasn’t exactly awake for that one.
The rule makes a lot of sense for a tournament like the WBC, where the rosters aren’t as deep and there are pitch count limitations that would otherwise make it so long extra-innings games could see position players pitch, or rosters decimated for a game the following day. The culture of the WBC is a little more free as well, and given it’s a fairly recent development, arguments based on tradition can fall a bit flat.
But what about the Major Leagues? With over a century of tradition and statistics, there is massive fan resistance to change that is just plain built in to baseball in America. Hell, people are still complaining about the DH more than 40 years later!
For my part, you could call me a traditionalist. I’m not so concerned about the minors, except for the thought they may normalize these unwanted changes, or events like the WBC incorporating some innovation. But when it comes to the big leagues, I think this is a solution in search of a problem. Long extra-inning games can be real tough on fans as well as the players, but I don’t really hear people complain much that they get to see some extra baseball (though when the concessions close in the 8th and the game goes on for hours after that it can get complaint-worthy!). Besides, it just. feels. wrong. to spot a few extra unearned runners.
Where do you stand, RVS readers? Are you more of a traditionalist, or are you in favor of some innovation? Also, where does your fandom lie? Nationals and Orioles fan here, though born and raised and still with strong Mariners sympathies.
Opening Day still isn’t for a few weeks, though my tickets to see the Nats kick off the season are purchased. In the meantime, there are some great games still to come in the WBC. The Pool F games in San Diego start this evening, with powerhouses DR and Puerto Rico facing off, and US-Venezuela tomorrow. Play ball!