My latest at the Diplomat is on the opening of the third World Baseball Classic.
The Dominican Republic, led by Robinson Cano, Jose Reyes, and Hanley Ramirez, is the odds on favorite to win the Classic, followed by the United States and Japan. In 2009, however, a strong Dominican team failed to escape pool play, losing twice to the Netherlands. The popularity of the WBC in Korea and Japan may give those teams an edge in morale; U.S. play in the first two tournaments occasionally seemed lackadaisical, as players looked ahead to the Major League season.
Indeed, the major league connection has proven a handicap for many of the American teams. Major league teams have discouraged many of their players (especially pitchers) from participating in the WBC due to injury and exhaustion risks. Consequently, some of the most devastating players in baseball, including Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, and Johnny Cueto, are sitting the WBC out. On the other hand, the participation of Joey Votto lends no small degree of punch to the Canadian team.
The broader question is the extent to which the WBC helps produce a Pacific rim baseball community. Although major Japanese and Korean stars have played in the United States (and American players are common in Japan), the trans-Pacific relationship remains substantially outside the integrated system that characterizes baseball in the Americas. Of course, whether such integration is desirable is an altogether different question; baseball has a distinct character in each of Korea, Japan, and North America, adding a regional and cultural richness to the sport.
Given that I am now a person who has written about baseball in America, I believe that my invitation to join the Baseball Writers Association of America shall arrive any day. In anticipation, I am already becoming indignant about steroids, and increasingly impressed by the feats of Jack Morris. In any case, I will cheer heartily for Canada if Joey Votto is part of the team (unclear at the moment); otherwise, United States.