The calendar may say March 1, but the first meaningful baseball game of the year is tonight.
By PETE GRATHOFF
The Kansas City Star
Australia and Chinese Taipei kick off the World Baseball Classic in Taiwan at 10:30 p.m.
The third edition of the WBC has been met mostly with apathy or disdain. Fans dont seem to care or are irritated that players would risk injury to take part. Some of the biggest stars are skipping the event, and those players who are competing will leave spring training for an undetermined amount of time, leaving their team in the lurch.
A headline at New York magazine: Why I Cant Get Into The World Baseball Classic. And, no, the writer wasnt looking for a ticket.
Nevertheless, the tournament is obviously important to a number of major leaguers, including many of the Royals.
Seven of the 16 teams in the WBC will have at least one Royal: Dominican Republic (pitcher Kelvin Herrera and infielder Miguel Tejada), Venezuela (catcher Salvador Perez), Puerto Rico (infielder Irving Falu), Mexico (Luis Mendoza), Brazil (minor-league outfielder Paulo Orlando), Netherlands (minor-league pitcher J.C. Sulbaran) and Team USA (relief pitcher Tim Collins).
Theyll all leave Royals camp on Sunday.
I am extremely honored to even be thought of to participate in this, Collins said in January. To even be playing on the same field as that group of guys is pretty awesome. Its almost like an All-Star team, especially with the caliber of players who are representing Team USA.
Two teams will advance from each of the four pools of four squads. In addition to the games in Taiwan, there is pool play in Japan, Puerto Rico and Phoenix.
The U.S. is in Pool D with Mexico, Canada and Italy and plays from Thursday though March 10. The top two teams from Pool C and Pool D will meet in Miami in another round-robin format. The top two teams from Pool A and Pool B will face off in Tokyo.
Then, the top two teams from the games in Miami and Tokyo will be in a Final Four in San Francisco from March 17 to 19.
All 39 games will be broadcast on the MLB Network.
The WBC was born after the Olympics dropped baseball. Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has championed the event, which was previously played in 2006 and 2009. Japan won the title both times.
This is important, Selig told reporters earlier this year. This is going to be the biggest World Baseball Classic weve had. I feel the greatest growth in this sport is international. The World Baseball Classic is our forum to do that. The clubs have been wonderfully cooperative. Im excited. I think youre going to see a huge Classic. Everyone is really looking forward to it.
To reach Pete Grathoff, call 816-234-4330 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/pgrathoff