May 27, 2004  
Volume 98, Issue 02  

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SPORTS

A World Series to circle the globe?

Larkin in the dark
Matt Larkin

Sports Editor


Gazette File Photo
WE’LL HAVE A BETTER CHANCE OF WINNING THAN WE DO WITH THE JAYS. Players like the Jays’ Carlos Delgado and Roy Halladay would likely relish the opportunity to play international baseball.

An exciting summer awaits the sports world in 2004. In addition to the Stanley Cup, the National Basketball Association Championship, the U.S. Open and the British Open, sports fans anxiously anticipate the Summer Olympics and the World Cup of Hockey.

Lost in the upcoming frenzy are the boys of summer — baseball players. America’s beloved pastime faces dwindling attendance from fans who have yet to forgive Major League Baseball players for the 1994 strike. Current MLB attendance averages 28,784 visitors per game — down from the 2001 average of 30,060 fans. What can the sport do to rejuvenate its disinterested support base?

It appears that Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League can undoubtedly learn from each other. The lackluster fan support that has plagued MLB commissioner Bud Selig over the last decade should serve as a warning to both players and owners in the NHL — similar post-strike fan retaliation in NHL arenas would not be surprising should commissioner Gary Bettman fail to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement.

On the other hand, Selig could benefit from following the example set by the NHL on the international circuit. Allowing professional hockey players to participate in Olympic action — along with other international off-season events such as the 1972 Summit Series, the Canada Cup and World Cup of Hockey — has created a great deal of worldwide interest and nations are rallying around their respective teams.

Applying a similar idea to baseball by allowing professionals to compete internationally would create a monumental sporting attraction. Would Selig ever entertain such a thought? He has done just that. As of late April, Selig and MLB International have been toying with the idea of a World Cup of Baseball in the spring of 2005.

A World Cup of Baseball, or even the introduction of professional players to Olympic baseball, would generate a newfound love for the game. Even more appealing than the sport’s popularity boost would be the potential wake-up call to the sporting community, which it has not seen since Russia’s dazzling play that put international hockey on the map at the 1972 Summit Series.

Make no mistake: an international tournament featuring the best baseball players each country has to offer would not be a simple cakewalk for the American team. What many would write off as a sure victory for the United States would instead be some of the fiercest competition ever known to a game rooted in rich history.

Skeptics may scoff at the thought of even competition in international baseball. Who could possibly compete with a rotation boasting hurlers like Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Tim Hudson, Roy Halladay and Curt Schilling? A hypothetical United States batting lineup would intimidate with Mike Piazza as catcher, Todd Helton at first base, Jeff Kent at second, Scott Rolen at third, Alex Rodriguez at shortstop and a fearsome outfield of Barry Bonds, Lance Berkman and Gary Sheffield.

Unstoppable? Think again.

The Dominican Republic would prove a potentially even match for the mighty Americans. A staff anchored by Pedro Martinez would be supported by a legendary hitting lineup that could include superstars Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez, Vladimir Guerrero, Alfonso Soriano, Miguel Tejada, Adrian Beltre and Luis Castillo, all while relegating Sammy Sosa to the bench.

Puerto Rico could also manage to hold its own. Joining dynamic young arms Javier Vazquez and Joel Pineiro would be a group of seasoned hitters like Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Juan Gonzalez, Mike Lowell, Jose Vidro and a luxurious choice between Ivan Rodriguez and Jorge Posada at catcher.

Japan would likely serve as an unpredictable wild card in the tournament, as only a handful of Far East stars have journeyed to North America and experienced major league play. The Japanese could certainly make a splash in the tournament. A plethora of hidden gems currently playing in Japan could accompany converted big leaguers Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, Kazuhiro Matsui, Hideo Nomo and Kazuhisa Ishii to create a formidable roster.

Though it may be wishful thinking to imagine a Canadian triumph in international play, a Canuck squad would field plenty of capable major leaguers — Eric Gagne, Rich Harden, Larry Walker, Paul Quantrill and Jeff Zimmerman, to name a few.

The ideas and dream teams listed above represent a vision probably closer to fantasy than reality. International baseball at the highest possible level of competition, however, would be a treat to fans and players around the world alike. Sadly, a plan that could potentially rescue baseball from its wrongs of the last decade remains but a twinkle in Selig’s eye.

 

 

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