Herald Journal Columns
March 6, 2006, Herald Journal / Enterprise Dispatch

¡Desea el bésbol vivo!

By Matt Kane

Boule de jeu!
¡Bola del juego!
De bal van het spel!
Sfera del gioco!

In any language, it’s time to “Play ball!”

According to the calendar on the wall, April 20 marks the first day of spring, but to any hardball fans, spring truly begins in the middle of February, when pitchers and catchers report to Arizona and Florida for the start of spring training.

The entire month of March in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues represent a time when fans can relax in the stands under sunny, blue skies, while their favorite boys of summer get in shape for the season.

But this spring is different. This year, a select few major league players put their game faces on Friday, already, with the start of the World Baseball Classic, which will showcase the talent of the entire baseball world through March 20.

While we Americans claim this stick and ball game as our own national pastime, this international tournament will reveal the 30 men bleeding red, white and blue are not the only athletes who can swing a bat.

The United States and the Latin American countries are well known for their great baseball traditions, and a majority of the players on the rosters of these teams are well known from their time playing in Major League Baseball.

The Dominican Republic, with a batting order filled with names like Miguel Tejada and Albert Pujols, and Venezuela, led by the arms of Johan Santana and Freddy Garcia, are popular picks out of the 16-team pool to win the international crown. But the great thing about this tournament is true baseball fans will be introduced to the world’s best players nobody has heard of.

Po-Hsuan Keng, Hung-Chih Kuo, Yung Chi Chen and Chin-Lung Hu of Chinese Taipei, for example.

I said players you’ve never heard of, remember?

But don’t feel guilty for claiming to be a baseball junky and not knowing anything about the top players from the competing countries. You are not alone.

The aforementioned players are the only four with any information following their names on the Chinese Taipei roster found on the official web site of the tournament, WorldBaseballClassic.com. Their dates of birth and home towns are a server of information compared to the rosters of China and Cuba, whose players could just as well be in the witness protection program, with the lack of information following any of the combined 90 names.

Maybe that’s a good thing. This way, we fans can’t judge a player by his past accomplishments, as we so like to do in the fantasy league baseball country we live in. We can watch the tournament as fans of the game and not, necessarily, the individual players.

Don’t be surprised if you become a Jair Jongejan fan by the end of the tournament.

He should be playing infield for the Netherlands.

The question has been raised about the timing of the World Baseball Classic, since the Major League Baseball players have to take time away from their big league spring training camps to compete.

The only drawback I see to these players missing spring camp is they will not have the time to bond with new acquisitions to their major league clubs. Otherwise, what is different?

The hitters are facing live pitching, as they would in spring training. And pitch counts are set, just as they would be by a pitching coach in Florida.

As a matter of fact, this is the perfect time of the year for the baseball classic.

Players are fresh and not worn down, as they would be in November, and, for the fans, these meaningful games – as opposed to the half-speed games of spring training – will have their favorite players even more ready for the businesslike regular season.

Because, no matter where the game of baseball is played on this blue earth, it is still uno, deux, drie strikes, you’re out, at the old ball game.

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Herald Journal / Enterprise Dispatch