Team Venezuela defeated Team Spain soundly on Sunday by a final score of 11-6. Unfortunately for them, they had already been eliminated from pool play in the World Baseball Classic by virtue of the fact that they lost their first two contests. That meant that a lineup that touted stars including Miguel Cabrera, Pablo Sandoval, and Carlos Gonzalez had been eliminated. The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico will be the teams advancing out of the competitive Pool C. For the Rockies it means the return of CarGo, Ramon Hernandez, and Jhoulys Chacin to big league camp in Scottsdale, AZ.
There has been a lot of talk about whether or not United States players and fans are indifferent or do not take pride in their results in the World Baseball Classic. While it is not fair to make that assumption, look no further than the fallout from Venezuela’s loss for evidence of how the stakes are much higher for some of the other countries that participate. Courtesy of MLB.com’s Rafael Rojas Cremonesi:
To put things into perspective: Every newspaper in the country says the elimination at WBC is worst disappointment in VZ sporting history
— Rafael Rojas C (@rafaelrojasc) March 11, 2013
I am now going to ask a series of questions about a hypothetical scenario in which the United States team, which advanced Sunday with a 9-4 victory over Canada, suffered a disappointing elimination in pool play of the World Baseball Classic. Would it make the front page of USA Today or any other big papers? Would the headlines lament the disastrous nature of the elimination? Would they be calling for the immediate firing of Joe Torre?
USA baseball fans would be disappointed, to be certain. But they would probably also be relieved that their favorite players would be returning to their respective MLB teams. I, for one, was 100% relieved that Troy Tulowitzki did not play for the United States at all in the 2013 WBC. To contrast, it would not feel right to celebrate the premature returns of CarGo, Hernandez, and Chacin to Rockies camp.
Do USA players identify themselves as American players on the same level that they see themselves as members of their respective MLB teams? I cannot speak for any of them or assume what they are thinking, but we should at least note the decisions of Clayton Kershaw, Buster Posey, and Justin Verlander to decline their opportunities to represent Team USA at the WBC. For Team Venezuela players, it was not optional. One gets the sense that it is just as important, if not more important, to them to play for their country as it is to play for the Colorado Rockies, Detroit Tigers, etc.
Those are the stakes that we do not always understand or appreciate. It’s not that people in the US are indifferent to how their country does in the WBC. It’s just that, relative to countries like Venezuela, we take far less collective pride in how American baseball does in comparison to other countries. And that’s OK. But it is important that we quit trying to compare American investment in the classic to the other countries, because the comparisons simply are not useful. Team Venezuela’s elimination is proof of that.