NEW YORK -- With the first pitch of the fourth World Baseball Classic only a few days away, Major League Baseball's top international executive told members of the New York Foreign Press who were invited to a special Yankee Stadium briefing Thursday that "the footprint of baseball as a sport
NEW YORK -- With the first pitch of the fourth World Baseball Classic only a few days away, Major League Baseball's top international executive told members of the New York Foreign Press who were invited to a special Yankee Stadium briefing Thursday that "the footprint of baseball as a sport has never been broader around the world."
"It's a really exciting time for our tournament and we're excited to get started," said Chris Park, MLB's senior vice president of growth, strategy and international. "I don't think you've ever seen this many national teams that have a legitimate chance to go far in this tournament, and that's in large measure an illustration of just how much the people around the world, in various different communities, are actually engaging with our sport in different ways.
:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::
"You're going to see the diversity of our fan base on display first-hand. We're going to be christening Seoul, South Korea, and Guadalajara, Jalisco, [Mexico,] as venues in the first round. Those aren't just new places for this tournament, those are fan bases that bring unique passion -- in some cases unique customs and songs -- and it's going to be the first time in a lot of cases for American fans to be able to see that."
Park was joined by MLB Network analyst and 2006 Team USA pitcher Al Leiter, as well as Ian Penny, the MLB Players Association senior labor counsel, for a briefing in conjunction with the U.S. Department of State to media representing 22 countries on five continents. The Yankees hosted the event, conducting a stadium tour for the contingent as well. It generated further international coverage of an event that will decide a world champion from among 16 nations or territories -- in some cases introducing baseball, and in some cases stoking the fire.
The World Baseball Classic runs from Monday to March 22. In the U.S., games will air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN will provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. will have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. Internationally, the tournament will be distributed across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Marlins Park, Tokyo Dome, Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico, Petco Park, as well as the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.
There are many questions about what will happen over the next few weeks of the tournament, and questions of all kinds were asked during the briefing event. Will the fourth time be a charm for Team USA? What about baseball in China? What about baseball in the Sub-Sahara? Why do some Major Leaguers want to play and some don't? How do you handle the pitchers? "Is this more for men or women," a Paris reporter asked.
Let's start with the first of those. Leiter said he especially likes the Dominican Republican in a bid to repeat, but he said this could be Team USA's year after three disappointing finishes -- if the Americans bring the kind of mentality normally required in late October.
"I think every Team USA that was put together in the past, they were talented, they were All-Stars, they were future-Hall-of-Famers type team," Leiter said. "I got a chance to play with Derek Jeter, Alexander Rodriguez, [Jason] Varitek and Roger Clemens and Ken Griffey Jr. -- it was an All-Star team, right? I think ultimately, without question, there is a level of intensity, at least up until this year, that looks like other teams really want to beat the U.S.
"Of course, everyone wants to win. You play to win. But I think with players from Team USA, maybe this is the year. Giancarlo Stanton, fantastic talent . . . and [Paul] Goldschmidt and [Buster] Posey, they also have their array of superstars. They have to play at an intense level that matches a Dominican team or Puerto Rico or the fundamentally sound and stoic nature of Team Japan, and others, like Venezuela -- at that level of, 'We also want to beat your brains in.' And we have to play at that intensity as you would [expect] of these Majors Leaguer players come May, June, July or October -- if some of them get a chance."
Penny said the scope of the World Baseball Classic has grown consistently larger in the eyes of Major Leaguers he speaks to on a regular basis, calling it a "very player-centric" event in which players helped design the tournament and help ensure it is run in the best way possible for players.
"As each tournament has taken place, the word of mouth in the clubhouses has gotten better," Penny said. "When you actually get into the game action, you get into the clubhouse, you see the intensity, and you realize these players take these games very seriously and are incredibly proud to be put on their country's jerseys. And that's building with each iteration of the World Baseball Classic. I think this round is about to be our best, especially given these great rosters that have been put together.
"There's a period of time when rosters are being built and there's lots of talk about who's going to play and who's not going to play. But now that we're at the point where games are going to start, you're going to see that players are going to be highly excited to participate."
When rosters were unveiled last month, they featured a record 63 past All-Stars. Not only that, but this World Baseball Classic has generated an unprecedented number of global sponsors and greatly expanded its reach for them and for worldwide fans.
"The World Baseball Classic is a young tournament and a young brand, but we are already global in essentially everything we do," Park said. "So we are going to be broadcasting our [players] on television to almost 200 countries, well over 400 million households around the world, and we're going to be engaging with an all-time high of sponsors for us -- not just in the United States, but really across all the different venues.
"We are now over a decade from the first tournament, and it remains very much in the early innings of its development, and we could not be more excited about where we stand with the tournament, with the players on the field and the teams that are set to go starting Monday in Seoul. . . . We are excited to get started."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog.