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ISSUE 118 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/12/2004

It's a small world after all

By Ryan Maus
Sports Editor

Friday, November 12, 2004

The world, they say, is becoming smaller and smaller every day. There is no longer such thing as a national economy; there is only the global economy. With improvements in technology, I can now reach Marty in Pakistan as easily as I can Andy in Kildahl.

The sports world also seems to be getting smaller. Today, a large percentage of professional hockey players come from outside the United States and Canada. Professional baseball and basketball debut new imports every year, and many become stars and fan favorites. World competition is also at an all-time high. Soccers World Cup is arguably the most highly anticipated sporting event in the entire world. Hockey held its first-ever World Cup this fall, and fan reaction was overwhelmingly positive.

These developments have not gone unnoticed at the offices of Major League Baseball. The idea of a baseball World Cup is one that has been tossed around for years, especially by those who doubt the legitimacy of the World Series because it does not technically include the entire world. Yet the concept has always been considered little more than a pipe dream; the mere logistics seemed impossible.

Baseball fans the world over were pleasantly surprised this past July when commissioner Bud Selig revealed that plans were underway to hold a 16-team invitational World Cup tournament in March of 2005. When a drug testing policy was agreed upon (considered by many to be the tournaments biggest stumbling block) many thought the ultimate baseball competition was all but a certainty. Speculation began in earnest  could anyone beat the United States? Who were the best Dutch players in the minor leagues? Would Cuba allow defectors to play for their national team?

However, the negotiations hit a snafu when some countries (most notably Japan) objected to the fact that the tournament was to be held only in the United States. World Cup talk was put on the back burner as the major league pennant races began to heat up.

Finally, last week, that roadblock was overcome. It was decided that one branch of the tournament would be held in Asia, with winners advancing to the finals in the United States. The November decision also makes a 2005 tournament an impossibility. March 2006 will likely be when this project comes to fruition.

Although it may seem a tad premature to look forward with any assurance (especially when the participation of the major league players union has yet to be finalized) the possibilities are nothing short of mind-boggling. The United States would probably field the deepest team (7-time Cy Young award winner Roger Clemens would barely make the squad!) but they would not be the favorites by much.

Sure a lineup consisting of future Hall of Famers Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Todd Helton and Gary Sheffield would be imposing (to say the least), but even they would be hard-pressed to score against a Venezuelan team with American League Cy Young award winner Johan Santana and Angels strikeout machine Frankie K-Rod Rodriguez.

The tiny nations of the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico (which is technically a U.S. territory, but would be allowed to field its own team) would be formidable as well. Imagine Pedro Martinez and his Dominican teammates Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa and Vladimir Guerrero squaring off against Carlos Beltran, Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Delgado and the rest of the Puerto Rican All-Stars. Perennial Olympic gold-medalist Cuba would hold its own, and the Japanese squad would be greatly strengthened from the additions of major league superstars Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui. Even our neighbors to the north might get into the action with the help of Canadians (and current Minnesota Twins) Corey Koskie and Justin Morneau. The mere possibilities are enough to make any baseball fan salivate in anticipation.

The beauty of a baseball World Cup is that it would have something for everybody. Fans would get to see meaningful competition featuring the worlds best at a time when most people are tired of spring training. The players would have a chance to compete for national pride, an opportunity that Latin American players would especially relish (the Caribbean World Series is already wildly popular event each winter). TV networks and advertisers will have a surefire ratings-topper to fill the dead time between the Super Bowl and the NCAA basketball tournament. And major league baseball stands to make a tidy profit, which was obviously the motivation behind the whole tournament all along.

If indeed all this could become a reality, baseball may someday have an event that rivals soccers World Cup in terms of scope and popularity. It does remain to be seen whether multi-million dollar superstars like Bonds could be convinced to participate, or whether certain owners (i.e. George Steinbrenner) would allow their highly-paid investments to play, but many people are confident that such hurdles can be overcome.

Nothing is official just yet, but preparations are scheduled to get underway next month with an official announcement coming in the spring. However, one thing is for certain: Come March of 2006, the world will be watching.

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