When I lived overseas, I got a close look at the intense passion with which countrymen followed their teams in international soccer matches. I was living in Italy in '96 when they lost the world cup on penalty kicks and the national grief was astounding. I was impressed by how closely the WC tournament was followed by men, women and children alike and wished that I would have the opportunity to join with my compatriots and cheer for a US National team in an effort so deeply important to so many.
I am encouraged by what seems to be, to my uncultured eye, a steady rise in US competitiveness in soccer. However, it's a sport I never played, can't understand deeply, and doubt will gain a broad national following in my lifetime. American football is played almost no where else so the prospect of meaningful international competition in that sport is not promising. Basketball is great in some parts of the world but, for some puzzling reason, there doesn't seem to be much global spirit and energy channeled toward being the world basketball champion (although beating the US is a major goal for many Olympic teams).
Given this scenario, I was keenly interested in the birth of the World Baseball Classic and followed it closely in 2006, its inaugural year. Now the WBC is underway again and I can't help but notice the minimal public interest and general lack of media fanfare. My fear is that it will fail commercially and dissolve forever. If so, I will blame the failure on timing.
Holding this tournament in March means that many MLB players are not yet in game-playing shape and are unwilling to participate. This in turn dampens US fan interest and diminishes the commercial appeal in our country, which is one of the major global markets where the tournament must attract wide-spread attention to be successful. More importantly, a March schedule means that this fledgling enterprise must compete with the wildly popular and over-hyped NCAA basketball tournament for viewership.
I contend that the tournament should be held in mid-summer during the All-Star break. Perhaps it would require lengthening the All-Star break by a couple days but throw in a few double-headers (my favorite old-school baseball construct that is almost extinct) and the MLB season could end on schedule.