Of all American sports, none is so little known or understood, in this part of the world, as baseball.
Basketball … they play here a little. They have heard of LeBron and Kobe. Most of the sports clubs in the country (who back the soccer teams) have basketball teams. They also have volleyball teams.
And American football, they have heard about or, more likely, seen … somewhere. A snippet on TV of this or that. The Super Bowl seeping into the consciousness via a 24-hour news station. Guys in armor colliding. Yeah.
Nope. Not played. Not known. Certainly not understood. And if anyone has ever picked up a bat or a ball around here it was to play cricket, whose practitioners are as contemptuous of baseball as baseball fans are of cricket.
So when we at The National, in the UAE, decided to commission a piece on the World Baseball Classic, which aims to turn the game into a global sport, like the soccer World Cup, we asked the author, the Arizona-based reporter Norm Frauenheim, to back up things and describe the WBC in a way that even people completely clueless about baseball could, in theory, understand.
How did it turn out?
Pretty well, I think.
Here is the story, all 1,600 words of it.
Frauenheim, a veteran journo who spent decades with the Arizona Republic, did a nice job with it, and we tweaked a few spots where he (like anyone based in the U.S.) had a few bits of assumed knowledge creep in.
(We also added the concept of baseball being popular where cricket is not, and vice versa. It’s like no country in the world can embrace two stick-and-ball sports.
(Which reminds me of an exchange I had with one of our British reporters, at The National, who concentrates on the two most-British of sports, rugby and cricket. I told him, jokingly — but not really — that cricket was “failed baseball.” He in turn, joked — but not really — “that other sport is an abomination. We do not speak of it.”)
So, Bud Selig wants to popularize baseball internationally. Good luck with that.
Baseball is not easy to play in small groups (over-the-line? work-up?), and requires a large tract of ground, as well as specialized equipment. How the game is going to overcome this in poor countries, not clear.
I think baseball at least has a shot at gaining a toehold in non-cricket-playing Europe (which is everywhere not the British Isles) and in the parts of Asia where cricket already isn’t deeply rooted. (China, Vietnam, Indonesia, in play; India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, no chance. At all. Ever. Not after 100 WBCs.)
It doesn’t help that baseball’s best players often don’t bother with the WBC. Leading to a lack of enthusiasm in the U.S. itself for the tournament. And why should Taipei care when the States doesn’t? (And yet, they do.)
Sports Illustrated compiled a U.S. all-star team. Catcher: Buster Posey; 1B: Prince Fielder; 2B Dustin Pedroia; SS: Troy Tulowitzki; 3B: Evan Longoria OF: Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen; Pitcher: Justin Verlander. What do they have in common, besides baseball stardom? They all chose not to play for the U.S. team. Couldn’t be bothered.
So. There it is. We have done our duty, we have edified our readers. If they care to pay attention to the World Baseball Classic, we have alerted them to it.
I consider it a success already using this criterion: One of our British editors, at The National, came in the next morning and said: “That was a good read.”