Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The real world series

Americans, provincial as we are, call our major league baseball championship the World Series. What world is that? The one between Maine and La Mesa?

Despite the longtime Latin presence in the game and the recent influx of Japanese and Korean ballplayers, our big leagues have never really reflected the world at large. At least we used to have two Canadian teams in our big leagues, but now we're down to one. Apparently it's true what they say: the world keeps getting smaller.

There are, however, two baseball tournaments going on right now that can fairly be called world series: the Little League World Series and the Summer Olympics baseball medal competition. Each of these events determines its contestants by dividing the globe into regions, all of which are represented in the main event. End result, a truly international tournament.

For example, to qualify for the Olympics, USA Baseball had to make it through a regional tournament set up for the Americas. Two Olympic spots were on the line; the United States nabbed one, Cuba the other. Similarly, the Little League World Series draws its international field from nations around the globe, which stage tournaments themselves to choose qualifying teams.

Little League World Series players occasionally grow up to play in the American major leagues. The latest hot prospect, Jesus Sauceda of Mexico, pitched the LLWS' first perfect game in 29 years yesterday, striking out all 12 batters in a mercy rule-shortened 12-0 win over Emilia, Italy. He also went 3 for 3 at the plate with 6 RBIs, including a grand slam. That's all you got, kid?

As for the Olympics, there's more than national pride at stake. Baseball and softball have been dropped from the 2012 Olympics and it's unclear whether they'll be reinstated for 2016. So the medals now up for grabs will be the last ones for quite some time, and a particular urgency underlies the tournament.

The USA doesn't send major league players, so once again our squad consists of top minor leaguers and college players. Cuba, winner of three gold medals and a silver in the last four Summer Olympics, is the team to beat.

If you'd like to learn more about the international baseball scene, check out a great new website called the Global Baseball Company. Among other reportage, it recently profiled the various teams in the Olympic baseball tournament.

There are baseball fans, and there are baseball fans. My buddy Charles Fiore, who writes the Global Baseball site, is in the latter camp. He knows and cares more about the game than anyone this side of Bob Costas. The guy goes to Florida every March to scout spring training for his fantasy teams. Charles has also worked with stats guru Bill James, a leading expert in the field.

Charles grew up in Cincinnati and I look forward to learning something from him tomorrow at Wrigley Field as he and I catch his visiting Reds. Until then, in both Beijing and South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, go USA.


BG said...

Why does the Olympics let professional basketball players compete in the Olympics but does not let professional baseball players play? Unions or something?
I think it is ridiculous that we let the pro basketball players play. Who wants to watch a game with the final score 112 to 46?

Ben said...

I don't know... the NBA players we sent to the 2004 Athens games didn't win a gold medal. Hence the nickname of this year's squad, the "Redeem Team." And current NBA players also play for other countries.

I will defer to experts such as Charles as to why our big leaguers don't play in the Olympics, but I would assume the answer has a lot to do with major league owners' not wanting to give up their players for a good part of the summer. National pride is fine and all, but they're trying to win ballgames, not to mention paying the players a pretty good nickel.