MLB should move dates of classic

Published 12:01 am Sunday, March 10, 2013

March for Major League Baseball players is normally a time where they ready themselves for a long, grueling 162-game season, not counting the playoffs.

MLB has a preseason for the same reason that any other professional sport has a preseason. Players need time to get themselves back into game shape and ease their way in to game situations without the pressure of playing in games that “matter.”

But every few years, spring training in baseball is interrupted by the World Baseball Classic, an international tournament that pits different countries around the world against one another until one is crowned champion. This year is the third year the classic has taken place since its inception in 2006, and the tournament is currently being played, with the championship round scheduled for March 17-19.

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The idea behind the tournament was to promote baseball around the world and give baseball fans a chance to cheer their country on. As a concept, I like the tournament. As far as its implementation, however, there’s much not to like.

Baseball players, like most athletes, are creatures of habit. During the last several offseasons, March was time spent in spring training playing in exhibition games. All of a sudden, players for teams are now thrust into games that are supposedly for “national pride.” In other words, they’re told the games matter.

It is simply too early for these players to be playing competitive baseball. March is the time for players to fellowship with old and new teammates, a time for coaches to determine who fits in where. It is a time for an infielder to get back into the routine of fielding a ground ball, a time for a pitcher to work on a changeup that he’ll need to strengthen his arsenal.

It is not a time for hitters to be stepping into the batter’s box with heightened adrenaline, thinking that he’d better get a big hit, or else he’s letting his country down. It’s not time for a pitcher to be going all out on the mound because his pitch count is 65 and he thinks he needs to dominate these guys in 65 pitches.

Further, if marquee players are playing in this classic, that means they’re not available to fans that might attend spring training games. Spring training environments are often far more relaxed than their regular-season counterparts. If fans of a team from the North only get to see these players when they visit Florida for spring training, all of a sudden, they’re out of luck if their favorite player is playing in the classic.

Is there any good reason why this tournament isn’t taking place immediately following the World Series? Players will already be in playing shape by then, and it’s not interrupting their readjustment to the sport.

Either move it to November or get rid of it altogether. Better yet, vie for baseball to become an Olympic sport again. If it were, this classic wouldn’t even exist — or be necessary.