Reusse: World Baseball Classic swings mightily for global enthusiasm — and whiffs
The Twins' Dustin Morse was again serving as the press officer for the team titled "Netherlands'' in the World Baseball Classic. This is a euphemism for the Lesser Antilles islands in the Caribbean that are still associated with the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
The largest of those islands, Curacao, has created a baseball heritage, and there are also players (including Xander Bogaerts) found in Aruba.
The Netherlands played its preliminary round in Taiwan, with the five teams all finishing at 2-2. The complicated tiebreakers led to Cuba and Italy advancing to the final eight.
The Italian roster isn't exactly loaded with players who were raised playing baseball in Florence (too much space wasted on statues) or Venice (too much water).
What the Italians do have is a rule that makes fourth-generation descendants eligible to represent the team, meaning if your great-great-grandparents Giuseppe and Giovanni arrived in New York even before Ellis Island was opening as a portal in 1892 and you're playing baseball here … you're in.
Also, if you grew up in the Midwest and ever listened to a speech on the wonders of racing pigeons from Angelo Giuliani (1912-2004), no-hit catcher and legendary Minnesota scout, you're also in.
Anyway, I texted Morse on a far different matter Monday and he was on the return flight from Taiwan to Fort Myers, Fla.
The exchange included this signoff from Morse: "I love international baseball.''
Being a kind soul in my dotage, I didn't bother to respond, "You're the one.''
The World Baseball Classic was started in 2006, one year after the International Olympic Committee dropped baseball and softball from its roster of sports for not being properly "global.''
There were WBCs held in 2006, 2009, 2013 and 2017. Imagine my surprise when watching a few minutes of Monday night's U.S-Canada game and discovering the United States was the defending champion.
The next WBC was scheduled for 2021, and then the postponed Tokyo Olympics were pushed back to then, so Major League Baseball and other interested parties said, "OK, let's try 2023.''
Baseball and softball rejoined the Olympics in 2021, simply because of Japan's interest. The hopes that MLB's globalization effort with the WBC would make permanent the return of those conjoined sports to the Olympics were dashed even before the end of the Tokyo Games.
A few days before the Closing Ceremony (Aug. 11, 2021), it was announced that this change would be made for Paris 2024: Baseball, softball and karate were out, and breakdancing was in.
Major League Baseball was introducing itself to the European market with the WBC and, 15 years after the inaugural and 12 years after the death of Michael Jackson, the French organizers nodded and said:
"Breakdancing instead of baseball? Enfer, yes, we'll take that deal."
WBC promoters went zany when qualifier Great Britain — with such stalwarts as former Twins legends Ian Gibaut and Vance "Vanimal'' Worley as pitching options — defeated Colombia 7-5 for its first-ever victory.
"You can't imagine what this means for baseball in Great Britain,'' one London pundit was quoted as saying.
What I imagine is more people tried to monitor the previous game, when Canada led Great Britain 16-6 after four innings and the teams had been playing for 2 hours, 40 minutes at that point. All across England people had to be saying, "Turn on the cricket.''
And then there's China. MLB keeps figuring out a way to get the People's Republic of China into the tournament. There are claims that 1 million people are now playing baseball in China among its population of 1.4 billion — and you can only guess at their pride when the home team lost 22-2 to South Korea.
Obviously, the spy balloons didn't allow for the cracking of the Tampa Bay Rays' code on how to win as baseball underdogs.
As for what lies ahead, we all remember fondly the ticker tape parade in New York when the U.S. won the WBC in 2017, do we not?
Oh, wait. That was for the U.S. soccer team in 2019, after it won the Women's World Cup.