PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) – There’s not a kid in the United States that woke up this morning wanting to be Ian Kinsler.
What’s that say about the guy who hit the game-winning home run in the Championship game of the World Baseball Classic? What does it say about the state of baseball fandom in America? And what does it say about the World Baseball Classic and its ability to connect to both the average sports fan as well as the hardcore baseball fan?READ MORE: Bike Pittsburgh To Host 8th Annual 'Women And Non-Binary Bike Summit'
Let’s start with Kinsler, who less than 24 hours before the Championship against Puerto Rico, and just four days after defeating the Dominican Republic in an elimination game, told Billy Witz of the New York Times, “I hope kids watching the WBC can watch the way we play the game and appreciate the way we play the game as opposed to the way Puerto Rico plays or the Dominican plays. That’s not taking anything away from them. That just wasn’t the way we were raised. They were raised differently and to show emotion and passion when you play. We do show emotion; we do show passion. But we just do it in a different way.”
Kinsler followed up those comments with a 2-run homer in the Top of the 3rd inning and one of the most modest, staid home run trots in the history of the game. Joylessly circling the bags as if he were lightly jogging to a puppy’s funeral, Kinsler was straight out of the National Football League’s forthcoming “How To Celebrate” video that will undoubtedly consider chest-thumping a terroristic threat, twerking a lewd and lascivious act, and if given the opportunity to regulate baseball, would equivocate bat-flipping with assault with a deadly weapon.
In a tournament that’s been fun to watch – as long as one of your favorite ballclub’s players isn’t pitching or getting hurt – it’s gone from “cute little international exhibition tournament” to “battle for the reputation and pride of entire nations” because of the energy and enthusiasm nearly every team has played with throughout.
If you have any doubt, go back and watch the first couple of innings of the semifinal between Puerto Rico and The Netherlands. Or any part of the aforementioned Round 2 game between the U.S. and Dominican Republic. Or, even more exemplary of my point, the Round 1 match-up between those same two teams that turned Marlins Park in Miami into a hybrid of a postseason ballpark and a Punta Cana dance floor.
That wasn’t just fun for the people there, it was fun to watch.
And that’s what brings us around to the state of baseball fandom in America. Like most sports other than football, once a person’s favorite team is eliminated, that person stops paying attention to that sport.
Don’t think so? Quick, name the last five Stanley Cup champs before the Penguins. Or the last five World Series champions.READ MORE: Pennsylvania Second Lady Gisele Fetterman Calls On Pennsylvanians To Support Bills Helping Bureau Of Dog Law Enforcement
Did the WBC change the way most average, everyday sports fans are going to watch baseball this summer? Maybe. The bet here is that more than a few kids who saw players from the Dominican and Puerto Rico having fun while they played baseball, will be drawn to either keep an eye on certain players or certain teams as long as those guys with the gall to have fun while playing baseball are still around.
As for hardcore baseball fans, how can you argue with the down to the wire games and thrilling outcomes in some of the biggest games of the tournament? Complain if you will about the ridiculous extra inning rules – I’ll be happy to join you in praying they never come to MLB – but the baseball itself, despite the pitch counts, the lack of major leaguers on some squads, and the inexperienced managers who in some cases strategized themselves into losses (Yes, I’m looking at you, Hensley Muelens, for your atrocious 11th inning work against Japan in the 2nd Round.), the quality of ball being played was excellent.
So we had really good baseball – especially in comparison to what’s usually available in March – being played in electric environs, with a postseason feel to it, and we’re supposed to either dislike it because there’s a slim chance it may negatively affect the players on our favorite major league team, and/or because people are having fun?
For every Didi Gregorious shoulder strain, give me Gregory Polanco bouncing back from a hideous 2nd half to hit .579 in the WBC. For every soulless, grimaced gallop around the bases on a long ball, give me a 15-foot high bat flip, double point to the stands, blonde-haired Victor Cruz-style salsa saunter around the bases.
And for every complaint about baseball being fun, give me guys playing for their country, going all out in a month when Spring Training games are highlighted by faux announcer skirmishes and battles for a 5th outfield spot, and give me the World Baseball Classic.
Whether Ian Kinsler likes it or not.MORE NEWS: Severe Thunderstorm Warning Issued For Pittsburgh, South Hills