The big story last week was Canada’s 8-6 win over the United States in the World Baseball Classic (WBC). That’s right, Canada’s win over the United States, in baseball. While it can’t be classified in the same category as the American men’s hockey team beating the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics or even Sweden’s win in women’s hockey over the Americans in this Winter Olympics, it was a much bigger event than the media is giving them credit for.
Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. The win didn’t even help Canada get into the second round (a 9-1 loss to Mexico the next day sealed their fate) but it does prove the principle that has rung true in baseball for years: the best players are not the best team.
Now, I’m not saying that Canada was the best team; a team where eight of the nine regular starters are left-handed hitters cannot be the best team, but that is out of Team Canada’s control. However, players like Adam Stern, who would be lucky to get a sniff at a major league roster, came out to play. After all, this was his chance to make a team. Players like Pete Orr, Pete Laforest and others are choosing to show their teams what they can do in pressure situations, and they were playing for more than just their country. I think that had a lot to do with Canada’s success. The team was one out away from finishing the first inning, but one hit batter against Mexico opened the floodgates and they just couldn’t recover.
Team Canada did show a lot in all three of their games, but their win against the United States, if nothing else, showed the ESPN broadcasters that Canada is more than a hockey nation and that it is improving with each year. In a history where there was one Canadian all-star per era (Fergie Jenkins in the ’70s to ’80s then Larry Walker from the ’90s onward,) Canada has four legitimate all-stars right now in Jason Bay, Jeff Francis, Rich Harden and Eric Gagne. Harden and Gagne, for what its worth, were injured and unable to participate in the World Baseball Classic.
People in Canada were worried about what the move of the Montreal Expos would mean for baseball in Canada, and especially Quebec. Personally, I don’t see a problem, as baseball leagues in Quebec remain some of the most popular sports leagues in the province for kids.
When summer comes along, and brings its wonderful weather as well, baseball is on the minds of Montrealers. If you don’t believe me, just venture off to some of the parks around the city.
Canada is obviously a country that is hockey-oriented, and even a championship win in the WBC wouldn’t have softened the blow of Canada’s men’s hockey Olympic loss to Russia. Still, I would have hoped that the coverage of the WBC in Canada would have improved if the team had made it to the second round. But, reality must sink in for even the biggest baseball fans in the city. The Canadiens are winning, pushing hard for a playoff position, Jose Theodore was traded this past week, and there is snow on the ground. Baseball is not on the minds of Montrealers, especially now that the city’s baseball team has moved to the U.S. capital.
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