First, it was Kevin Youkilis telling me I have no pride. Then last night on XM Radio I listened to Holden Kushner rambling on about how everything about the United States in the World Baseball Classic is pathetic. According to him, American fans are an embarrassment because they can't be bothered going out to support their team and the American team is an embarrassment because the manager is missing games for weddings and talking about forfeiting if there are too many injuries (which would be a crying shame in all seriousness). If I were the type of person who calls into radio shows, I would have called in to tell Holden that I think he's full of crap. But I'm not, so instead I just yelled at my radio as though that would help.
Once home I forgot about Holden and his ridiculous notions, until this morning when I tuned in to Baseball This Morning with Buck Martinez where he was proclaiming that the Americans just don't have any national pride. Where is the patriotism, he asks. Down in Venezuela time has stopped while everyone focuses on baseball. The Venezuela-Puerto Rico game is packed with fans waving flags. But where are the Americans waving their flags, Buck wonders.
Listen, are people really this dense? Or do radio talk show hosts and Kevin Youkilis just need something to talk about? Because the difference in in the United States and the rest of the countries in the WBC seems pretty obvious to me.
Let's do away with the notion that not caring about the WBC equals not having any pride in my country. I have plenty of pride in my country. I live in the greatest country in the world and I'm not ashamed to say it. I live in a country that other people die trying to get to, that's how great it is. But if I don't drape myself in red, white, and blue and spend my hard earned money going to see the United States vs. The Netherlands I'm a bad American? Give me a break.
The best baseball in the world is played in the United States. This is an undeniable fact. The greatest baseball players from all over the world aspire to play in the United States of America. One of the reasons the Japanese, Venezuelan, Cuban players and their fans are so much more passionate about supporting their teams in the WBC is because they have something to prove. They want to prove that their players are on par with the best in the world. It makes sense, and if I were in their shoes I'd most likely feel the same way. But I don't have to feel the same way, because I already know that the Americans who play professional baseball are the cream of the crop. If they weren't, they'd go to Japan (burn!).
It also comes down to how the different cultures identify with players. Dominicans love Pedro and David Ortiz and Miguel Tejada because they are Dominican. Venezuelans loves Bobby Abreu and Melvin Mora and Felix Hernandez because they are Venezuelan. These are the players that have made it out of their countries and into the Major Leagues. They love them regardless of their team because they view them as Venezuelans first and Orioles or Mariners or Yankees second. When it comes to baseball, that's not how Americans see it. Derek Jeter is an American, but I sure don't love him. In fact, I've spent almost 15 years detailing the reasons I don't like Derek Jeter, and now you slap some stars and stripes on him and I'm supposed to cheer him on to victory? It doesn't work that way.
Part of being a baseball fan is cultivating a relationship with your team and the players on that team. The team I've built that relationship with over my entire life isn't Team USA, it's the Baltimore Orioles. It doesn't matter to me that Melvin Mora isn't playing for my country, I still love him and want him to do well. It's nice that I can root for Jeremy Guthrie and Brian Roberts on Team USA, but it wouldn't matter if they were Canadian or Mexican, they'd still be my players and the ones I care about. To expect anything less of an American fan would be absurd.
I don't think I'm telling you anything you don't already know about the World Baseball Classic, but it's getting old listening to the Americans get bashed for our lack of exuberance. I like the WBC. I'm enjoying the WBC. I just wish I could watch it and enjoy the baseball without someone trying to make me feel bad because I haven't poured my heart and soul into rooting for "my" team.