March 9, 2006

World Baseball Classic gets thumbs up from MLB

By Steve Ginsburg

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida (Reuters) - The inaugural World
Baseball Classic is receiving an exuberant thumbs up from Major
League Baseball, citing fan response, player attitudes and the
overall quality of play.

"The enthusiasm is contagious and it's only going to grow,"
MLB President and Chief Operating Officer Bob DuPuy told
Reuters in an interview. "This is a maiden voyage. We will
learn from this. And it will get better as time goes on.

"But for a first-time event, never done before, I can't
think of anything that's gotten this kind of reaction in just a
few days' time."

The 16-team event opened in Tokyo on March 3 before moving
to the United States and Puerto Rico earlier this week. The
first round ends on Friday before shifting to San Juan, Puerto
Rico, and Anaheim, Calif., on Sunday.

DuPuy said the fan involvement in Tokyo was "great" but
acknowledged the intensity of Latin fans watching the Dominican
Republic and Venezuela here reached new heights.

The flagged-draped fans at The Ballpark in Walt Disney
World chanted, honked car horns and rooted for their team with
a passion rarely seen from fans supporting their favorite
athletes at the recent Winter Olympics in Italy.

"Fans here have just been outstanding," he said. "They
cheer with such passion. But they're not the only ones. The
players are also into it.

"To see Miguel Tejada (of the Dominican Republic) on the
last out of the game against Venezuela jump up in the air like
they just won a playoff game or somebody pitched a no-hitter,
that was just wonderful," he said.


Major League Baseball wanted to stage the tournament last
year and avoid a 2006 clash with the soccer World Cup and the
Olympics. But labor problems in Japan in 2005 forced a delay to
this year.

So "if things go according to schedule," said DuPuy, the
event will resume in 2009 and 2013.

DuPuy said attendance has been "pretty much what we
expected" at first round venues in Tokyo, San Juan, Phoenix and
Lake Buena Vista, near Orlando.

"Korea-Japan drew 40,000, they did 30,000-plus in Arizona,
and we've been basically sold out here, as we expected it would
be," he said. "And we're sold out for the finals in San Diego.

"You can't get a ticket. There's a lot of baseball still to
play. But if Cuba, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and the Dominican
Republic advance and play in San Juan next week, it's going to
be a mad house."

DuPuy concedes some opening-round teams were badly
outplayed but overall he said the competition was keen.

"China is a new country, baseball-wise, and they were
overmatched in the Asian pool," he said. "Japan has a 130-year
baseball history on them.

"But it looks to us like the other teams that were expected
to be the weaker teams in the bracket, were competitive."

Italy was one of the more feeble teams playing in Lake
Buena Vista, finishing 1-2, but that did not dim the passion of
its most recognizable face, 12-time Major League All-Star Mike

Piazza, a former star with the New York Mets who now plays
for the San Diego Padres, said it was "an honor" to play for
Italy, the birthplace of his grandparents.

"Our dream is to one day have this team be a champion," he
said. "I'm proud to be here. I think everyone knows the
response to the tournament has just been overwhelming and