Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Never-Ending Story V

The World Baseball Classic is another way that Major League Baseball has attempted to infiltrate the growing Latino market, both in the United States and in Latin America. The Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela all have teams in the event, with the United States also having some Latino ballplayers. The explanation given by the league itself for starting the tournament is primarily marketing the game:
“The World Baseball Classic was created to provide a platform that will increase worldwide exposure of the game of baseball and further promote grassroots development in traditional and non-traditional baseball nations. The tournament’s primary objectives are to increase global interest and introduce new fans and players to the game. The World baseball Classic acknowledges and pays tribute to the tremendous growth and internationalization of the game.”
By playing the tournament, Major League Baseball, and other professional leagues around the world, will increase their fan base and make a lot more money. It is in the best interest of the league to make sure that as many nations as possible are represented, because they there is a link between identity and rooting interest. Americans root for the United States in the Olympics, just as people take pride in certain people of their race or ethnicity being the ‘first’ in something. Thus, the league made rather loose guidelines for becoming part of a nation’s team, such as only needing to be the son of a parent who has citizenship in that nation. For this reason, there is an Italian team that consists of fourteen professional ballplayers, all born in the United States, including all-star Mike Piazza as the starting catcher. Piazza, born in Norristown, Pennsylvania, went along with the identity marketing, saying that it would be better for the game if he played for Italy.

Similarly, Manny Ramirez is playing for the Dominican Republic, despite spending most of his years in the United States. Alex Rodriguez, on the other hand, declared himself as part of the Dominican team before withdrawing from the team completely, for fear of alienating any of his fans. He decided ‘not to dishonor’ either his country or his heritage. Though far from a closed issue, this speaks volumes about the problems of identity in baseball. The Italian team was described as the ‘Italian-American squad’, and thus a newspaper columnist had no trouble with the players on it. However, he then went on to lecture Rodriguez, and told him to that no one will ‘begrudge him’ should he choose the Dominican Republic. Then he begrudges him throughout the piece.

The article, and Rodriguez’s inability to pick a team, shows the problems of identity that many have with Latinos. At the same time he is Latino, and proud of it, and yet also proud to be born in the United States. The columnist wants him to pick a side, essentially making him choose between his heritage and his country. This controversy also gets tangled with marketing, as evidenced by Major League Baseball’s insistence that the matter is not settled. The player’s association chief operating officer, Gene Orza, explained that he knows Rodriguez is interested in growing the sport and that: “And having known and respected him since he was drafted, my suspicion is that, in the end, fans around the world will see Alex in a WBC uniform.” It is vital to the sport that Rodriguez participate and help draw fans, because entire idea of the tournament is to expand the fan base to make more money for all involved.

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