Who Needs the WBC?

A special tournament is not required for Cardinals fans to receive a healthy dose of international baseball.

As the World Baseball Classic is underway, the debate continues as to whether the optimal time to hold it is during Spring Training or after the World Series or perhaps during an extended All-Star Break in July.

However, I am not the only person who doesn't care all that much about participating in that argument. In fact, there are many of us here in the USA who wonder if the WBC is required, period.

Don't get me wrong, though. It is not because I am not supportive of the growth of the game worldwide and of international players. But, let's face it. That is what the Olympics are for. If the International Olympic Committee cared enough about baseball, this shadow tournament wouldn't be needed, anyway.

Here's one reason for my apathy. All I have to do is show up to see the Cardinals play to receive a good sampling of the worldwide community of baseball players.

Many are familiar with the four international players who have left the Cardinals to compete in the WBC. They are Albert Pujols and Juan Encarnacion with the Dominican Republic, Yadier Molina of Puerto Rico (along with coach Jose Oquendo) and Mexico's Ricardo Rincon.

In addition to the four, seven other members of the 40-man roster hail from six different countries outside than the United States. So, just coming out to see the Cardinals on any given day is an international baseball lesson.

And those numbers don't even count non-roster invitees Ramon Nivar (Dominican) or Iker Franco (Mexico) or stretching matters a bit, infielder Kit Pellow, who played in Korea last season plus coach Dave McKay and special instructor Larry Walker, who are Canadians. Going back not far, we can recall Colombian Edgar Renteria and Venezuelan Roger Cedeno also wearing the Redbirds uniform.

Currently, even with 11 of 40 non-US players, or 27.5% of their roster, the Cardinals actually carry a smaller international population than the MLB average. Overall, roughly a third of all major league players came from outside the United States and the number is growing.

Interviewed by ESPN during Sunday's WBC contest between his Puerto Rican squad and the New York Mets, manager Oquendo made it clear that his goal is to become the first Puerto Rican manager in MLB history. He can only hope that he receives the chance to follow in the footsteps of the first Venezuelan skipper, Ozzie Guillen, who headed last year's World Champions, the Chicago White Sox.

International ball? So, what? We see it every day!

Cardinals Major League international spring training roster

Dominican Republic: Pujols, Encarnacion, Juan Mateo, Deivi Cruz, Hector Luna, Nivar (NRI)
Puerto Rico: Molina, John Rodriguez
Mexico: Rincon, Iker Franco (NRI)
Cuba: Michel Hernandez
Japan: So Taguchi
Aruba: Sidney Ponson

Come back for the next article in this series about international Cardinals as we highlight for subscribers the non-USA youngsters in Minor League Spring Training camp as well as those invited to Extended Spring Training next month.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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