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Let L.A. put on a baseball festival

Over the course of, say, 10 days, this town could turn the World Baseball Classic into a happening, a celebration of the sport.

March 22, 2009|BILL SHAIKIN

We put a beautiful stamp on the Olympics. We can do the same for baseball, if only baseball would let us.

The World Baseball Classic rolled into town Saturday. The baseball part, we love. The classic part, not so much.

There is nothing classic about an event that fails to capture the imagination of Southern California. This is the championship round, and yet there were blocks of empty seats throughout Dodger Stadium, on every level, and most notably in the luxury sections behind home plate and beyond each dugout.

If the WBC said "hot ticket" to Los Angeles, those sections would be packed, maybe even with celebrities. If the WBC said "hot ticket" to Americans, then there would not have been more ads for Asian companies than for United States companies along the outfield wall at Dodger Stadium.

Baseball could take these semifinals and final to Tokyo or Seoul, to Havana or Santo Domingo, and in each case the host country would be breathless with anticipation. But the commissioner's office and the players' union run this tournament, so the finals stay in the United States.

And, since Commissioner Bud Selig said Saturday the tournament will not move from March, the final round almost certainly stays in Southern California.

Selig says he is open to suggestions about what he called "tweaks" in the format, so here's ours: Let L.A. do what it does best.

We'll put on a show. We'll turn this tournament into a happening, a celebration of baseball, a civic festival.

We'd prefer to put on the whole tournament, but we understand baseball cannot grow around the world unless the best players are shared with the world.

"I do love the idea of starting all over the world," Selig said.

So do that. Then send us the eight teams left standing, for a double-elimination tournament over 10 days.

We'll invite the world, so the fans cheering for Korea need not be primarily from Koreatown. We'll encourage fans to follow their teams to one country, as they do at soccer's venerable World Cup. Venezuelan fans could have booked tickets to L.A. and stayed awhile, rather than throw up their hands at this year's tournament routing: Toronto to Miami to L.A.

We'll play the games at Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium. We'll set up each team with an adopted hometown in Southern California, and for practice we'll open the doors of our sparkling minor league stadiums in Rancho Cucamonga, Lake Elsinore and San Bernardino, our fine college ballparks at USC, UCLA, Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine, and the new youth baseball academy in Compton.

We'll throw a party. Baseball did this with the All-Star game in New York last summer, with a fan festival, a player parade through Manhattan, a free concert in Central Park and excitement all around. Baseball's scorecard for this WBC: No festivals, no parades, no concerts.

"This is only the second time," Selig said.

We can't force tradition, but we can generate some excitement over 10 days. We can do a fan festival, a parade and a concert -- and we can do better, by staging music, dance, theater and other cultural performances that celebrate the arts of the competing countries. We did this for the Olympics, and we can do it for baseball, on a smaller scale.

The Korean team won Saturday, and the Korean crowd was loud and proud.

"I just went to sit in the crowd for two innings," Selig said. "It's incredible."

Hey, baseball: We're L.A., and we'll show you incredible.


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