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With U.S. team out, fans lose interest in World Baseball Classic

Despite slashed ticket prices, a small crowd sees Dominican Republic beat the Netherlands, 4-1, in a semifinal game at AT&T Park. But MLB Commissioner Bud Selig still sees the tournament as a success.

March 18, 2013|By Bill Shaikin
  • Dominican Republic relief pitcher Fernando Rodney delivers against the Netherlands in the ninth inning.
Dominican Republic relief pitcher Fernando Rodney delivers against the… (D. Ross Cameron / EPA )

SAN FRANCISCO — On the home front, the reviews for the World Baseball Classic have not been kind. The United States team was knocked out by Puerto Rico. The brightest American stars wanted no part of the tournament and, as a result, neither did the casual fan.

None of this really bothers Bud Selig. If it bothers you, the commissioner said, you are missing the point.

"Focusing on the United States team, frankly, is almost irrelevant," Selig said Monday.

A tournament that started with 28 countries is down to two. The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico — neighbors in the Caribbean — will play for the WBC championship Tuesday.

The Dominican Republic qualified with a 4-1 victory over the Netherlands on Monday, with Edinson Volquez of the San Diego Padres teaming with three relievers on a four-hitter.

The Dominican is 7-0 in the WBC, with a 2.00 earned-run average. Closer Fernando Rodney, who pitched a perfect ninth inning Monday, has faced 22 batters in the WBC and given up one hit.

With Team USA eliminated and local fans indifferent, AT&T Park was half-empty for Monday's semifinal, even with tickets discounted to as little as $5. For the championship game of what Selig insists will grow into a marquee event, prices have dropped to as low as $8.

Selig said he would consider moving the final round to Asia or Latin America.

"It's something that we can think about," he said.

Yet, Selig says this third edition of the WBC has been a smashing success, using interest abroad as the barometer. Promoters in Australia would like the Dodgers to open the season there in 2014 — no deal is close, according to Major League Baseball officials — and promoters in the Netherlands would like two MLB teams to play in a new national ballpark in 2015. Italy reached the second round of the WBC.

"We've created an interest in Europe that I never would have dreamed possible," Selig said.

In the United States, the WBC might have disappeared in the shadow of March Madness. However, the WBC has attracted record ratings from Japan and Taiwan to Puerto Rico and the Netherlands. According to MLB, Tuesday's championship game will be available in 440 million television households worldwide, and free on YouTube.

"It's the reaction internationally that is important," Selig said. "I can honestly say that we have come faster than I thought. So, for what our goal was and is, it's been a great success.

"Look, I know a lot of people were pulling for the United States. … But the objective is to take this sport internationally. If we do our work properly, in five or 10 years, you won't recognize baseball and how popular it is."

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

Twitter: @BillShaikin

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