Under the circumstances, it was one of the greatest catches you’ll ever see, Adam Jones leaping high above the center-field fence to rob Manny Machado in the seventh inning of a tension-packed, do-or-die game between the USA and the Dominican Republic.
Except you probably didn’t see it — at least not live. After all, it happened at 1 a.m. on the East Coast, three hours into a game that didn’t end until nearly 2 a.m.
Saturday night or not, how exactly are people supposed to care about this World Baseball Classic when the most appetizing matchup of the tournament begins at 10 p.m. for so much of the population?
I confess I didn’t see Jones’ catch, or the final few innings of USA’s 6-3 victory, until Sunday morning via DVR. And I was into the game, as this WBC has proven to be very compelling, thanks to the intensity with which the games have been played.
But by 12:30 a.m. or so the game was in the fifth inning and I didn’t like my odds of staying awake for another 90 minutes, so I made an executive decision to press the record button and call it a night.
As a test of sorts, I checked in on Sunday with three different friends, each of them hard-core Mets’ or Yankees’ fans, to see if they’d stayed up to watch the finish.
The response was unanimous: if it had been their Mets or Yankees in a postseason game, they would have stayed with the game until the end, especially on a weekend night.
But not the WBC.
“I’ve been watching — the games are entertaining,’’ said one. “But I’m not staying up all night for that. It doesn’t mean that much to me.”
It may be a small sample, but I think it’s probably somewhat representative of a lot of fans: they’ll watch the WBC, if it’s convenient. And a 10 p.m. start is anything but that.
I know the game was in San Diego, and I know there was another game before Team USA played, but considering how hard Major League Baseball works to promote this tournament, the late start on the East Coast for such an appealing game made no sense, especially since it’s on their own network.
After all, there is a lot to like about the WBC. Fans often complain that players don’t seem to care as much as they do about their major league team, but no one can say that about these games, because what truly stands out is how much playing for national pride means to the likes of Robinson Cano of the DR, Yadier Molina of Puerto Rico, Martin Prado of Venezuela, and, yes, Adam Jones of the USA.
Even before he went flying into the crowd to rob that home run from Machado, his Orioles’ teammate, Jones had been ordained as the new Captain America, the nickname bestowed upon David Wright four years ago.
Jones has delivered big hits, in addition to his catch, but he has also emerged as something of a team spokesman, expressing his passion for playing in such an event. And the fact that he’s originally from San Diego added to the magnificence of his moment late Saturday night.
Team USA led 4-2 at the time, and it would be 4-3 minutes later when Cano took Tyler Clippard deep. The U.S. responded with two more runs in the 8th, but who knows how the game might have turned if not for Jones’ catch.
In any case, fans responded to his catch by chanting Jones’ name, and it made for a moment to remember — if only so much of the baseball nation wasn’t already asleep.
Which raises the big-picture question of what exactly to do with the WBC. It may never mean as much to American fans as it does to those in other countries, as evidenced by the frenzied atmosphere last week in Miami.
And the risk of injury is always going to be an issue for pitchers, especially in March, but there’s really no reason why the best position-players like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant can’t make time for the WBC.
As it is, after watching the early-round games, Trout told the Los Angeles Times last week that he’d likely want to play next time.
But if the tournament is ever going to get the exposure needed to make it something of the Olympics for baseball, MLB and the Players Association are going to have to take some form of the suggestions from Joe Girardi and others, and play at least some portion of it during the All-Star break.
That way it’d be far more likely to have Clayton Kershaw on the mound than Tanner Roark, who will start the semifinal game Tuesday in Dodgers Stadium against Japan. No offense to Roark, but more star power is needed to sell this to the American public.
In the meantime, earlier starting times sure wouldn’t hurt, either.