If you ever wonder why much of the world views Americans as arrogant and uninterested in anything that happens outside the United States’ borders, look no further than Keith Olbermann’s recent tweets about the World Baseball Classic.
Last week, sports commentator Olbermann unleashed a barrage of tweets after New York Mets closer and member of Team Puerto Rico, Edwin Diaz, tore his patellar tendon in a post-game celebration. Olbermann demanded that the World Baseball Classic (WBC) be shut down because it’s “meaningless” and meant to get fans to buy more merch.
Olbermann later apologized for the blatant sexism in his original tweet, but has continued to call for the “killing” the WBC.
As a former national team athlete, there is no greater sense of pride than wearing the name of your country across your chest. The feeling of having the support of an entire nation just because of what’s written on your uniform is incomparable.
Why the World Baseball Classic matters
The WBC is the baseball equivalent of the World Cup or the Olympics. Taking place every four years (much like other international competitions), the World Baseball Classic has players — many of whom are professional players from around the world — playing for their home country, a privilege not often granted to professional baseball players. Originally sanctioned by the International Baseball Federation, the tournament is now under the purview of the World Baseball Softball Confederation in partnership with Major League Baseball.
International competition for professional athletes is often fairly criticized. Professional athletes are paid millions of dollars to dedicate their lives to a franchise — allowing them to participate in these seemingly frivolous additional tournaments poses a not insignificant risk to a team that has invested their money into the success of said athletes. While it doesn’t happen often, athletes do get injured. Sometimes not seriously, other times, season-ending seriously
The fact of the matter is that what happened to Edwin Diaz sucks, a lot. It sucks for the New York Mets, who’ve lost their closer for the season. It sucks for the Mets fans, who keep hoping that maybe this year will be the one (cute!). And it definitely sucks for Edwin Diaz. But, he knew the potential for risk, just like any other professional athlete who decides to participate in these events.
Believe it or not, playing baseball is a job
It’s easy to forget that these athletes are professionals, which means that showing up day-to-day and performing in front of millions of people is their job. While being able to be paid (and paid a lot) to do what you love is an immense privilege, it can also be a burden. International competitions, like the WBC, provide athletes with the ability to reconnect to the sports they love and excel at, and to find the joy in them again.
This is especially the case for athletes who aren’t from the United States. They get to play with people who understand them, their language, their culture. Maybe even people they played with growing up or earlier in their careers. For a couple of short weeks every four years, they get to re-live their youth and represent a country they had to move away from in order to live their dreams and, in some instances, support their families.
Who are we, the fans, to demand that the World Baseball Softball Confederation and Major League Baseball, the employer for many of the players of the WBC, end the tournament because of a relatively low risk of injury that could impact their professional season? Who are we to say that these players don’t deserve to have fun again playing the sport they love while representing their home country?
The WBC isn’t about the fans, it’s about the athletes. Diaz’s teammate on both Team Puerto Rico and the Mets, Francisco Lindor, said that the WBC means a lot to them. “I understand how Mets fans are hurting. But while for so many people the regular season is what counts, playing in the WBC means just as much to all of us,” Lindor said. I don’t blame them. Given the opportunity, I’d run sprints and do drills all day if it meant that I could wear my country emblazoned across my chest again.
I sure hope Keith Olbermann doesn’t have a USA t-shirt he wears on the fourth of July, what a scam to make people buy merch.
Erin Gee is the founder of d3crypto and the host of the forthcoming tech and culture podcast, Alt-Text. She played for the Canadian National Softball team.