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First year viewed as huge success around world


Published: Mon, March 20, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.


There are still plenty of kinks to be worked out before the next one in 2009.
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Cuban players in those lucky red uniforms sprinted to the mound for an exhilarating embrace. A South Korean band pounded drums right outside the ballpark. Dominican fans danced to a merengue beat, the Venezuelans draped themselves in bright yellow flags.
And Thunder Stix were replaced by pots and pans as the preferred noisemaker.
All the chants, cheers and national pride provided exactly the kind of international spirit Bud Selig envisioned all along for the World Baseball Classic.
The inaugural 16-team tournament showed that making baseball count in March isn't such a bad concept after all -- even if there are plenty of kinks to be worked out before the next one in 2009.
"This was not perfect so far," said Ichiro Suzuki, one of only two major leaguers in Monday night's championship game between Japan and Cuba. "But I believe a lot of people in the whole world paid attention to baseball."
Monday's game wasn't completed in time for today's edition.
U.S. made early exit
Fans stayed up late to watch on television, even after the squads from the United States and Dominican Republic made early exits. Supporters remained in the seats at Petco Park -- where a sign in left-center reads "America's Pastime" -- to wait out a 45-minute rain delay Saturday night and watch Japan eliminate its previously unbeaten rival, South Korea.
The Classic captured attention in the midst of NCAA March Madness, and that's saying something.
Cuba wasn't even sure it would be allowed to play at all. Now, the communist Caribbean nation is hinting it would like to be a WBC host down the road.
"From the very beginning, we said that we were going to play baseball," Cuban outfielder Frederich Cepeda said. "The uncertainty as to whether Cuba was going to be part of it or not in baseball, as we say in Cuba, 'The ball is round.' We have done it now."
Questions timing
Dominican general manager Stan Javier, a 17-year major leaguer, questioned the timing of the tournament and suggested it be held at the end of spring training next time -- delaying the start of Major League Baseball's 162-game schedule by a week.
Selig has said he and his colleagues not only in the commissioner's office but all around international baseball will evaluate every aspect of the WBC as they plan for 2009. Some involved with the Classic believe its success might persuade Olympic organizers to think about bringing back baseball on that level.
During first-round games in Arizona, Selig personally thanked players who took part, leaving the comfort of their spring training camps for the uncertainty of a new event.
"It was a great human experience," Selig said, echoing sentiments he heard from major leaguers. "I thanked each one of them and each one of them said, 'We need to thank you.' "
One thing is clear: The interest is there.
Moises Alou, a 39-year-old outfielder for the San Francisco Giants, said he heard from several of his countrymen who wished they had joined him on the Dominican team and plan to play three years from now.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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