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Saturday Sports: March Madness, World Baseball Classic


Time for sports.


SIMON: Baseball around the world, the onset of March Madness in college basketball - epic upset, star courses. It's anyone's game. Howard Bryant of espn.com and ESPN The Magazine joins us now from the studios of New England Public Radio, the radio station, the website - I don't think they have a magazine - in Amherst. Thanks very much for being with us, Howard.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: Firstly, this World Baseball Classic, my friend, how much of a draw is it when you don't have the best players from - you know, American, Dominican, Japanese, Mexican, Korean and Australian players who play in American Major League Baseball?

BRYANT: Well, that's right. Well, you have the best Dominican players, and you've got an incredible enthusiasm around the world from, you know, the Puerto Rican team, Venezuelan team. You've got team Israel that is making a nice run. You've got the Netherlands that played really well. You've got team Italy that's playing really hard.

But in terms of American baseball, Clayton Kershaw - best pitcher in the world - not playing. Mike Trout - best player in the world - not playing. Bryce Harper, you're former MVP and superstar with the Washington Nationals - not playing. And they've never played. And so you've got this question here as to whether or not this is a viable tournament.

It's the only international presence that baseball has because they're not in the Olympics. And so on the one hand, it's a great showcase for the sport internationally but on another, the teams don't want their best players playing. I mean, who - they don't want any of their players playing. Do you really want one of your guys getting hurt before the season starts?

The fans are generally ambivalent about it. And - but Major League Baseball has committed to it. This is something that they've decided is a priority for them. So on the one hand, you've got the international teams playing like it's the World Series. And the American team going, now, well. However, last night, the Americans won a great walk off game beating Colombia 3-2. Adam Jones with the win.

SIMON: It would be neat for the sport of baseball around the world if Israel or Italy would've win.

BRYANT: Absolutely. It'd be fantastic because, once again, you're trying - what is this all about? It's about growing the sport. And they're trying to grow the game into markets where you didn't have baseball or where baseball wasn't that big. Obviously, in the Netherlands, they don't even call it baseball. They call it honkbal, but they love it. And it's an incredible - it's a great story. They beat the Dominican Republic a couple of years ago, which was an amazing thing. It's like really?

So on the one hand, internationally - fantastic. But, locally, you got March Madness. You've got other stuff. You've got NFL free agency. And you've got baseball fans waiting for their team to get going when the regular season starts.

SIMON: Quick aside - honkbal?

BRYANT: Honkbal (laughter).

SIMON: That's the Dutch language for base...

BRYANT: That is the Dutch word for baseball. It's the same game just with a much different name.

SIMON: You always, always teach me new things. College basketball, March Madness seems wide open. My question - can anyone beat those Northwestern Wildcats?

BRYANT: Well, you know what, Scott? You already got your Cubs winning, so don't get greedy. But anything can happen right now. You've got the Cleveland Indians get into the World Series, and the Cavaliers winning the championship. So why not the Northwestern Wildcats?

You know, if anyone's going to win it this year, Scott, this is the year. I think that, for one, to Duke, which had been out - almost out of the top 20 for a while, they're starting to play really, really well. But they beat North Carolina who was supposed to be one of the great teams. Villanova is going to be close. UCLA, which is a team that I thought had a chance to win that thing, they lost last night to Arizona. This is one of those years where I think that you could have 10 teams that could win this thing, and it's not like college football where it's Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson - all the big boys. This is one where anybody can win. And I think it makes it fun.

On the other hand, you've got some of the purist saying, well, this is what happens when all the great players go to the NBA so fast. You don't have a chance to build these great teams. But if you want parity, if you want buzzer beaters, if you want all of those great things that the tournament gives you, anyone can win.

SIMON: Yeah. Howard Bryant of espn.com and ESPN The Magazine, thanks so much for being with us.

BRYANT: See you, Scott.


SIMON: And you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.