I think I just had the greatest single idea I had in my entire life. Ever.
In England they have a great competition that runs during the normal football season called the FA Cup (FA stands for Football Association). When I say football, by the by, I mean the football that 98% of the Worlds population understands as football. Not the football that gangs of criminals and their friends play on a Sunday in Cincinnati (Has the tenth guy been arrested off the Bungles as yet? Or does it still stand at just the nine?).
Disclaimer: I love the NFL, my IQ drops about twenty seven points every Sunday at around 5:54 pm during NFL season just from the over excitement of the abundance of games about to happen. I am just saying, most of the world calls football, well, football, and NFL is 'American Football'. Most United States based readers just don't understand this, in the same was as they think Daisuke Matsuzaka has never pitched before yesterday in Florida.
Anyway, back to the wonderful English ritual that is the FA Cup. Every season the FA Cup brings some of the most dramatic, enjoyable and romantic games of the season. 'Romantic? How so?' I hear you say.
Glad you asked.
In the FA Cup, any club side in England can enter. Yes, you heard that right. Any club side in England can enter, be it a semi professional Sunday league side that gets crowds of seventy people and nine dogs or Manchester United PLC (where business comes first), the pride of the Far East (everyone who actually lives in Manchester supports Manchester City).
The competition starts early in the season with knockout rounds played out all over England for a chance to enter the third round, which is actually roughly the seventy fifth round when all is said and done. Tiny Clubs kick the living crap out of each other for a chance to play against the big boys. Then it happens. With the arrival of the third round, normally late in the winter, the big clubs are entered in the draw.
This leads to those magical moments when the fans of 'Little tiny town in England FC' find out they have just been drawn against Liverpool in the third round of the FA Cup. Every now and then, the FA Cup then makes a mockery of money, power and history as invariably one of the little guys knocks one of the big guys out.
In 2003 little tiny Shrewsbury Town then of Division Three actually knocked Everton of the Premiere League out, something they will celebrate in Shrewsbury until, well, the end of time probably.
It's not only the start of the tournament that lends itself to upset results. In 1973 Sunderland, then a Division Two side, somehow made it all the way to the FA Cup Final (how they snuck past Arsenal in the semi final no one will ever know) only to face one of the great powerhouse teams of the time and actual FA Cup holders, Leeds United. Amazingly, Sunderland took the lead and held on to win 1-0 thanks to one of the greatest displays of goalkeeping in modern football history. Some people think the incredible double save Jim Montgomery pulled off to deny Peter Lorimer may have been the best save ever.
Here's the thing. Let's face it, The World Baseball Championship is going to take some time to grab the attention of the United States. The rest of the World loved it, but the US media at best semi ignored it (come on admit it, they did) and at worst didn't watch one inning.
The second WBC is scheduled to take place in 2009, with subsequent tournaments held every four years thereafter, so how about holding this in 2008 and then every two years after that..
The World Baseball Club Championship
Just imagine it. Every single Baseball Club in the World is allowed enter. In the early stages the little clubs battle it out for the right to face the big boys later on, when they are unleashed into the knockout tournament.
I would imagine the big guns would come in around round twenty four, which is when the US media would suddenly perk up. Round twenty four, or, 'The final 128' as it would become lovingly known would see the addition of all the Major League Clubs plus the top clubs in the Nippon Professional Baseball league along with the biggest clubs in South America, the Caribbean and yes, Cuba (What round did Cuba get knocked out in during the WBC, someone remind me, was it before or after the USA?).
Just imagine the drama during the draw held live as a glossy red carpet event. The Major League teams, the Nippon Professional Baseball league teams and all the other Clubs in the same drum like container waiting to be drawn. Imagine the gasp of air as the organisers took a ball out, cracked it open and read the little slip of paper inside..
'The New York Yankees...will play...(crack - another ball opened, another slip of paper read)..the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters''
That's not even a great example. Imagine this scenario. The organisers take a ball out of the drum crack it open and read the little slip of paper inside..
'Neptunus of Rotterdam...will play...(crack - another ball opened, another slip of paper read).. The Kansas City Royals''
First of all, imagine the panic in the Royals front office. Picture the Royals representative at the draw, his face drawn of all blood, diving down to his laptop and googling (when is this actually becoming a verb?) frantically ''Neptunus of Rotterdam'' and the subsequent phone call to his or her boss..
''Hey, Mr Moore, hi, yes, having a great time, hey so we drew Neptunus of Rotterdam. What, no, I am not kidding. I don't know Mr Moore, I think it's in Belgium, maybe''
The rules are you are the home team if you are drawn first so imagine the absolute glee of the officials from Neptunus of Rotterdam as they realise they will be hosting a Major League Club in their comparatively tiny stadium for the right to go to the last 64 best teams in Club Baseball - in the World. Imagine also the panic in the Royals front office as they consider life after the potential of being knocked out in Holland.
The funny thing is, it could actually be possible. You scoff at baseball in Europe? The Netherlands boasts the most successful national baseball team in Europe, winning the European Baseball Championship nineteen times and frequently representing the continent in international competitions (World Baseball Classic, the Olympics and the Baseball World Cup). There is a domestic professional baseball league whose best team is indeed Neptunus of Rotterdam, and they regularly contends for the European club championship, including five consecutive titles from 2000-2004.
On top of all that, if you happen to be in the States and happen to be thinking 'Oh come on, no Club outside the Majors could beat a MLB Club'. That's the thinking that got the United States knocked out of the World Baseball Classic before the playoff/knockout rounds.
That's the thing. That's the beauty of the FA Cup and of the imaginary 'World Baseball Club Championship'. Anything, and I mean anything can happen. Imagine if you will the starter for Neptunus of Rotterdam simply pitching the game of his life. The drama in the stadium and on 'ESPN Europe' as the last Royals batter approaches the plate would be fantastic.
The later rounds would take on an even more sensational life of their own. Naturally most of the smaller Clubs would be weeded out slowly but surely, leaving one or two to live the dream. The very late rounds could throw up some sensational baseball.
Picture this for a stunning final eight..
- The New York Yankees v Neptunus of Rotterdam
- Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters v The Detroit Tigers
- Isla de la Juventud Toronjeros (Cuba) v The Boston Red Sox
- The New York Mets v Industriales of Havana
Naturally the Yankees would see off Neptunus and the Dutch Clubs magical ride would come to an end but not before they got to play in Yankee Stadium. Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters would throw everything at the Tigers and the home field advantage would see them through in a dramatic upset. The drama would only be getting started. After weeks of political rubbish the Red Sox would finally be allowed play Isla de la Juventud Toronjeros in Cuba creating one of the greatest games in baseball history, as the Sox, a little worn down by travelling and being asked 'What's it like to travel to Cuba?' go behind early. Imagine the entire Baseball World watching as David Ortiz stepped up to the plate with a runner on and down by a run in the ninth inning. Surely the subsequent home run would be the real 'Shot heard around the World'.
Finally the great shock of the round as the regal like Industriales of Havana swagger into Shea Stadium and stun the New York Mets with solid, error free team play. That very night, as the last out is made, the draw for the semi final would be held. Millions world wide would tune in and gasp in shock and awe as the draw unfolded before them as such;
- Industriales of Havana v The New York Yankees
- The Boston Red Sox v Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters
Frankly, that semi final sells itself. No further description needed. The World Cup of football is one of the most magical events in sports. It brings together not only nationalities and cultures, but also mankind's great passion for sports. Just imagine baseball taking a page out of the FA Cup's book and inventing a tournament that would not only capture the imagination of the entire globe but also bring it that little tiny bit closer together.