The Korea-Venezuela semifinal game drew 43,378 fans to Dodger Stadium. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty)
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LOS ANGELES -- Accentuating the benefits of the event and addressing various questions, Commissioner Bud Selig left no doubt Saturday night that the World Baseball Classic has carved out an important global presence, shows tremendous promise and is poised to become all the more exciting when it returns in March of 2013.
The event, which uniquely showcases Major League players at a time of year when baseball revs up the engines for a new season, is nearing the end of its second running and is slated to be staged every four years. The inaugural event was unveiled in 2006.
"I'm very happy about where we are," Selig said in an impromptu media conference behind the Dodger Stadium press box during the course of Korea's resounding 10-2 victory over Venezuela in the semifinals. "I think this is tremendous. Long after I'm gone this is going to get bigger and bigger and bigger, and you can count on that."
Selig, who will turn 75 this year, has a contract through the 2012 season.
Still on tap this year is Sunday evening's Team USA-Japan semifinal and a championship matchup on Monday between the winner of that game and Korea, a team that is 12-3 over the course of the first two tournaments, but was knocked out by Japan in a semifinal game three years ago for its only loss.
Attendance for Saturday night's game was 43,378 with the real possibility that close to 150,000 could show up for the three games here.
Selig addressed whether the tournament is catching on fast enough with U.S. fans and observations made by a few Major League teams' general managers, who have suggested reconsidering the time of year the event is played.
"I know we have some GMs who are somewhat reticent -- I'm going to be as kind here as I can," Selig said. "Look, the clubs hear this all the time, but I'm going to say this to you as directly as I can:
" 'This is a time in life where I know how important your individual club is -- this is a time to put the best interests of the game ahead of your own provincial self-interest.' "
Selig cited what is undeniably successful with the event. The skill level of many of the nations that are newcomers to baseball has increased in the past three years. The Netherlands moved into the second round. Italy, Australia and China all won first-round games against more established baseball-past nations.
Korea and defending champion Japan continue to dominate, sending viewership in the Far East into more than impressive territory. Television ratings for those games, for example, in Japan have consistently gained close to a 40 percent share of the viewing audience.
Team USA's opening round win over Canada in Toronto was the third most watched sporting event on cable TV that week, drawing an audience of 1.8 million. ESPN's overall ratings in the U.S. are up 30 percent since '06, while attendance at the games has generally been comparable despite some smaller crowds for second-round games in Miami's current facility and San Diego.
"I've read all the plusses and minuses, but this is doing exactly what we set out to do," Selig said. "For years we had been accused about being slow in our international development. We needed to find resourceful ways to do this. But after a great deal of thought, this is what we came up with. We've tweaked it a little bit between '06 and now.
"I think it's remarkable. Just watching the game tonight is a manifestation of how far we have come."
Selig said he is resolute about playing the tournament in March and that there would not be a break in July to stage this competition.
"There's no sense standing here tonight telling you it's something that we'll look at," Selig said. "I wouldn't tell you that ... I know people have said it's the wrong time, but ... it's really the only time we can do it."
Selig said, at the same time, that the Classic steering committee would continue to make tweaks in the length and format. Paul Archey, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of international business operations, said planning for the '13 Classic and a probable expansion to 24 teams with play-in rounds will begin almost immediately after the current tournament ends.
The double-elimination brackets used in the first two rounds determined decisive winners, but they led to almost meaningless final games that decided seeding for the next rounds.
Also, Japan could face Korea for the fifth time in this tournament if it ascends to the final game. But in the second round, Japan played four times and never faced Mexico. The Japanese defeated Cuba twice and split with Korea.
In the '06 round-robin format, a complicated and confusing set of international tiebreakers was used to determine which team would move on. The downside was that three teams in one second-round bracket -- the U.S., Mexico and Japan -- all finished with 1-2 records. Japan moved on to the semifinals because of the tiebreakers.
The upside of it was that the second-place finisher in that bracket -- won by Korea -- wasn't determined until the last pitch of the final game: a 2-1 U.S. loss to Mexico. Had the U.S. pulled that game out, it would have gone on to the semifinals (with a 2-1 record) rather than Japan.
"Anything new continues to need to be adjusted," Selig said. "But I just went out and sat in the crowd for a couple of innings, and the excitement was incredible. How much [the fans] care, it was marvelous. We'll continue to look at everything. I like the idea of playing in Tokyo, in Toronto, in Mexico City. There's something good about that. That's part of what we're trying to do. There's still ways we can condense this thing.
"But this is the right thing to do. Everything we have ever tried to do, whether it was the Wild Cards or whatever, there was always some criticism. I accept it, and I understand that. But the clubs themselves years ago took a vote on this. They agreed that we had to do something internationally, that we needed to go to China and we decided that this was the vehicle we were going to use to do that. Now we've got to cooperate with that vehicle."