Before the second round starts and everyone jumps on the bandwagon, I want to say for the record that the World Baseball Classic fucking rules. Is anyone else catching a fever due to prolonged exposure to this event? For those who have blinked and missed it, the WBC is set up the same way as football/soccer’s World Cup: pools of four teams playing games in the acceptable round-robin style. This format is thrilling because at the exact same time it 1) gives the little guys (e.g. the Netherlands, Italy) a one-in-three chance of pulling off the impossible, because if things go a certain way, one fluke win in three games is all you need to move on to the next round; AND 2) there is a very good chance that the favorites will struggle to make it to the second round, because even if they win two of the three games, they aren’t guaranteed to move on, due to a runs-against tie-breaker. This all came to the fore when Canada, featuring names like Morneau, Stairs and Koskie, beat the shit out of the U.S. team, with names like A-Rod, Jeter and Clemens. In retrospect, it was a good thing that the U.S. lost that game, for two reasons: 1) It was a wake-up call to the media that the tournament isn’t going to be a cakewalk for the U.S., and that there’s more at stake here than whether George Steinbrenner approves of the idea or not, and 2) it might wipe that self-satisfied grin off manager Buck Martinez’s face (though don’t count on it; that shit-eating grin is his bread and butter).

What’s great about this inaugural tournament is that the U.S. almost certainly won’t win. Think of it: The country that invented the sport and still retains a smug, proprietary interest in it is, in all likelihood, going to be thwarted by a country that cares for that sport more strongly. This is exactly what our country was founded on. Sure, England got us here, but we liked “here” better than they did, and gave them what-for. Now, the reason why the U.S. won’t win is easy to see: Buck Martinez approached the roster the wrong way. While the all-star roster might look good on paper, it is impractical in execution. Every other team in the tournament is playing its best players at every position at every step of the way because of the limited resources; their benchwarmers are tailor-made to be benchwarmers. But in the U.S.’s case, with hundreds of potential stars to call on, the benchwarmers Martinez was almost forced to select are actual stars in their own right. Would you rather have Mark Teixeira at first base or Derek Lee? A-Rod at third base or Chipper Jones? It just doesn’t work. To promote chemsitry and to mitigate the hard feelings, Buck, if that is indeed really his name, should have chosen a set group of starters and a set group of role players. Like, instead of starting three centerfielders in the outfield in game one (Griffey in CF, Johnny Damon in LF, Randy Winn in RF), it might have been — what’s the word — smarter(?) to go with three outfielders playing their natural positions. Martinez has been found guilty of wanting too much of a good thing.

But the U.S. is obviously the favorite to win the thing, and it’ll be fun to watch the team implode or not. Now we hit the second round where the U.S. has to emerge with one other team in a pool with Japan, South Korea and Mexico, all of which have bona fide major leaguers, and all-stars at that, in key positions in their lineups. On the other side of the bracket are four teams that I could be persuaded to bet on: Dominican Republic (the best lineup, hands down), Venezuela (the best starting pitching staff, hands down), Puerto Rico and Cuba. I’d take any of those teams against the U.S. in the final game. But you have to bet against the U.S. making the finals. Too many variables, too few games. Here is my prediction: South Korea wins it all. And if not them, Puerto Rico.

Anyway, why the hell did it take the powers that be so long to come up with something like this? This has long-term benefits for the game throughout the world, and globalization can only benefit the game here at home. I for one am looking forward to that first Uzbekistani baseball player to make the major leagues. This is where it starts. And considering that the WBC is happening only once every four years, even remote-control-happy Americans can’t get tired of it.

Still no potatoes.