Anybody who knows me knows I love baseball. One of the hardest things about being in Beijing has been missing the Cubs games in what could be their greatest season ever....or not, but I prefer to think it will be their greatest season ever. Let me have my dream!
Anyway, I've been missing baseball, so I was excited Wednesday to get the chance to cover Team USA's opener in the final Olympics for baseball. For those that haven't heard, baseball and softball are being removed from the Olympic games after our time in Beijing. Softball players are extremely passionate about this...in fact, interviewing one of the members of the three time gold medalists before the tourney started, I asked her about it leaving after this year. She started tearing up. I felt like Roy Firestone, but I also understood the passion and heart for the sport. I was ready to see how baseball responded to its debut in the final Games. What a disappointment.
Not that they lost the game to Korea, which they did, by the way, by the score of 8-7. Team USA baseball is not a fair representation of the strength of the sport in the U.S. because the best Americans are playing Major League Baseball. No, the loss wasn't the most disappointing part. It was the way the team handled it afterwards.
The Olympics is all about overcoming adversity. The ecstasy of victory and the agony of defeat. Rau'shee Warren losing his first boxing match and talking about it afterwards. The look of absolute horror and shock on the faces of the U.S. Gymnastics team and talking about their heartache afterwards. The stunned looks on the faces of the U.S. Baseball team after losing a tight game and.....not talking about it afterwards?
That's right. Even though Kobe Bryant will stand and talk to anyone who asks....even though Carlos Boozer will make a point to ask if anyone else needs anything before he leaves....the minor league players that make up Team USA can't be bothered to talk after their FIRST game in the last Olympics for baseball.
When you cover the Olympics, the media gathers in what's called the "mixed zone" which is essentially a roped off area on the field where we as media members gather to get quotes after the game from players. They have it in every Olympic sport. Players walk in, we talk to them briefly, they leave. No big deal.
Last night, every single baseball player walked through, and none talked. Not one. Later, they claimed "miscommunication" on how the mixed zone works, but I'm not buying it. I attribute this to the culture that baseball has developed over the last 20 years or so. This culture of horrible P.R. for the game. You are playing in a sport that is dead after this year in the Olympics. And yet, you still act like you are bigger than the event? Ridiculous.
Baseball has lost its spot at the top of the sports power tree because of continued public relations gaffes at all but the lowest levels of the sport. You wonder why football is king? This is one of the multitude of reasons. I can talk to Joe Ganz after a football practice, or a game, but I can't talk to a member of Team USA baseball? There were 9 media members there. Nebraska will have more at football practice this afternoon than they had at the game last night.
Baseball's gone after these Olympics, and until last night, I was disappointed by that. But from what I saw last night, none of these guys want to be here anyway. They'll get their wish in 2012.