Though American fans haven't exactly flocked to the games, the concept of the World Baseball Classic remains appealing. At least it did until Saturday, when it delivered an episode of "Embarrassing Moments in the Lives of Alleged Adults."
We say "alleged" because athletes too often spit on the standards of adulthood.
Though the ugly brawl that occurred in the ninth inning of Canada's 10-3 victory over Mexico surely moved the WBC toward the top of the TV highlight shows and might boost future domestic ratings, it was a disgraceful display by the "men" involved.
It's understood that fights are a baseball tradition dating back to before the outfield fence. And baseball, being baseball, with its secret codes and spurious slights, has remained devoutly disinclined to evolve at a rate similar to that of general society.
Why? To ask baseball folks is to brace to be slammed into one variation or another of three simple and unsatisfying words: Hey, it's baseball.
That logic-resistant inanity apparently applies even when baseball marries a global event like the WBC, one that at least theoretically goes beyond the boundaries of sportsmanship and makes an attempt to spread copious amounts of international goodwill in the name of America's pastime.
All it took Saturday was a few hotheads and before long the entire infield and parts of foul territory had become a battlefield. Sensing the potential for a good riot, some of the fans at Chase Field in Phoenix also got involved.
Though the brawl -- and this one featured actual fisticuffs, wrestling and tackling -- was touched off when Canada's Rene Tosoni was hit by a pitch from Mexico's Arnold Leon, the central figure was Canadian catcher Chris Robinson, who was not among the six players ejected.
Robinson made a couple late slides to deck Mexican infielders and received a modicum of payback when Mexico's Karim Garcia ran shoulder first into him on a play at the plate. So when Robinson led off the top the ninth, he had done plenty to chafe the nerves of the Mexican team and, by extension, a crowd (19,581) nearly unanimous in its support of Mexico.
With Canada holding a 9-3 lead, Robinson bunted the first pitch for a single, further irritating Mexico. Even though run differential can be a tiebreaking factor in tournament play, this breach of old-school etiquette left the next batter vulnerable for retribution.
That was Tosoni, who was dusted off by Leon's first two pitches, which drew a warning. Leon responded with a third pitch that drilled Tosoni in the rib cage, after which he walked toward the mound. Dugouts emptied and the beef was on.
As baseball fights go, this one was legitimate. No visible blood, but fists flying and bodies tumbling. Four Mexicans -- Alfredo Aceves, Oliver Perez, Eduardo Arredondo and Leon -- were tossed, along with Canadians Jay Johnson, Pete Orr and Tosoni.
This presumably accounts for Johnson's decking of Arredondo but not the punch thrown by Mexico's Luis Cruz that landed on Canada's Scott Mathieson, nor the sight of Canada's Tyson Gillies slinging Aceves to the ground.
Passion spilled over to frustration, which begot idiocy. A couple fans couldn't help themselves, tossing water bottles and garbage in the direction of the participants.
Not exactly what MLB commissioner Bud Selig envisioned in 2006 when he christened the inaugural WBC by promising that within a few years it would command a massive global stage. Though sponsors have doubled since then, the American audience remains indifferent. Most fans simply hope their favorite players don't get hurt.
The first round is being played in four sites: Phoenix, Fukuoka, Japan; Puerto Rico; and Taiwan. The next round moves to Tokyo and Miami, before the championship round concludes at AT&T Park in San Francisco. The format is fine.
What's not fine is seeing men exchange caps before the game in a show of diplomacy, only to exchange punches later.
The idea is that the WBC grows into something rivaling the World Cup of soccer, a global phenomenon, a must-see event for any fan of the sport. And soccer, we know, has a long tradition of cheap-shot violence and unruly fans -- especially abroad.
But MLB has its regular season, its postseason and its World Series. That more than satisfies the domestic appetite for the game. Excuse us if most of us pass on the WBC.
Though the events of Saturday might have no lasting effect, Canada and Mexico left the field draped not in glory but in infamy. They went to an event conceived to promote harmony and engaged in confrontation.
They did, however, generate publicity. Which proves yet again that when all else fails to generate the desired amount of attention, resorting to baseball violence works just fine.
Contact Monte Poole at firstname.lastname@example.org.