The World Baseball Classic is finally upon us after a four year break, and MLB's answer to a World Cup of baseball begins on Friday, live from Taichung, Taiwan. MLB Network will be exclusively airing all 39 games of the Classic live, and will also be providing studio coverage of the tournament.
Pool A will begin on Friday evening, while pool B follows shortly thereafter on Saturday morning. Pool A takes place in Fukuoka, Japan, and will be broadcast by Rich Waltz and Buck Martinez. Pool B takes place in Taichung, Taiwan, and will be broadcast by JB Long and Joe Magrane. Waltz and Long are unfamiliar names on a major stage, and will likely continue to fly under the radar broadcasting games in the early morning house from Asia. Waltz is the current Miami Marlins play by play announcer (and someone whose work grew on me a lot in 2012), while Long is the play by play voice of the Pac-12 Network.
Pool C, taking place in San Juan, Puerto Rico, has a pair of more familiar names doing commentary: the wonderful Gary Thorne and Jose Mota, Angels radio broadcaster and former MLB on Fox broadcaster. Pool D in Phoenix, also known as the pool featuring Team USA, will feature two announce teams: Matt Yallof and Jeff Nelson, and a three person team of Matt Vasgersian, Jim Kaat, and Sam Ryan.
The second round in Tokyo will be called by Waltz and Martinez, while the second round in Miami will be called by a variety of broadcasters from the "A-team", including Vasgersian, John Smoltz, Harold Reynolds, Tom Verducci, and Heidi Watney. Harold Reynolds, color commentator is something that will need to be seen to be believed. The semifinals in San Francisco will be called by Vasgersian, Kaat, and Verducci, while Bob Costas replaces Vasgersian for the championship game.
Overall, MLB Network did a pretty solid job picking broadcasters for the Classic, and I'm excited to see Waltz branch out and expose his skills to a wider audience. But the broadcast team choices for the rounds in America seem a little bizarre. Verducci serving as a color commentator for one game is odd considering that he's typically just a reporter with the network, and throwing Reynolds into the fire by putting him in the booth is another odd move considering that his most significant non-studio work was calling the Little League World Series with ESPN during his career there.
Also, if you're going to bring in high-level announcers like Costas, Kaat, and Smoltz, why use them so infrequently? The issue is probably related to money and importance, but the A-team always broadcasts throughout the playoffs in all of the other sports. Why should the WBC be so different when MLB is pushing it as such a huge deal?
MLB Network will also be airing a studio show, entitled World Baseball Classic Today, providing analysis of the tournament. The only talent announced for the show is Joey Cora, a former coach with the Chicago White Sox, who will only be on the show from March 7-9. OK, what about the weekend before that, and the week after that? And who will be hosting? Who are the other analysts? It almost seems to be like MLB Network just realized this week that the WBC is starting soon and they needed to slap something together, and this is the result.