- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
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PHOENIX -- Commissioner Bud Selig flew to Arizona on Wednesday to watch the latest installment of his grand, glorious, international vision for Major League Baseball.
Trouble is, reality keeps getting in the way.
The World Baseball Classic -- Selig's baby -- could lead to some wonderful marketing opportunities and global talent development down the road. But before Beijing produces a shortstop with Yao Ming-caliber appeal or Yankees T-shirts become the rage in Moscow, life goes on as usual here in the states.
And let's just say it hasn't been a great week for the man in charge. The way things are going, Selig might start reflecting on the 1994 collective bargaining negotiations as "the good old days."
The commissioner was sitting in the press box in Scottsdale over the weekend, bantering with reporters, when he received word that Twins icon Kirby Puckett had just suffered a stroke. While the tragic news of Puckett's premature death would touch a nation, the ensuing days have produced an ugly series of pile-ons for Selig
On Tuesday, Sports Illustrated's Web site released an excerpt from the new book "Game of Shadows," a remarkable account of Barry Bonds' steroid use. It ensured that Selig will be forced to confront a protracted mess this summer, as Bonds chases Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron on the career home run list.
On Wednesday, Boston pitcher David Wells teed up the commissioner like a Titleist, going on a prolonged, angry rant that brought to mind his umpteen previous anti-Selig rants.
"He's a piece of [expletive]," Wells told the Hartford Courant. "And you can quote me on that."
So what's next on the agenda? Piano movers drop a Steinway on Selig's car? His favorite lunchtime haunt, Gilles Frozen Custard Stand, gets a surprise visit from the Board of Health? The Packers pick up and move to Las Vegas?
Selig is safe on those fronts. But one of his other nightmare scenarios could still materialize. There's a possibility that Team USA might not make it out of the first round of the WBC, ensuring that plenty of good seats will be available for the games in Anaheim and San Diego.
It's not a great possibility. But following an 8-6 loss to Canada on Wednesday, Team USA players streamed into the home clubhouse at Chase Field and received a rundown of tiebreaker scenarios that could spell a quick exit from this international competition.
Basically, it comes down to this: If Canada beats Mexico on Thursday and Team USA beats South Africa on Friday, the Americans advance to the next round in Anaheim. If Mexico wins 1-0, 2-1 or 2-0, Team USA is eliminated.
Are you still with us?
"So we're cheering for Canada, right?" said Alex Rodriguez. "What's the spread?"
Unless the ongoing Bonds storyline miraculously goes away, WBC might ultimately stand for "Withstanding Barry's Chaos." Bonds traveled to San Francisco for a child custody hearing on Wednesday, so he avoided those always nettlesome questions about Winstrol, trenbolone and Mexican beans. But his ordeal continues to hover over this event, hogging headlines and steering players, coaches and WBC officials into conversations they'd rather avoid.
Former big-leaguer Larry Walker, now a coach for Team Canada, addressed a barrage of Bonds-related questions on the field before the game.
"It's reached the point of, 'What do you believe and who do you believe?' " Walker said. "Are we supposed to believe the guys who wrote this book or are we supposed to believe Barry? It's a coin toss. I don't know who's to believe and who's not."
Selig, just in from the home base in Milwaukee, addressed the issue in a 20-minute pregame news conference. He talked about the strides the game has made in drug testing, declined to confirm a report that he plans to meet with Bonds sometime in the near future, and said he will review all the relevant information before making a comment on the latest Bonds revelations.
If there were any doubt that Bonds' medicine chest was the last topic Selig wanted to address, he dispelled it early in his news conference.
"If I had my choice today, I would have gone to have a root canal job," Selig said.
Fortunately, there was a game to be played, and it provided a welcome reprieve from the Barry-fest. It also showed that baseball's global talent gap has narrowed in places you might not expect. While the U.S. squad boasts the big names, Team Canada has bonded with heart and a hockey mentality. Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash, a British Columbia native, even got a ticket to the game to lend his support.
Success in the WBC certainly can't hurt Canadian morale. As Walker pointed out, Canadians weren't even eligible for the draft when he broke into pro ball as a raw kid out of British Columbia. Now they're dotting rosters all over the majors. "It's awesome,'' Walker said.
The Team Canada pitching staff is a bit suspect, with Eric Gagne, Ryan Dempster and Rich Harden all missing for assorted reasons. But the Canadians can rake. Manager Ernie Whitt ran out a lineup with eight left-handed bats, and Justin Morneau, Matt Stairs and Adam Stern helped Canada jump out to an 8-0 lead.
Jason Varitek's grand slam allowed Team USA to close the gap to 8-6. But it wasn't enough, as the American went down flailing against relievers Eric Cyr, Scott Mathieson and Steve Green in the late innings.
"It's a very quiet locker room right now," said USA manager Buck Martinez. "I think everybody is feeling like they got kicked in the stomach. This team has a lot of pride. It's a tough day today."
Whether it's just a speed bump or something more enduring, we'll find out soon enough.
"Maybe in the long run, this is going to be good for us," said Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur. "Maybe it's a wakeup call, and we'll realize we're not just going to walk out there and win it."
In the inaugural World Baseball Classic, the USA players are about to discover if a little adversity will make them stronger. Commissioner Selig can definitely relate.
1dJesse Rogers and Jerry Crasnick