Lasorda ceremony opens Classic

Hall of Fame manager flips switch at Empire State Building

Tommy Lasorda turns on the lights at the Empire State Building. (Eve Roytshteyn/MLB.com)

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NEW YORK -- With the first pitch from Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish to China's Sun Lingfeng in Tokyo, the 2009 World Baseball Classic officially began early Thursday morning.

And with the flipping of the light switch by baseball legend Tommy Lasorda in the lobby of the Empire State Building in midtown Manhattan that same morning, the ceremonial opening of the Classic commenced.

Lasorda, the Hall of Fame manager and Classic global ambassador, was there with Major League Baseball executive vice president of business Tim Brosnan and Empire State Building general manager Jim Connors for the official lighting ceremony of the Classic.

That evening, once the sun dipped below the Hudson River to the west, the Empire State Building was geared up to shine red, green, blue and yellow on each of the four sides of the building in honor of the World Baseball Classic colors.

"The colors on the building shows it's big-time," said Lasorda. "All of the country now will know about the Classic."

It was fitting to hold the lighting ceremony for the tournament of a sport with an expanding global reach in one of the most famous monuments in the world.

As Connors rightfully explained, "America's national pastime has become international." Once the sole province of the stars and stripes, baseball is now played in 110 countries.

And it's not like the residents of these countries have recently stumbled upon the joys of a catch in the park. As anybody who watched Japan celebrate its triumph in the 2006 Classic understands, players in these other nations are already quite skilled.

Lasorda certainly knows a thing or two about baseball in international territory. Most fans remember him as the long-time Dodgers skipper and commercial pitchman, but he's played a huge role in advancing knowledge of the game around the world. At various points in his life, Lasorda has played for, coached or been involved with 14 of the 16 teams taking part in the Classic. He also was the head coach of the 2000 U.S. Olympic team that earned a gold medal in Sydney, Australia.

For this baseball lifer, it's a thrill to see so much talent gathered together in this burgeoning tournament.

"You're gonna see the greatest players in the world performing here," gushed Lasorda. "It's gonna be a big, big thing."

And even though he is the global ambassador of the Classic, he made no secret of his rooting interest.

"We cannot allow the other clubs to beat us," said Lasorda, his voice rising. "It's our game."

At the conclusion of the Classic, the winning nation will have its flag's colors illuminated on March 24 to claim the entire crown of the Empire State Building.

Lasorda is no doubt hoping to see the red, white and blue light up the New York City skyline that night. Of course, in part because of his successful efforts to make baseball into an international game, that result is hardly a sure thing.

Tim Ott is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.