The World Baseball Classic was held for the fourth time this past March and continued to gain a higher level of attention. The United States making it to San Diego for the finals and then defeating Puerto Rico in the championship game was a big piece of that.

Even with this improvement in attention gained, the WBC remained a blip on the March sports radar compared to the NCAA basketball tournament and the NFL’s dual machinations — the combine and the start of free agency.

There is also the issue of pitchers: Most are unwilling to sign on, and those that do play have strict pitch limits.

The WBC is going to remain a glorified exhibition rather than a valid test of international strength in the sport as long as it is played in March. Which will be for as long as it lasts.

I was in that camp: The WBC will come around every four years in March, and baseball has to make the best of it.

Then, Minnesota United started playing its first season in Major League Soccer, and the answer came as a thunderbolt:

Let’s play the WBC from late June to mid-July, right in the middle of the season. The top players will be summoned from big-league teams, and here’s the wonderful twist:

The schedule keeps on going. Seven or eight Astros, or Cubs, get summoned by their national teams, and they are forced to bring in replacements.

Think of what it would do for competitive balance — the Reds missing maybe one guy, and they get to play a couple of midseason series vs. the Cubs without Lester, Hendricks, Davis, Rizzo, Bryant, Baez and Zobrist.

Hey, that’s what happened last weekend when United played at Kansas City, with international call-ups missing from both lineups.

Brilliant. Let your best leave and keep on playing league games, Smoky.

(Note: Admittedly, MLS does have an advantage over MLB in that the absence of the middle helper defending backer who is missing because Costa Rica called won’t be noticed by a large share of attendees.)

PLUS THREE FROM PATRICK

Sports excellence in state college sports:

•  Minnesota State Mankato, boosted by a national softball title, finished eighth among 300 Division II schools in the Sports Directors Cup standings. It’s the ninth top-10 finish for the Mavericks in 13 years.

•  St. Thomas had eight teams rated in the top 20 nationally and finished 17th out of 440 Division III schools in the Sports Directors Cup standings.

• Swimming star Emma Paulson repeated as a CoSIDA Academic All-America and was the 100th all-time for St. Thomas.

Read Patrick Reusse’s blog at startribune.com/patrick. E-mail him at preusse@startribune.com.

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