World Baseball Is Now Truly Classic
In the baseball world, March has traditionally been the time where ballplayers come out of hibernation, start stretching and tossing, and getting back into the swing of things.
Games don’t mean much besides veterans getting their legs under them before April, and kids from the minors getting to show their skills.
In 2006, baseball in March developed a new twist; the World Baseball Classic.
The WBC was pretty much baseball’s reaction to being removed from the Olympics after the 2004 Athens games. The goal of the tournament was to try and emulate the FIFA World Cup, and display the growth of a global sport.
Granted, the vast majority of teams hail from either North America, the Caribbean, or the Far East, but it’s still very far reaching, and has taken very strong roots in these regions.
16 nations field teams in the tournament, and feature major league talent, be it from the MLB, or professional leagues local to each country.
There was also installed a heritage clause, of sorts, to allow any player with familial ties to represent their family’s country of origin, thus attempting to cultivate the game in new places across the globe.
You would think that it’d be immensely popular here in the States, right? Well, up until this past couple of weeks, it wasn’t.
There are a few reasons why that might be. Firstly, it’s March. There’s still possibly snow on the ground in the northern half of the United States. Basketball and hockey seasons are starting to wind down to the playoffs. The college basketball tournament has everyone’s attention. Not even the baseball players are ready for serious competition, in many cases.
In fact, many players turn down the opportunity to represent their national colors.
That brings me to the next point. You may not see the best every nation has to offer. Some major league teams hold their players back, due to the risk of injury, and some players hold themselves back for similar reasons.
That means you may not see players like Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, and the rest that baseball can boast.
Thirdly, a good portion of the games are being played out in places like Seoul and Tokyo, where you’ll find first pitch at 4 or 5 AM here in the US, making it very difficult to shoehorn the game into your busy schedule.
This year, though, showed us that none of the above actually matters.
It started before Team USA even assembled itself for practice. The first game of the Classic took place in Seoul, South Korea, and featured the Koreans against a heavy underdog in Team Israel, and Israel began their surprise run by up-ending South Korea in extra innings, giving birth to the kind of Cinderella story that fans just love to see.
The team representing Puerto Rico collectively dyed their hair blonde, thus sparking the entire nation to follow suit. Colombia almost upset the heavily favored Dominican Republic, but was stopped short on a play at the plate in the 9th.
Italy erased a 4 run deficit in the 9th to win against Mexico. USA’s Adam Jones robbed Dominican Republic’s (and fellow Oriole) Manny Machado of a home run, leaving Machado with nothing to do but tip his cap, and later in the game Giancarlo Stanton hit an absolute laser of a home run that caused the sellout crowd to erupt into a frenzy.
The US and Puerto Rico each won nail-biting 1-run games in the semi-finals against Japan and the Netherlands respectively, before the US shut out Puerto Rico 8-0 behind a brilliant effort from Marcus Stroman, who could have played for Puerto Rico due to the heritage clause (which actually offended his mother).
Needless to say, the tournament was not at a shortage of classic moments. There was a sweetheart underdog, sellout crowds, national pride, epic plays, and fun baseball.
It was enough for players on both sides of the final game to say that the tournament was really fun, and that come 2021, they would love to suit up for their country and play again.
Even the holdout players were keeping tabs, and thinking that it’s probably not a bad idea to get in on this action.
The tournament comes once every 4 years, which is the same quadrennial cycle as the ever exciting FIFA World Cup. And for as much excitement and fun this tournament showed us that it can have, that’s probably a good thing.
This year, the WBC showed us that even in March, where the sport is just waking up from a winter-long slumber, we can hit the ground running, and catch some great baseball, and not water the product down by holding it every year.
It is breeding anticipation for what might come in 2021, be it a new country with something to prove, an old power trying to climb back to the top of the heap, or the return of the Mensch on a Bench (which will be glorious). And because it is a quadrennial event, the product doesn’t lose that special touch that makes it what it is.
On top of that, the United States ran away with the trophy. What better way of opening the door to something in America than the Americans telling everyone else, “We’re better than you, and we know it!”
On the whole, this has been the most successful tournament the WBC has held. It reached out to fans in baseball hotbeds like Japan and developing baseball nations like Israel alike, and got tons of support from all over the world.
One could only imagine what it’ll be like in 4 years, building off such a wonderful event. It may live up to it’s name of Classic, like it did here in 2017.
Will you join in the fun in March 2021? I certainly will.