World Baseball Classic deserves attention: While We’re Waiting

Sports Illustrated

I hope everyone is watching the World Baseball Classic. Drudging through March Spring Training baseball can be such a slog, but not so every fourth year. The excitement brought forth by playing for their country brings out the true spirit of competitive baseball. Even better, it is the ONLY time that professional players from Italy, the Netherlands, China, Korea, and Japan can demonstrate their capabilities against those from MLB. The entire event is wonderful and the 2017 edition has had no shortage of close games and dramatic finishes.

There are complaints about the tournament that continually arise. Some are worried about injuries (Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez injured his knee playing for Venezuela) though injuries can happen in Spring Training too (Jason Kipnis anyone?), and MLB teams have strict usage rules on the pitchers they lend out. Others complain about the gimmicky runners on first and second base to start innings 11 and beyond that has happened a whole grand total of once thus far (doesn’t belong in MLB but I’m not going to worry about it in an international tournament). Still others bemoan that the players are non-representative of the country on their uniform due to some rather lax rules. Team Israel has made it to the second round utilizing almost entirely American-born Jews. I’m not sure I understand why it is bad for the game or the tournament. People of Jewish faith seem to be rallying around that team throughout the United States and back in Israel.

Those complaints are missing the point. The WBC has embraced multi-culturism to the fullest degree. There are bat flips, dog piles, chanting fans, drums, flags flying, and more throughout each contest. Having half of the Round 1 games in Miami has also allowed many of the Carribean island fans to travel to add an extra element of fervor. Due to the other half of the games being in Asia, baseball fans in America have had games on when they wake and games on at night. It has been wonderful.

On Tuesday night, a true treat was watching Puerto Rico take on the Dominican Republic. The Ricans had never defeated the Dominicans in the WBC. In fact, no one had defeated the Dominicans since 2009. Both of those changed as Puerto Rico won, 3-1. It was a game filled with intensity and highlight plays including a play at the plate in the first inning.


Plenty of flair was happening at this game as Javi Baez even went no-look with the tag.

Ken Rosenthal had a great piece on the joy of the tournament. Please read the whole thing but his closing captures why the WBC is needed.

Tradition is both baseball’s biggest advantage and greatest burden; players routinely celebrate big plays in football and basketball, and hardly anyone blinks. Maybe the lesson of the WBC is that we need to recalibrate our standards, for fan behavior, for player behavior, for the way we view the sport.

Less judging. More acceptance. More joy.

The Dominican fans have been the most raucous thus far. They were loud for Canada and Nelson Cruz had high praise for them after the game against the United States. I haven’t seen a statement from him yet after Tuesday, but both sides seemed to top anything outside October baseball in decibals.

“Thursday was loud,” said Cruz, referring to the Dominican’s opening game against Canada. “But today was unreal.” (in reference to the game against the United States)

Carlos Rondon also noted that the WBC has all of the emotions flowing through him.

Rondon to join Team Venezuela for the second round of the World Baseball Classic .

“I feel it’s going to be intense for me, and exciting, too,” said Rondon, the former Cubs’ closer. “I feel like the adrenaline is going to be like playing in the World Series.”

Rather than continue to type why you should be watching the WBC, I’m going to just show you.

Israelis are learning just how complicated baseball rules can be.

Lots of ways to show spirit for one’s country including with golden plantains. Yes, a player keeps it in his pants for good luck.

Kippahs are worn during Israeli anthem.



Seems like every game had a late inning rally.

Fans enjoy it.

Miggy helping punch a ticket with a 9th inning bomb to tie Italy.

Let’s not deny Italy a highlight of their own with a spin-cycle double play.

Team Israel is not impressed.

WBC is pro-bat flip.

Respect the Dominicans and their exuberance.

You think these guys care? Seems like they care.

Yeah, I’d adjust my cup after that one too.

I believe Terry Francona found his Jason Kipnis injury replacement.

Did I mention the WBC was pro-bat flip? Even better, it is so pro-bat flip that it is only a single if you hit the ball off the wall.

  • Hopwin

    Sounds like all the excitement of World Cup Soccer but with scoring?

  • mgbode

    Replace soccer with baseball and minimize the amount of European countries participating. Really, a grand event.

  • Hopwin

    Are there baseball hooligans?

  • mgbode

    You missed the part about limiting the amount of European countries.

    Note: I haven’t seen any fan violence reported.

  • humboldt

    It probably just comes down to a bandwidth issue for most people, Michael. I care much more about the Indians this year but can’t justify watching more than a couple regular season games and following along casually through the great work you and others do on this site.

    In that larger context, the World Baseball Classic seems like a fun, competitive exhibition but there’s no way I’ll ever regard it as an event worth spending scarce time/attention to. Also, since it is a relatively new phenomenon, I think many people lack a ‘schema’ for why it should be considered meaningful sporting event. That said, glad you and others seem to be enjoying it

  • Jaker

    And also imagine that all of those great soccer players playing in America, being household names and recognizable to the common fan. USA is an afterthought in Soccer, but has the Top League in Baseball.

  • humboldt

    Perhaps…though the World Cup has, over many decades, become woven into the rhythms of the global community. Don’t know that an event like baseball, which is still a niche sport internationally, can even achieve a fraction of the world’s attention

  • mgbode

    Depends what you consider “the world” — overall in the World? of course not, we’re not being silly.

    But, in the countries that are participating? Absolutely. I doubt Netherlands or Italy as they will be niche there but in the Asian countries and North American for sure. Heard it is big in Venezuela too.

  • mgbode

    No worries. Mostly just wanted to highlight the event here. It has been quite amazing this year and the organizers deserve much praise for pushing all things “fun” with it. The placement of the rounds, the lax umpiring on celebrations, the understanding of all sides that they should just let their emotions run wild. It has been fantastic.

    In a larger context, many baseball fans were downplaying the WBC in the lead up, but man, once it began I think most have come over to the “WBC needs to be here” side.

  • Hopwin

    I thought the most horrible hooliganism (shooting your own goalie down in the streets) was perpetrated in South American countries?

  • mgbode

    That is a bit beyond hooligans, no? There was just a bunch of rioting in the stands at a Brazilian soccer match though – duly noted.

    Yes, SA countries are known for it as well. Again, I haven’t seen any reported fan violence. Much love in the baseball fan community.

  • Hopwin

    Well there is good hooliganism, and horrifying hooliganism. Some silly hooliganism would be welcome.

  • Steve

    What have you been watching/paying attention to over the last week or so?

    Sure, things in the sports world get a little crazy tomorrow, but this is a pretty dead period. There’s only so many hours one can devote to studying potential Browns fourth round picks.

  • mgbode

    You both propped up my work here and tore it down at the same time. Well done.

    (completely kidding – just found it humorous)

  • humboldt

    Sports wise? Mostly been paying attention to the Cavs, and the flurry of news around the Browns trades last week (I agree with you and have avoided the usual draft chatter). I plan to watch every Cavs playoff game this spring so am sort of saving up time right now that I can justify spending later on. That’s how I was with the Indians playoff run last year as well – got totally absorbed in every October/November game in a way I simply could never do April through September. Love that there are purists who can invest in a whole season like that (as well as a niche event like the WBC) but I just can’t do it anymore

  • tsm

    Thanks for this. We tend to look down our noses at this “meaningless” event, but for the rest of the baseball world it has a lot of meaning – as well as for the players involved from those countries.

  • mgbode

    You’re welcome. Also, love the comments from some of the Americans who skipped. Mike Trout is kicking himself – says he’s all-in on the next go-round if they’ll have him (for one).

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