Every traditional team sport has an international event where countries play each other for national glory. For basketball, it’s the FIBA Basketball World Cup. For soccer, it’s the World Cup. The list goes on. The baseball world has it’s own World Cup: the World Baseball Classic. For a stretch of a few weeks, the best MLB players don their countries’ colors for international glory. That should be an exciting draw for baseball fans, right?
Well, not quite. It turns out that quite a few people don’t like the World Baseball Classic for one reason: their own MLB teams. Many fans complain that the WBC is “meaningless” and detracts from the actual MLB season. The latest injuries to Astros star Jose Altuve and Mets star Edwin Diaz exacerbated this complaint. “They are getting injured by playing in a meaningless tournament!”, they cry.
Well, that’s just flat-out wrong. Here are some good reasons why the World Baseball Classic is not meaningless, and is in fact the best thing to happen to baseball.
The feel-good stories
While most of the discourse in the WBC is about the MLB stars, the tournament is not just comprised of these stars. The country teams often pick out standout players from their home country to bolster their roster. Oftentimes, this leads to some truly incredible moments in the World Baseball Classic.
Just this year, we’ve already had some insane stories about totally random players lighting up the best MLB players. Take, for example, Team Isreal’s Jacob Steinmetz. A minor-leaguer for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Steinmetz made his name known after lighting up a murderer’s row of Dominican Republican hitters. Ever wondered what it would feel like to strike out Manny Machado and Jeremy Pena consecutively? Steinmetz didn’t have to imagine: he went and did exactly that in the World Baseball Classic.
There’s also the story of Czech ace Daniel Padyšák. The Czech Republic team is actually an interesting story in its own right: most of their players are regular 9-to-5 guys that also shut down China in the World Baseball Classic. Padyšák, in particular, literally was coming off a college baseball game… and then completely shut out China in four innings during their league opener.
Crowd Energy in WBC
Another amazing thing throughout this World Baseball Classic is seeing how energetic the crowd has been for nearly every game. Games were held in Taiwan, Japan, and the United States. In every arena, you could feel the excitement from fans as they cheered on their home country. Even in Japan, there were many fans that watched the games that didn’t involve their home team. The passion for baseball was clearly felt.
In the US, both Chase Field and LoanDepot Park were packed for nearly every game. Of course, games involving US were sold out. However, the games between Latin American countries were just as electric as those involving the host country, if not more exciting. Even if the diehard MLB fans didn’t care, it was clear that everyone enjoyed the contest.
Of course, the MLB stars also got to ball out for their country in the World Baseball Classic. After lighting up the MLB over the last six years, Shohei Ohtani returned to Japan to a roaring ovation. The Angels star did not disappoint: he’s leading an incredibly stacked Japanese roster to a potential Finals berth in this tournament.
Back in the United States, the star-studded roster had many heroes that saved their campaign to defend the title. In the early group stages, Angels star Mike Trout delivered for Team USA, helping them overcome an upset loss to Mexico by thoroughly dismantling the Canadians 12 – 1. Then, in the quarterfinals, Trea Turner played hero for the team, nailing a grand slam in the eighth inning against Venezuela to lead them to a come-from-behind win.
Plenty of other stars delivered over the course of the WBC. Juan Soto brought his signature shimmy for the Dominican Republic. Julio Urias and Randy Arozarena has Mexico on the brink of a WBC Finals berth. Javi Baez and Francisco Lindor delivered for Puerto Rico. The list goes on and on.
That brings us to our next point, which is…
The World Baseball Classic is an MLB player’s dream
Look, it’s easy for baseball fans to be frustrated when a player goes down due to injury. After all, this injury directly affects how your favorite team performs in the next season. It’s not hard to see why Mets and Astros fans were frustrated when Edwin Diaz and Jose Altuve suffered injuries in the World Baseball Classic.
Saying that Diaz and Altuve were injured because of a “meaningless” tournament, is an odd (and frankly, disrespectful) claim to make. Fans have to remember that while this doesn’t impact their favorite team’s chances positively, the World Baseball Classic is so important for the players themselves. For them, this is the only time they are able to represent their country in the sport that they love. Representing your country in an international tournament is every athlete’s dream, and the WBC is one of the few ways MLB players get to do that.
The players go into the World Baseball Classic knowing the risk they’re taking. Yet, they don’t care, and it shouldn’t be hard to see why. This is greater than the “World Series”. This is about nationalistic pride for them, a chance to bring glory to the country that nurtured their talent. These stars lay their bodies on the line in the same way they do for their teams in the MLB. You can see it in how these players react to big plays: they are just as hyped up as they are for MLB games, if not more. Trea Turner said it best after sending USA to the semi-finals of the WBC:
“I think that’s why a lot of guys want to play in this tournament because it’s not a normal 162 or a postseason. It’s just different. It’s hard to put in words, just different.’’
It might be “meaningless” for outsiders, but for the players, it means the world.