By Jeremy Myrthil
Published: May 3rd, 2017
Introduced in 2006, the World Baseball Classic (WBC) is an international tournament designed with the same structure as the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup. Its presence in 2017 far exceeded expectations simply because it insisted cultural inclusiveness.
A popular criticism of the WBC in years prior is that it felt too much like a Spring Training game against other countries. Fans rooting for their country weren’t given plenty of options to express their national pride, and a number of Major League teams restricted their best players from entering the tournament, which left many rosters lacking in star talent.
The excitement for a new tournament every four years waned because of this, but this year’s action brought fans, players and cultures closer to the game of baseball than ever before.
For starters, the 2017 WBC prided itself in household names. Teams representing countries like the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico offered a wide breath of top-shelf performers in their respective playing positions.
Unlike the previous championship series of 2013, many clubs in 2017 consistently threw out rosters similar to that of the All-Star Game teams that represent the Major Leagues every July. The recent influx of young, charismatic talent not only made its way into most of these countries’ teams, but into their distinguishing personalities as well. New York Yankees’ own Didi Gregorius and surprise performer Wladimir Balentin helped the Netherlands emerge as potential underdogs and “silent killers” with their humbling, clutch heroics at the plate. Teams like Puerto Rico sported infield combinations most could only dream of, with Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, and Javier Baez all sharing the diamond together for the first time.
Above all else, the 2017 WBC became a multitude of profound stories all wrapped into one. For some players, they were competing for a nation united, like Israel and their motley crew of players from various backgrounds and religions. For others, they used the tournament as an opportunity to find the roots of their upbringing, like Puerto Rico’s Seth Lugo.
When things mattered most, faces both fresh and familiar stepped up. Team USA’s championship run was aided immensely by the pitching exploits of Chris Archer, Danny Duffy, and Marcus Stroman—established athletes who took their respective performances to the next level during the World Baseball Classic. USA teammates Adam Jones, Ian Kinsler, and Eric Hosmer flashed the leather on the field and came up big at the plate, but their efforts were influenced by forces greater than a trophy.
Upon winning the championship final, Jones expressed the team’s general love for their country as if it was their duty, stating, “We did what we had to do…the players they battled, the offense swung the bats, and we brought it home for the United States.”
To the casual eye, the World Baseball Classic was a can’t-miss event in 2017 because of the drive and determination each country brought to the games. The heightened sense of urgency made each at-bat more alluring. By becoming a more welcoming and more “edge-of-your-seat” atmosphere, the World Baseball Classic quite possibly justified its case as a mainstay in the sports entertainment world for years to come.