The World Baseball Classic is not as good as the World Cup in soccer. The WBC is held at the wrong time of year as the MLB players are just starting Spring Training and not in prime shape. Not enough countries participate in the WBC to call it a true “World Championship” tournament. Not all of the top stars in the game choose to participate in the WBC. The USA never fields its best team and their players don’t care if they win or not. Nobody cares about the WBC.
The World Baseball Classic returns to Miami next week with second round play scheduled to be held at Marlins Park starting on March 12th. Possible participants for this round include teams from the United States, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
Undoubtedly, you have heard all of these negative arguments against the WBC which seem to pop up each time the tournament takes place. It was with these in mind and pretty low expectations that I attended my first WBC game back in March of 2009 when the tournament came to Miami. I figured that it would be like a spring training game where it’s great to see baseball again, but nobody really cares about the final score much.
The match up was USA vs. Puerto Rico, countries that are not exactly considered bitter rivals in anything. When I think of Puerto Rico, I envision a beautiful tropical island with fun people and great food and great music. Plus, do I even need to mention the greatness of Puerto Rican rum? And, oh yeah, they love their baseball too. Come to think of it, I can’t think of anything not to like about Puerto Rico. so I was not really looking to root against them.
It’s true that many of the top players did not participate for the U.S. team, case in point, Mark DeRosa started in left field that night. However, the team still included future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter, former MVP Jimmy Rollins, perennial All-Stars like David Wright and Kevin Youkilis. The Puerto Rican team had some equally famous players in Carlos Delgado, Pudge Rodriguez, and Carlos Beltran plus Bernie Williams who was making a comeback from retirement. This was probably the closest I would ever get to attending an All-Star game.
Once the game started, the Puerto Rican team took the lead early in the game, but team USA scored a couple of runs to tie it at 3-3 in the sixth. Then up stepped Carlos Delgado to give PR the lead once more with a mammoth home run to right field and with that the atmosphere in the stadium erupted. All of a sudden it seemed that there were Puerto Rican fans everywhere and they all had cowbells and flags. The stadium rang in cheers of “Puerto Rico! Puerto Rico!” and it hit me that somebody did care who won this game. It also hit me that I cared which team won this game.
Well the bottom of the ninth inning rolled around with PR leading 5-3 and the US team started mounting a fierce comeback. Suddenly I found myself on my feet with the rest of the crowd. When the U.S. team loaded the bases, the chants of “USA! USA!” filled the stadium. I remember thinking “where did all of these people come from” and “this is freaking awesome” at the same time. David Wright sliced a single into right to score two runs and give the U.S. a walk-off victory. The players poured out of the dugout to dog pile on Wright at second base like they had won the World Series and the crowd went absolutely crazy.
It turned out to be one of the most memorable baseball games I have ever attended. Up there with playoff games and opening days and historic home runs and walk off victories I’ve witnessed. This year’s U.S. team even includes two Marlins in Giancarlo Stanton and Steve Cishek among countless other stars on all of the teams. If you get the opportunity to go see a game, make it happen. Any baseball fan will enjoy it. Despite what anyone says, I can assure you the players care and the fans care about the WBC.