The World Baseball Classic isn’t perfect — far from it, actually. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching.
The WBC has its issues. Let’s get those out of the way first. The timing of the tournament itself isn’t ideal. It’s hard to expect the highest quality of baseball when a good chunk of the world’s best baseball players are focused on preparing for the Major League Baseball season. That’s their prerogative, especially when you’re trying to have a “meaningful” tournament smack dab in the middle of spring training.
You’re never going to be able to convince the game’s biggest stars to participate in a preseason tournament. There’s risk of injury, especially so early in the season, and the risk of injury equals a risk of losing money. That’s enough to keep big leaguers away, and it’s especially true of American players, who clearly don’t value the chance to represent their country in the WBC as much as players from other parts of the world. If they did, we might see Mike Trout and/or Clayton Kershaw (just to name two) wearing the stars and stripes.
It’s also a relatively tough tournament to keep tabs on, especially with half the field playing almost a day away in Asia, and with other high-profile events — NFL free agency and the NCAA Tournament — coinciding with the tournament.
But even with all of that and without some of the best American players, the WBC has been can’t-miss stuff, quickly becoming appointment viewing for anyone who claims to be a baseball fan.
You have an upstart Israel team, comprised of MLB and minor league journeymen, which went across the world and won all three games in Pool A and is still in contention to escape Pool E and reach the semifinals. Japan, a two-time winner of the tournament, is rolling again, winning all five of its games thus far, including an 11-inning win over an exciting Netherlands club that showed off baseball’s extra-inning experiment.
But the real drama has come from Pool C and Pool D, where baseball powers such as the U.S., Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela are doing battle.
The tournament’s two best games so far featured the Dominican team, the WBC’s most star-studded club, with household names at every position. Nelson Cruz’s go-ahead, three-run home run against Andrew Miller and the Americans would be an all-time October moment had it happened in the MLB playoffs. That it all happened in Miami, with a Dominican-heavy crowd going bonkers, made the moment even better.
A day later, the D.R. was back at it against Colombia. The Colombians had a chance to walk it off in the ninth inning and win the pool, but Jose Bautista was having none of it.
And fans who stayed up late Monday night were treated to an unbelievable ending in an elimination game between Venezuela and Italy, with former MVP Miguel Cabrera coming up huge with a monster game-tying home run in the ninth inning.
The good news, if you haven’t totally jumped onboard yet, is the tournament is far from done. In fact, it’s about to get real good as the Dominicans, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Team USA are all off to San Diego, where they’ll begin play in Pool F on Tuesday night at Petco Park. At stake is two spots in the final four.
As Rougned Odor showed Monday night in the elimination game, it’s safe to assume there’s going to be plenty of flair left in this tournament, too.
It’s October baseball in March.
We probably should stop trying to find ways to fix the WBC and just enjoy it for what it’s worth. It’s a tournament that, while flawed, brings out the best in all of its participants. It celebrates playing baseball with passion, which honestly, is a lesson Major League Baseball probably could stand to learn.
But if you’re not watching the WBC yet, what are you waiting for?
Thumbnail photo via Logan Bowles/USA TODAY Sports Images