The World Baseball Classic is a must see for any baseball fan and the Olympic-like format, with different nations competing adds a patriotic element to the tournament that heightens the passion of the event and takes on a life of its own.
With the exception of Cuba, China, Chinese Tapei and Japan, most of the teams are littered with MLB players, showing the international diversity of the league. And unlike MLB games where player behavior is somewhat modified to fit the corporate model, culture and demonstrative expression and celebration and swag is abound in these games, reminding us how thrilling, entertaining and important baseball is to the world.
I don’t know what the ratings are for these games, but the excitement level is off the charts. The Saturday game between WBC power packers USA and Dominican Republic was everything a fan could imagine. Both teams are laden with All-stars and former All-stars and the USA jumped out to a 5-0 lead behind the wicked pitching of Blue Jays hurler Marcus Stroman, but a pitching change and back-to-back home runs from Nelson Cruz and Starling Marte in the eighth inning, helped DR storm back for the 7-5 win.
The fans in attendance were World Cup wildin’. To put the social, political and athletic magnitude of the game into perspective, it was played before a raucous, sold-out crowd of 37,446, establishing a new record for Marlins Park. The ballpark's previous high was 37,116 on MLB Opening Day in 2014.
Team USA rebounded from the loss to DR by blasting Canada on Sunday, 8-0, but for many Dominican fans they have already won their biggest game. Proving the country’s baseball supremacy and solidifying their talent pool as the best in the world is also a goal of the DR team which is shared to the core by their fans. Baseball has given DR a status in the world that continues to provide strength and hope to the entire country.
Team DR stayed on top after another scare on Sunday, staving off what would have been a shocking upset at the hands of Colombia, a country with no real baseball tradition, but an example of baseball’s growing influence on the international sports landscape.
Dominicans’ 10-3, 11-inning victory before a sold-out, pro-Dominican crowd of 36,952 at Marlins Park lifted the country’s record Pool C record to 3-0 record and secured its spot in the second round. DR is looking for its second-straight WBC title and has won a Classic record 11-straight games.
A win for Colombia would have been one of the greatest sports moments in the history of a country that is known for its quality coffee, Pablo Escobar and masterful soccer players.
The Colombians won their first-ever WBC main-draw game, over Canada, and took both the U.S. and Dominican Republic to extra innings before losing.
According to baseball digest.com, “Baseball is growing fast along Colombia’s North Coast, mainly in cities such as Cartagena and Barranquilla. A new state-of-the-art facility is being built in Cartagena, and this weekend’s results can only help make the sport more popular.”
Americans may be missing the boat on the value and popularity of baseball, but as we ignore it, the rest of the world is beginning to embrace it and make it highly accessible -- a religion almost -- to the kids of these poorer countries.
We've seen teams from Italy and Israel and Netherlands compete at a high level and put more than their share of major league ballers on the field in these WBC games.
Other teams of note include Japan, who won the first two WBC’s in 2006 and 2009 and is undefeated and Puerto Rico is undefeated in Pool Play as well.
Seven of the games have gone into extra innings and fans from around the world get to share in a global baseball diplay that soldifies baseball’s importance and existence as a major sport and magnifies how popular the sport still is around the world.