As I type this up, highlights from this past Friday night are still fresh and replaying across my social media feeds. A tiny island nation, cheered on by roughly 7 million of its citizens, either abroad or in the US, has so far gone undefeated in this years international tournament, the World Baseball Classic. The last iteration of the Classic, in 2013, brought the Puerto Rican national baseball team to face off once more against the Dominican Republic team, a team Puerto Rico had failed to beat twice before. The Championship match of the tournament would be no different, as Captain Robinson Cano, MVP of the Classic, made sure of that. As a senior in high school, it was a crushing defeat brought on by that Dominican team. Not my first experience with bitter defeat, but it still stings to this day. Of course that victory over the Dominicanos on Thursday, helps out quite a bit. As an immigrant from Puerto Rico, I’m obviously going to root for them, aside from giving my perspective on their place on the international sports platform.
This brings me to a strange side of things… a lot of baseball folks in the US don’t care for the WBC. Which is a mystery to me. I was raised and taught to love and enjoy your heritage and country. Respect the roots from which you grew and all that jazz. Throughout this tournament I’ve been cheering for Puerto Rico with a ridiculous bias. Of course, always nodding my head with enjoyment at each US win. The amount of times I’ve seen a fan or media head talk about how these players need to focus on their current MLB team, to not to engage in the silliness of the Classic, is astonishing. The MLB, for all intents and purposes, is a product. The WBC is the greatest international showcase for that product. The emotion, the intensity, the camaraderie among players; It’s all for the greater purpose of bringing the most enjoyment to the fans of baseball not just in the US, but across the globe. And while the US’s brightest stars (Bryant, Trout, Harper, Kershaw, etc.) aren’t on the US team, its important to dispel this notion that the Classic is just some spring training camp. Not every country is throwing out their best in this tournament and yet their citizens are STILL cheering with an emotion and enjoyment I haven’t seen in an October for quite a long time (Not counting Chicago’s latest of course.)
I’m hoping that with more iterations of the WBC in the future and more memorable moments (such as in the above art) that the WBC becomes a brand of baseball that creates excitement in the US. Emotion needs to be implanted in the baseball mind if it’s to garner new fans and newfound attention. The reason this WBC has been so much fun to watch, is because of the emotions and intensity from players, fans, and even countries. This tournament has broken attendance records across countries, broken television viewership records, its gaining popularity due to these emotions. Embellish a home run or a great catch. Thump your chest. Get loud on the field. Let Yadi get his fist pump on after a strikeout or solid defensive play. You see Adam Jones and all of Petco Park explode after he robbed his own teammate? Yeah more of that please. When the players have fun with the World Baseball Classic, so does everyone else. One day soon we will see the Classic on the same level as the World Cup. Next up though; the FIBA World Cup level.