The United States national baseball team took home the crown at the 2017 World Baseball Classic (WBC), beating the Puerto Rican squad 8–0 in Los Angeles.
The game marked the end of a tournament filled with entertaining, competitive games that were above all fun to watch. The result forced you to ask whether the largely unheralded tournament deserves a place in the hearts and TV sets of American sports fans.
The WBC is a tournament held every four years, pitting the top 16 baseball teams in the world against one another on a global stage. It attempts to carry the appeal that the World Cup has to soccer fans over to baseball.
Unfortunately, baseball does not enjoy the same international appeal as soccer, and thus the WBC’s popularity pales in comparison. To this point, this global goal has been a relatively unsuccessful endeavor, dominated entirely by teams from Latin America, Japan, and the United States.
This year, however, the tournament had several delightful twists, exciting storylines, and fairly competitive play. The Israeli team, featuring fan-favorite mascot, “Mensch on the Bench,” enjoyed a Cinderella run to the quarterfinals. Meanwhile, the Puerto Rican team created a new national trend when all its players dyed their hair blond.
Although an aging, blond-bearded Carlos Beltran is certainly a haunting sight, light-hearted team building and fan base cultivating stunts like those added a clear element of fun to a game that has become clinically dull in recent years. Coupled with electric play from many of the world’s best players, such as Manny Machado and Robinson Cano, the tournament was a proving ground, boldly exhibiting baseball’s capability to entertain.
Although the WBC had some great moments this year, it would be incomplete to call it a total home run. The main concern with the event lies with injuries, and many professional teams worry that playing in a preseason sideshow will expose athletes to unnecessary risks. This year, the injury bug bit Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez, and New York Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius, the latter being sidelined into May with a shoulder injury.
This makes the tournament a risky prospect for professional teams, and also leads it to being viewed as a distraction by some. Thus, we see some of baseballs biggest names, such as Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, choosing to sit out the tournament, highlighting its biggest imperfection.
But the WBC this year showed a great deal of promise. It gave a sense of intensity and joyful exuberance that baseball has been sorely missing. It provided a global showcase of talent, with underdogs, heroes, and quality play. It still has some glaring flaws, but on the whole, the tournament was a major success, one on which the organization will hopefully continue to build going forward.