These days, almost every sport has its own international tournament. Quadrennially, we have the Winter/Summer Olympics, FIFA World Cup and FIBA Basketball Championships; annually, we’re stuck with the Little League World Series, Winter/Summer X Games and Tour De France. But baseball is a bit different.
It’s always confounding why the MLB named its championship the ‘World Series.’ Because it doesn’t really entail the world at all — at most, you have a significant portion of North America dueling it out for the trophy. Except baseball is an international sport; players come from all over the world to play America’s pastime. Hence why the third ever World Baseball Classic happening this month is such an interesting display of internationalism for the sport.
So here are a few reasons why you should care about the true ‘World Series.’
Baseball is no longer in the Summer Olympics. Therefore, the WBC is the only major international baseball tournament. Additionally, Major League players were unable to play in the Summer Olympics due to the restraints of the regular season. Since the Classic is in March, Major League players are available to play, enabling the competition to be of higher quality.
To the casual baseball fan, they know that the United States, Japan and some Caribbean countries care deeply about baseball. But they probably do not know that Brazil, France, Great Britain, Italy and Israel attempted to qualify for the Classic. The first two tournaments had only had sixteen competing teams. This time around, there were an additional sixteen teams battling for four open spots, with twelve teams already locked in. Brazil, Canada, Chinese Taipei and Spain won their respective qualifiers to enter the main round of competition.
Of course, national pride is always a big selling point among athletes and players. The WBC gives baseball fans an opportunity to feel what soccer fans have been experiencing for a long time with the World Cup. The passion that fills the stadiums when watching the Classic games is different than a typical mid-summer Yankees-Red Sox matchup. Japan desperately wants to beat South Korea. For the United States, losing to Canada and Mexico would be embarrassing. The Classic takes rivalry to a new level.
The Classic’s timing causes Spring Training to start earlier in February. For the dedicated baseball fan, this is a dream come true — more Spring Training means more baseball. When the players chosen for their respective national teams leave to play, other players are brought in to fill their spots. In the case of Major League players, fans are able to watch Minor League players they would not ordinarily see play in games. This enables fans to gain more knowledge about the players in the future.
One of, if not the best, aspects of the WBC is that the many of the game’s titans are playing against each other. While many players for countries such as the United States and the Dominican Republic choose to stay in their respective team’s training camp, for other countries such as Cuba and Japan, this tournament is culturally important. When else would a player who plays his summer ball in the Major Leagues get to play against somebody from Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan? Also, when do fans get to see international greats play for their national teams in different countries? The World Baseball Classic allows for these moments to happen, furthering the game of baseball as a global sport.
In the coming years, fans will look back on the World Baseball Classic the same way they do on other international sporting events. With so many great players playing at once, this tournament is made for the fans. And, if something remarkable happens in this year’s tournament, whether it’s Japan winning their third Classic in a row or a team that had to qualify for the tournament winning their first Classic, we can look back on it and say we remember it happening in truly classic fashion.