World Baseball Classic Ignites Critical MLB Season


Credit: Twitter

The World Baseball Classic provided a strong start for what some consider the most important season in baseball’s 180-year existence.
The World Baseball Classic (WBC), baseball’s equivalent to the World Cup, concluded with a victory for team Japan on Tuesday, March 21. The final between Japan and host team USA in Miami was the most viewed game of all time with 97.4% of Japanese TVs tuned into the game, as well as 4.48 million US viewers, according to Sports Media Watch. The WBC provided a hot start to a season full of rule changes as the MLB desperately attempts to connect with younger fans.
The WBC, put on by Major League Baseball (MLB), garnered the excitement MLB suits hoped it would. The tournament turned in the most popular year since its start in 2006. Now, MLB hopes their big offseason rule changes, including a pitch clock, shift ban, and larger bases, can create a movement that attracts young fans to the game. The pitch clock, a 15-second timer with bases empty and 20 second with runners on, is viewed as the most substantial among the three, which looks to shorten the game by about half an hour, going from an average 3-hour game time to somewhere closer to 2.5 hours.
The WBC tournament started in four pools in Taiwan, Tokyo, Arizona, and Miami. The four pools ultimately fed into the elimination round in Miami.
Varsity baseball team member and cousin to team Australia’s Daniel McGrath, Hudson Fulcher-Melendy got to watch McGrath play on a global stage.
“He ended up playing in the first game against team Korea,” he said. “We saw him warming up in the bullpen and got to the TV as fast as we could.”
The highlight of the tournament was team Japan’s thrilling wins in back-to-back nights over Mexico and USA. Japan hit a thrilling walk off to best Mexico 6-5 on Monday, March 20. The very next night they beat USA 3-2 in an exciting game that pleased purist and higlight-craving fans alike.
While the tournament dazzled, there was one man who stole the show. Shohei Ohtani again showed why he has been donned baseballs “unicorn.” Since Babe Ruth no big leaguer has been a successful pitcher and hitter, until Ohtani.
Ohtani and Mike Trout, the 3-time MLB MVP who captained team USA, are considered by many to be baseball’s best players, in that order. They are also teammates for the Los Angeles Angels.
Ohtani’s popularity only rose after he struck out Trout to end the tournament in storybook fashion. Many baseball columnists believe Ohtani’s strike out of Trout for the final at bat of the tournament was one of the most impressive at-bats they’d ever seen, as he got ahead of Trout with a pair of 100-mph fastballs and finished him off with a beautiful slider, all of which made Trout look silly.
Sotaro Wakabayashi, a senior soccer player from Japan, said the Ohtani’s popularity is rising to uncharted levels among Japanese fans.
“Baseball is a big thing and Shohei Ohtani is a bigger thing in Japan,” Sotaro said. “Some people might say Ohtani is the most popular person in Japan.”
Jokingly, Sotaro also added, “I would say Shohei Ohtani is a good looking guy so that helps him get very popular.”
As popular as the WBC was, it was not without controversy. The ink had yet to dry on Edwin Diaz’s five-year, $102m contract with the New York Mets when Diaz suffered a season ending injury celebrating Team Puerto Rico’s quarterfinal win vs. team Dominican Republic. This sparked a debate in the baseball community over the amazing experience for players to represent their home countries vs. the obligation to their MLB teams.
Calvin Klumpp, junior day student and avid Mets fan, appreciates the players desire for players to represent their countries in the WBC.
“It’s worth the risk for the players,” said Calvin. “It’s like the difference between doing something for your company and doing something for your family.”
Not everyone shared Calvin’s empathy for Diaz.
“I chose to correctly die on the hill of pro athletes shouldn’t risk the season of the team that pays them,” said Kevin Clancy, who is better known as Barstool employee KFC. “The WBC potentially just ruined a $100M investment & a World Series season for a fanbase.”
While it was not without controversy, the MLB is nonetheless very happy with the WBC’s results and the implications the tournament had on the approaching MLB season.