It’s officially the first day of Spring, warmer weather is here and spring training is well underway as teams prepare for their season openers. Usually, around this time, baseball fans alike tune out until Opening Day because, well, those spring games “don’t count.” Which is a pretty fair assessment. Fans want to see meaningful games played with their superstars helping their squads win games and make a playoff push.
Still looking for the feel of playoff baseball even though it’s only March? If you have been living under a rock the past two weeks, come on out of your hiding spot and start watching the World Baseball Classic.
Held every four years, the WBC is the essentially the Olympics of baseball, with 16 teams competing to be crowned champions. The three previous installments had their moments of excitement, but didn’t really gain much attention. This year, however, has been a full-blown, playoff-like atmosphere that’s felt eerily similar to mid-October.
To the players competing, these games count. They’re representing their respective home nations and playing for pride, and it shows in their competitiveness. With each witnessed home-run hit or crazy catch, nations erupt with cheers and beam with pride as they watch their country represented on an international stage.
Most of the players we see on a daily basis we only get to see suited up in their respected MLB team’s gear, but what makes this tournament more exciting is that guy’s we normally see as teammates are competing against each other. For example, on Saturday the world watched as Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles soared through the air and robbed a home run to preserve a U.S lead over the Dominican Republic. It was one of the greatest catches ever seen but what made it even more crazy was that Jones stole a home run away from his Orioles teammate in Manny Machado. All Manny could do was tip his cap and jog back to the dugout in awe. That is something that would never happen in a regular season game, a player robbing a teammate in one of the biggest games of their careers. However, in the World Baseball Classic it did happen and a bald eagle screeched in the background while Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American” played as the ball landed in Jones’ glove. (This may or may not have happened, but as a proud American I’d like to believe it did.)
After disappointing showings in the previous three classics, the United States is in the championship round after knocking off the defending champs and powerhouse that is the Dominican Republic.
The intensity and passion the U.S team has played with has not been seen from the star-studded team in quite a while. These men are on a mission to bring that championship onto U.S soil and are going all out with their fellow countrymen in the middle of March. While many players are building up their strength and skills in spring training, this team is giving us an entertaining couple of weeks by playing 100% and competing to win, not just to have fun. From Adam Jones flying high over the wall to Nolan Arenado sliding headfirst into first base on a dropped third strike, there is no such thing as the spring training mentality that many have at this point in the year.
Baseball is America’s pastime and was invented in the fields of upstate New York around 150 years ago. The game has grown to an international audience with leagues in Asia, Europe and several Latin nations. Some of the best MLB players are from places other than the United States, but as Americans who want to be the best in everything, this team wants to prove that this is still America’s game.
With Japan, Netherlands, and Puerto Rico remaining it will be a battle to see who comes out on top. The U.S faces two-time champion Japan on Tuesday, who has yet to lose a game in the tournament. It’s a match-up of MLB superstars vs. players most have never heard of outside of Japan. With a win the United States advances to somewhere they have never been, the championship game.
This has been the goal since workouts began and anything less will be a huge disappointment. No matter what happens these players will head back to their camps in Arizona and Florida ready to take on the regular season with some real game action under their belt. If the U.S does win it all you can bet your bottom dollar chants of USA! USA! will ring out all across this great nation as America can lay claim as World’s best baseball team for the next four years.