By Leif Skodnick
World Baseball Network
MIAMI- There doesn’t seem to be a lot of nuance about where fans and commentators stand on World Baseball Classic following the injury suffered by Edwin Diaz after Puerto Rico’s 5-2 win over the Dominican Republic Wednesday night.
They understand the importance of players representing their heritage and playing for pride in an event designed to showcase the best players from countries around the world, or they think that Major League Baseball is far more important to play in what amounts to, essentially, an exhibition series.
It’s complicated, to say the least.
Those who grew up in the United States by and large tend to fall in the “nothing is more important than Major League Baseball” camp, which is understandable, as American fans are raised to view MLB and the World Series as the most important measure of “making it” in the game. There’s no greater prize to Americans than winning the World Series; to spend a single day on a major league roster enables a player to say, a la Crash Davis in “Bull Durham,” “I was in the show.”
In the American sports scene, representing the nation in an international competition – the Olympics, World Championships, the Pan-American Games, you name it – is valued in various other sports far differently than it is in baseball, especially in sports where international events are the highest level of competition.
So when Keith Olbermann – as knowledgeable a baseball fan and journalist there is – spits out a jingoist, cynical tweet that the World Baseball Classic is merely a marketing ploy to sell jerseys to fans based on their ethnicity, take it for what it is.
Sure, the World Baseball Classic is a marketing effort by Major League Baseball. There’s no denying that. But over the 16 years and four previous tournaments, the event has gained momentum and built a following both inside and outside the United States.
It’s shown American fans that baseball is played elsewhere, and it’s given us fantastic moments, like Ondřej Satoria, an electrician from the Czech Republic, striking out Shohei Ohtani, the two-way Los Angeles Angels star, in the Tokyo Dome last week. We’ve seen Duque Hebbert, a 21-year-old Miskito from Nicaragua with no professional experience outside his own country, strike out bonafide Major League stars Juan Soto, Julio Rodriguez, and Rafael Devers when Nicaragua played the Dominican Republic, earning himself a minor league contract with the Detroit Tigers.
Over the past week here in Miami, the jumping-off point for travelers to and from the Latin American world, the importance of representing one’s nation to the players from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Israel, and Venezuela has been on display in the parking lots, on the concourses, and on the field.
The music, the chants, the pride, the food, and the friendliness of the fans, largely, has been incredible to witness. That there are few American baseball fans without ties to the countries playing here in attendance is understandable, but also sad, as the multicultural celebration of the game taking place at LoanDepot Park might help them understand the point of view of the players, who clearly hold representing their countries in this event in high esteem.
That Diaz was injured in such a bizarre incident shouldn’t be an indictment of the WBC, but to some it is. In their minds, Edwin placed what is important to him – playing for Puerto Rico – ahead of what is important to them – Diaz playing for the Mets.
If Diaz primarily spoke English and played for Team USA, or had torn his patellar tendon at Mets Spring Training, or in some other freak accident, would they be as upset?