Shohei Ohtani of Team Japan struck out Mike Trout of Team USA to defeat Team USA in the World Baseball Classic Championship at loanDepot park on March 21, 2023 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Masterpress – Samurai Japan/SAMURAI JAPAN via Getty Images)
By Leif Skodnick
World Baseball Network
MIAMI- Twenty teams played 47 baseball games in four cities located in three different countries across 15 days during the 2023 World Baseball Classic, a whirlwind of wins, losses, with compelling baseball and national pride on display.
The whole megillah culminated in a showdown between Team USA and Japan Tuesday night at loanDepot Park for three years of bragging rights in the baseball world, which itself distilled to a singular moment baseball fans had long awaited: Mike Trout, possibly the best player in baseball, batting against his Los Angeles Angels teammate, Shohei Ohtani, down one run in the bottom of the ninth with two out.
In a moment that, to American fans, may have felt like “Casey at the Bat” come to life, Trout stretched his at-bat to six pitches before he swung and missed on a cut fastball to end the game and quash Team USA’s chances at back-to-back World Baseball Classic titles.
There are plenty of American baseball fans and commentators who cynically view the World Baseball Classic as a distraction from Major League Baseball at best and nothing but a marketing ploy to sell jerseys, caps, tickets, and souvenirs to fans they regard as gullible marks.
Is it a marketing ploy? Sure, but to dismiss it because of that is cynical. Major League Baseball uses marketing ploys all the time – ethnic theme nights, bobblehead giveaways, dollar hot dog days, you name it – because let’s face it, selling tickets to 81 home games a year isn’t always easy, especially if you’re a franchise that perpetually hovers around .500. Sometimes, you have to give fans an incentive to come out for a nice night at the ballpark when the product on the field is as stale as the last homestand’s shipment of hot dog buns.
Whether it was a completely unknown pitcher from Nicaragua striking out three bonafide Major League stars, Italy somehow making it to the quarterfinals and giving No. 1 ranked Japan a game, or the semifinal showdown between Japan and Mexico that featured Randy Arozarena robbing a home run a fifth inning home run from Japan first baseman Kazuma Okamoto, this World Baseball Classic provided terrific moments.
And it provided horrific moments – Mets fans will likely decry the World Baseball Classic because of closer Edwin Diaz’ patellar tendon tear suffered while celebrating Puerto Rico’s 5-4 win over the Dominican Republic, and Astros fans are certainly unhappy that Jose Altuve’s thumb was broken when Daniel Bard couldn’t find a plate in a china shop during the quarterfinal between Team USA and Venezuela.
But the great moments, the indelible ones that fans will remember, outnumber the injuries, which will heal in the long run. That players got injured playing baseball shouldn’t come as surprise to fans, especially when those players could have sustained the same injuries at spring training prepping for the Major League Baseball season.
As Japan manager Hideki Kuriyama added following the championship game when asked about the performance of his pitchers, “All the kids in Japan who are watching… might think, ‘Oh, that’s really cool,’ and they might want to make up their mind to want to be baseball players.”
If the World Baseball Classic continues to spread the gospel of baseball around the world, attracting fans from around the world to watch and children to play, building the game in places like Nicaragua, the Czech Republic, and Italy, giving kids out outlet for their energy, a stage to aspire to play upon, and a dream to fill their minds, it has done its job.
And so we say adios to Miami, and on to 2026, where we’ll again meet the world at the ballpark.