Team USA Will Never Forget World Baseball Classic; Vows To Return

  • by:
  • Source: Wayne Dupree
  • 03/22/2023
Tuesday night's World Baseball Classic title game finished dramatically, and an hour later, Team USA was still on the field at loanDepot Park, as Team Japan sprayed champagne and celebrated in their clubhouse.

Even though Team USA didn't take home the gold, they were still enjoying themselves. Mike Trout was chasing his youngster all over the field. Trea Turner was in the process of hoisting his son very high. With his family, manager Mark DeRosa was posing for photos. Nobody wished to depart.

The losing team would be hunched over in front of their lockers, moaning about their defeat, if this were even a World Series game, let alone any postseason game. Yet this evening, not even a sad 3-2 defeat to Japan could dim their joy at being together in such an extraordinary setting. They have vowed never to forget this night for the rest of their lives.

It was perhaps the most enjoyable 10 days of my life, Trout remarked. It's distinctive. I mean, it's hard for me to explain what's different. It's so palpable in your veins. It's a really unique feeling.

Seven-time All-Star and 2006 WBC participant Michael Young, the USA bench coach, peered around the field. He observed the USA athletes hugging one another, making a commitment to stay in touch, and bemoaning the fact that they would have to spend one more week in the monotony of spring training.

Young remarked, "You have guys out here who are upset that we placed second; they're distraught, but look around. When a team loses in the postseason, you rarely see players with their family out on the field. This is a truly wonderful way to celebrate the sport. People can realize what a fantastic sport baseball is when they watch this, which gets better and better every time.

It makes sense that Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees has already privately informed friends that he wants to participate in the 2026 World Baseball Classic. You can be certain that once Judge makes a statement, others will follow suit, just as they did with Trout and Mookie Betts.

Getting pitchers to buy in is now crucial, according to USA executives. The tournament is in mid-March, three weeks before the start of the season, and pitchers are expected to compete as if it were the seventh game of the World Series, therefore there is a risk of injury.

When New York Mets closer Edwin Diaz broke the patellar tendon in his right knee after defeating the Dominican Republic, it was the only pitching injury that happened during the tournament. When it was announced that Diaz will miss the full season, almost every player in the clubhouse broke down into tears in front of others.

Even though it was sad, it might have happened on Opening Day or at any other Mets event. It's scarcely cause to think that pitchers will suffer an injury at the World Baseball Classic.

First baseman Pete Alonso, an All-Star with the Mets, said: "Every day you show up at the yard, there's a chance of getting hurt. The work is dangerous. We take that risk when we play baseball. As athletes, injuries regrettably come with the territory.

Clayton Kershaw, a future Hall of Fame pitcher, was prevented from attending by an insurance policy, but the injury fear was still enough to deter the best pitching players. None of the first four pitchers who took the mound in Tuesday night's championship game or who had even pitched in a postseason game were All-Stars.

Commissioner Rob Manfred stated, "From a competitive standpoint, I believe the most significant thing is we're going to need to continue working, particularly with our clubs, on pitching.

Although the players we have are terrific, I'd like to see pitching staffs that are on par with our position players' caliber.

The WBC is not to be played at a time when the greatest pitchers are guaranteed to participate for the USA squad. To play a two-week event in July, the sport won't be suspended. After the six-month season, when players are worn out and would want to be in Maui with their families, they are unable to participate.

Although it would bump up against Opening Day, the WBC is open to suggestions and is intrigued by Team Mexico manager Benji Gil's notion of shifting the WBC back just a week to give more time for players and pitchers to be ready.

We have discussed timing so much that your brain hurts," Manfred remarked. There is simply no perfect time. Since so many players would be injured during the playoffs, we just can't do it. In the middle of the season, we had discussed something.

Although it's not ideal, I believe that overall this is the best location for it.

The World Baseball Classic, despite its flaws, interference from big league clubs, and elite pitchers' hesitation to play, was a true gem.

On steroids, the All-Star Game was that.

The atmosphere, USA pitching coach Andy Pettitte said, exceeded any of the heated Yankee-Red Sox games he played during his 18-year career, while Adam Wainwright, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and Miles Mikolas of the St. Louis Cardinals said it was the greatest environment they ever experienced.

There were sensational games throughout the tournament, Japan’s dramatic comeback victory over Mexico, Mexico’s trouncing of USA, the riveting Venezuela-USA game, and, of course, the ultimate showdown with Shohei Ohtani facing Mike Trout with the championship on the line.

It was beyond my comprehension, Manfred replied.

Japan may be the nation that values the tournament the most globally. A month ago, they started getting ready for the event. The best pitchers in each nation were devoted to helping them win the championship. Ohtani, a free agent after the season, who’s expected to command a history contract of at least $500 million, was willing to sacrifice it all to bring the title back to Japan for the first time since 2009.

Ohtani declared, "I think that was the best moment of my life.

The funny thing is that same sentiment was shared by virtually everyone in the tournament, from Randy Arozarena who won the hearts of all of Mexico, to Lars Nootbaar, the American-born St. Louis Cardinals outfielder who became a cult hero in Japan, to Trout.

It was a tournament that drew more than 1.3 million fans, with 62 million people in Japan watching their team play South Korea in the first round, more than any televised World Series game in history.

“Without making any judgment on talent,’’ Nootbaar said, “baseball means the most in Japan. In the Tokyo Dome, you have 50,000 people chanting the fight song of every player in the lineup, knowing every single word.

“Baseball is completely embedded in the country.’’

Yet, to believe that Japan cares about winning the WBC more than the USA team, Young insists, is fiction. Sure, maybe the Japanese fans may be more invested in the tournament, but as far the players, they wanted that gold medal just as much as Ohtani.

“Honestly,’’ Young said, “I think the USA gets a bit of an unfair rap in that regard. I feel like there’s a misperception that it doesn’t mean as much for us. I’ve never been able to figure out why.

“A lot of teams, they really lean into the emotion of the event, because that’s who they really are. But just because one of our players doesn’t hit the ceiling on a bat flip doesn’t mean he give a [expletive] less than the guy who does.

“And I love that they do. I hope it [the bat] it gets stuck up there and they leave it there as a souvenir so everyone can see it. I love it. The joy of the game comes out, God bless you. But if you don’t do it, it doesn’t mean you care less.’’

The emotion for Team USA was real.

The players vow they will return in 2026 and that there may be a few prized pitchers coming along with them for the ride.

“You can see the passion, you can see the energy and you can see what it really means to guys to go out there and put on that uniform for their country,’’ said Chicago White shortstop Tim Anderson, who played second base for USA in the tournament. “This is huge. You're playing for the world.

“What’s bigger than that?’’

Trout, who played in the tournament for the first time, says unequivocally that he’ll be back.

He plans on bringing along a few famous friends.

“Next time,’’ he says, “I want to make sure everybody buys in.’’

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