We’re Finally Getting the WBC Final the US Wants

Team Japan will face Team USA for the true global championship in baseball — which is terrific for the sport

Shohei Ohtani #16 of Team Japan rounds the bases to score on a three-run home run hit by Masataka Yoshida #34 in the seventh inning during the 2023 World Baseball Classic Semifinal game between Team Mexico and Team Japan at loanDepot Park on Monday, March 20, 2023 in Miami, Florida
Shohei and Team Japan face Trout and Team USA in the WBC Final. Is this heaven?
Mary DeCicco / WBCI / MLB Photos via Getty Images

Down a run in the bottom of the 9th inning, Shohei Ohtani led off with a rocket that sent him into scoring position. Two batters later, Munetaka Murakami, a Japanese Triple Crown winner, submitted his own scorcher to the center field wall, and Team Japan was in the World Baseball Classic final, where they will face the finest Team USA yet. Last night in Miami, during the tournament semifinal, it was an exhibition of baseball at just about its best.

In the very beginning, the WBC wasn’t supposed to be this good — not to Americans, at least. To us, it might as well have been pickup games in the park. But slowly, baseball fans in the Unites States — and the country’s best players, too — took a bite of what the sport’s global enthusiasts have been savoring for much longer. Now, we’re gobbling it up, and with good reason.

Mark DeRosa on Managing Team USA in the World Baseball Classic
The former big-leaguer tells us about his stacked roster and why he expects to win it all

Across an entire draw, the WBC won’t ever be a collection of “the best” baseball teams — not while MLB is in a position to lure the finest players from any country to North America, with the largest paychecks and the highest level of competition. Frankly, as the region where the game was invented and developed, the United States (and Canada, which has a richer baseball history than you realize!) deserves to be at the top of the baseball food chain.

However, as we know, sports is about much more than what happens on the field of play — because win or lose, people have come together for a shared experience. That is the essence of humanity. And in a global competition such as this, where players don the uniforms not of a club, but of their country, the apparentness of the communal element within the sport becomes that much more conspicuous and impassioned.

This is the final matchup that everyone wanted, and the wealth of talent on both rosters — including two of the greatest players of all time in Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout — makes it all the more special. So perfect, in fact, that the manager of the team that was defeated by Team Japan last night, Benji Gil of Team Mexico, said afterward, “Team Japan advances, but the world of baseball won.”

So forget the injuries to José Altuve, Nolan Arenado and Edwin Díaz. It’s base at this point, especially for a professional sportswriter, to say those guys could’ve gotten hurt during spring training (though that’s categorically not true in the case of Díaz because he was hurt in an ill-conceived post-game celebration that would not have occurred if it was just a spring training game, but I digress). Plenty of MLB players have been injured the past couple weeks during the WBC, and they suited up for their pro ball club, not their home country.

Instead, look at the joy in those Team Japan ballplayers as they streamed out of the dugout last night when they advanced to the WBC championship. Observe the enthusiasm in Trea Turner (who ESPN’s Jeff Passan called “famously steady and unfussy”) as his slugging secured a spot in the WBC semifinal for Team USA a few evenings ago:

Far more importantly, in these World Baseball Classic highlight reels, look and listen to the fans — their excitement, shared en masse. Yes, “baseball” is winning during this incredible WBC. But that’s only because the fans are winning, collectively, first.

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