The U.S. triumphed in the World Baseball Classic (WBC) last week with an 8-0 win over Puerto Rico. This was the States’ first win in the “World Cup of baseball” after failing to advance past the semi-final stage in previous tournaments, a shocking statistic given how entrenched baseball is in American culture.
The contest was created after the International Olympic Committee removed baseball from the Olympics in 2005 and has since become the pinnacle of international baseball. This year’s final took place March 22 at Dodger Stadium — a ten-minute drive from Occidental College — marking the end of a month of competition.
Dodger Stadium’s proximity to Occidental gave students like Trevor Litwin (senior) the opportunity to support Team U.S.A. in person and — for the first time — watch the United States lift the WBC trophy.
“Ever since its inception in 2006, I have been a fan of the WBC and rooted for the U.S., [but] to no avail,” Litwin said. “For me, [it] was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I don’t know when the next time is I’ll see my country win a major international tournament in person.”
Litwin, who attended both the semi-final against Japan and the championship game, commented on the atmosphere at Dodger Stadium throughout both games.
“[In the semi-final] there was a complete band of Japanese fans in the left-field bleachers that could be heard throughout the stadium,” Litwin said. “The stadium rocked with U-S-A chants when the U.S. scored what would be the winning run in a close 2-1 game.”
During earlier installments of the tournament, there were distinct gaps between how Americans and international players viewed the event. Many U.S.-born stars opted to stay at home while players from other countries saw the tournament as a great way to put themselves, and their countries, on the baseball map.
“It means everything. This is for our country,” St Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, captain of the Puerto Rico squad, said.
This attitude is not shared by many American players, as stars like Mike Trout (Angels) and Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers) declined to participate.
“It seems as though, from my experience, the rest of the world cares more about the World Baseball Classic than the U.S,” Trevor Brown (senior) said. “Other countries take this event very seriously and cheer religiously for their teams.”
Though the elite tier of American superstars remained at home for the tournament, a team of high-earning all-star game mainstays like Andrew McCutchen, Nolan Arenaldo and Buster Posey teamed up with rising stars like Christian Yelich and Marcus Stroman to bring home international baseball’s biggest prize.
“The vast majority — if not entire roster — is made up of big league players that are paid millions of dollars who should be in spring training preparing for a season that can/will earn them even more millions,” Occidental baseball head coach Luke Wetmore said. “For instance, the Giants starting shortstop, catcher and closer all played last night. They will earn a combined $37.3 million this year alone. I think the U.S. players are taking it very seriously.”
This year’s tournament raised the profile of the sport in some smaller countries, particularly the Netherlands, who reached the semi-finals. It was a meaningful test of skill for countries like Japan — two-time winners of the event.
Spectacular plays like Adam Jones’ home-run saving catch in the quarter-finals against the Dominican Republic highlighted the month-long competition. The San Diego native flew above the centerfield wall to rob a home run from his Baltimore Orioles teammate and Dominican slugger Manny Machado. Jones’ immaculate play maintained the Americans slim lead over the defending champions and produced arguably the most iconic moment in tournament history.
“The Adam Jones catch was probably the most phenomenal catch I have witnessed in person,” Brown said. “It looked like he was nowhere near the ball, and when he came down with the ball the crowd went crazy. Fans of both teams were on their feet.”
Jones’ effort on the play personified the drive and enthusiasm of the Americans’ tournament run. Fighting their way through a talented field of competition, they raised the emotional stakes with each painstaking win until the final pitch was thrown at Chavez Ravine.
“The players [battled], the offense swung the bats and we bought it home for the United States,” Jones said during the trophy presentation.
Rival countries are likely to respond the next time the WBC rolls around in 2021. After this year’s successful tournament, fans from all over the world have a lot to look forward to, and defending U.S. champions will be waiting.