No one cares about the World Baseball Classic (WBC). At least in America. What used to be ‘America’s Pastime’ is now only the third most popular sport in the country, and its popularity continues to fall. Around the world, the story is a little bit different. Every day, Dominican kids use tree branches and milk cartons to play their own version of baseball. Just like how kids in most countries play soccer starting from birth, Japanese kids pick up a bat and a glove and play their country’s most popular game—baseball. Regardless of how many people watch the WBC in America, people from all over the world are tuning in.
The WBC is an international baseball tournament that occurs every four years, but is happening for the first time since 2017 due to its postponement in 2021 because of COVID-19. In 2017, the United States beat Puerto Rico to win the title. The odds on favorites this year are the Dominican Republic, the U.S., and Japan. Maybe one of the biggest controversies around the WBC this year is how many U.S. players have either dropped out, decided not to join the team, or have changed teams. 2017 WBC MVP Marcus Stroman has elected to play for Puerto Rico instead, other MLB stars Aaron Judge, Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw, Nestor Cortes, and more all dropped out from the team after accounting their commitments.
One of the coolest stories so far has been how American-born Lars Nootbaar, who has a Japanese mother, stands out as the only non-Japanese player on Team Japan, yet has already been fully embraced by the enthusiastic Japanese fans.
One of the coolest things about the WBC is how little-known players can easily turn into international heroes. The requirements to play for a given country aren’t very high: All a player needs to play for a given country is citizenship, a birth certificate, or at least one parent to have citizenship or a birth certificate. For example, American-born Joc Pederson can play for the Israeli National Team because he has Israeli citizenship, even though he nor his family was born there.
Because of how easily players can represent different countries, players who you have never heard of make headlines. Recently, backup Braves catcher Chadwick Tromp, helped the Netherlands upset Cuba 4-1 with a game-winning 2-run single. Tromp was born in Aruba, a Caribbean island within the Dutch Kingdom, giving him the chance to represent his country even without much major league success.
The WBC showcases a lot of other international talent, boasting many MLB players, top prospects, and players like Roki Sasaki who can’t yet play in the MLB due to Japanese league restrictions. Because of the top-tier players across many countries, it gives the classic an all-star game feel with actual stakes.
The group round of the WBC has already started, with games in Taichung, Tokyo, Miami, and Phoenix. The U.S. national team started group play with a 6-2 win against Great Britain, and they will face off against other familiar foes like Mexico, Colombia, and Canada in their group. If you want to see the world’s best stars play for their countries before the MLB season, now is a great time to tune in.