Sports Take: World Baseball Classic has put baseball back on the map

United States players celebrate after the team's 12-1 victory over Canada in a World Baseball Classic game in Phoenix Monday. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

By Foster Nicholas | Sports Writer

Even though the MLB’s spring training is in full swing, it’s been completely overshadowed by perfect games, walk-off hits and superstar talent in the revamped World Baseball Classic.

In the span of one week, the baseball world has seen some of the best games in the sports’ history. Puerto Rico threw an eight-inning perfect game against Israel that was capped off by an RBI walk-off single to run rule the visitor 10-0. Just hours earlier, Korea smashed China 22-2 in a game that only took five innings thanks to 20 hits and amazing play from international pros.

The WBC started in 2006 and was created to be the “Olympics” for baseball. Countries and teams would qualify before the tournament and the best 20 teams in the world would then duke it out for the crown of being the best baseball country.

After the United States took Puerto Rico down at Dodger Stadium in 2017, there was a lot of anticipation building toward the next classic, which was scheduled for 2021. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the worldwide tournament was shut down and many questioned if it would ever be resumed again. Now, just two years later, it’s back and better than ever.

Not only has the WBC been fun to watch, it’s beginning to change the game and take the attention of worldwide media. I believe the future of baseball depends on the success of the global showcase.

In the last few years, all-star games have become boring, unrealistic and meaningless. Players just show up for recognition and a relaxing weekend with their family and friends. The difference with the WBC is that each star is now playing for their country and showcasing their skills on all-star level teams.

MLB superstars such as Mike Trout, Paul Goldschmidt and Mookie Betts are taking the field for Team USA, while others such as Shohei Ohtani (Japan), Miguel Cabrera (Venezuela) and Juan Soto (Dominican Republic) are mentoring and leading superteams of their own outside of the states.

Even without the stars, the opportunities for MLB minor leaguers and players who aren’t currently in the big league are getting to test their hand against the professionals. One example has Duque Hebbert, the 5-foot-9-inch, 21-year-old right-hander struck out some of the MLB’s best in Soto, Julio Rodriguez and Rafael Devers in the ninth inning of Nicaragua’s 6-1 loss. Hebbert signed a contract with the Detroit Tigers just 10 minutes after the game concluded.

I’d argue that without the World Baseball Classic, many people wouldn’t even realize that the baseball season was almost here. Instead, an exhibition of the best players in the world has grabbed the attention of the country and created even more excitement for the upcoming season. With the talent level some of these players are facing, it’s easy to expect big things from many athletes just because their preseason training is up against some of the best.

Based on the success of this year’s event so far, I’d expect the classic to transition to every other year. It’s not too late to follow the baseball trend that’s sweeping the world, as quarterfinals began on Wednesday and now we’re in the midst of seven-straight days of baseball, which leads the way to the championship game on Tuesday.