For those who have an itch for the MLB season to start, hold on to your horses for the time being. While you wait, take a look at the international competition known as the World Baseball Classic. The 20 teams duke it out for the right to hoist the championship trophy and prove that they are the best baseball team in the world.
The stars are out for all of these teams. Shohei Ohtani represents his home country of Japan. Julio Rodriguez, Juan Soto, Manny Machado and Wander Franco will all represent the Dominican Republic.
Even the MLB’s lesser-tiered players like Israel’s Joc Pederson and Nicaragua’s Jonathan Loaisiga will represent their native homeland, hoping to give their respective countries back home a sense of pride.
One of those teams looking to hoist the aforementioned trophy is the United States of America. The best of the best of those born in the United States are chosen to represent the red, white, and blue on the world’s biggest stage. These names include Mike Trout, Nolan Arenado, JT Realmuto, Kyle Schwarber, Tim Anderson, and Pete Alonso to name a few.
Even those in coaching positions include some big time names. Two MLB legends are on the coaching staff, with Ken Griffey Jr. as the obvious choice for hitting coach and Andy Pettitte as the pitching coach. The manager is Mark DeRosa, who was with the WBC team in 2009 that fell to Japan in the semifinals.
The round-robin portion of the tournament is over, and the United States first-round matchup is set against Venezuela. However, how did we get to this point? Let’s look back on the four games that the American team played.
In game one, the USA took on Great Britain in a rematch of 1776. The British took the lead in the first inning off of a Trayce Thompson home run, but that would be the only highlight as the Americans quickly asserted dominance and halted the British momentum, winning easily 6–2.
In the second game, the United States took on Mexico. Chase Field, the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the USA for the round-robin stage, was sold out as the United States fell in an 11–5 stunner to a Mexican team led by Joey Meneses. Meneses hit two home runs in the game, leading the way with five RBIs that tilted the scales in favor of Mexico.
For the penultimate game, our Canadian neighbors came down to Arizona to play a game of baseball. They sure did play baseball. Was it competent baseball? I couldn’t name a single important player on that team besides Freddie Freeman, which may explain why the Canadians were mercy ruled 12–1 in seven innings of play.
The fourth and final game was played against Colombia. Trout, the captain of the USA team, carried the day, bringing home all three of the team’s runs in a thrilling 3–2 game to send America into the final eight teams.
It only got harder for the United States. The Venezuelan national team consists of big time names such as Jose Altuve, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Miguel Cabrera. If the United States wanted to win this game, they would have to go all out and play tenacious.
Tenacity was the name of the game in the playoff game. The scoring was plentiful for both teams, with the United States forcing Venezuelan starter Martin Perez to take an early exit from the mound after less than two-thirds of an inning.
However, it did not look good for the Americans. They were down 7–5 with bases loaded in the eighth inning and the batter was Trea Turner. The new Phillie decided to take matters into his own hands and hit an absolute swamp donkey into the stands for a grand slam, taking the lead permanently at 9–7. Ryan Pressly was called in to close the game, and the game ended with a rousing quarterfinal victory.
The semifinals will see America take on Cuba, and Japan facing off against Mexico. The two winners will meet to decide who gets bragging rights for the next four years. If I were in the United States’ shoes, I would personally want to play Japan. The teams squared off at the last World Baseball Classic in 2017, with the Americans prevailing.
If the United States wins the entire championship, the team will automatically qualify for the next World Baseball Classic in 2026.
Regardless of how the final three games play out, the United States national baseball team has solidified itself among the best in the world, alongside Japan, Puerto Rico, South Korea, and the Dominican Republic.