If you didn't take the time to watch this year's World Baseball Classic, you missed out on something special. The energy, excitement and drama brought about by the third installment of the tournament were second to none.
|Photo by: Andres Leighton|
Each game of the 2013 WBC had a playoff-like atmosphere. With the win or go home criteria, many games even had a "Game 7" feel to them.
One thing that stood out for me this year was the fans. All 16 teams had great representative fan bases. It was shocking to see how many people made it out to cheer on their country, win or lose. At every game you could find the colors of each nation, almost evenly spread throughout the stands.
Record television ratings were set in many areas of the world. The finale between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico was available to 440 million households world wide, reaching more than 200 countries and territories in 15 different languages.
This year it was blatantly obvious that there is more parity in baseball today than ever before. 16 teams competed valiantly for the glory of winning the WBC. Alas, only one nation could call themselves world champions.
Tuesday night marked the final game of the tournament. The two smallest populations of this year's Classic, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, met for the third time in the tourney.
Despite battling through light rain for the better part of the game, with stifling defense and dominant pitching the Dominican Republic pulled out the win 3-0, en route to their first WBC title. Robinson Cano would take home the MVP trophy, to go with his gold medal.
The Dominicans won all three meetings between the two Caribbean clubs, but none of these wins came from lack of effort on behalf of Puerto Rico.
The fact that the Dominicans were in the finals should come as no shock to baseball fans. The club is loaded with Major League talent and there are more than 100 active MLB players that are of Dominican descent. Led by manager Tony Pena, the team was expected by many to be the club to beat in this year's Classic. The Dominicans went undefeated throughout the tournament, finishing at an unprecedented 8-0.
Puerto Rico was a less likely candidate for the finals. With a total record of 5-4, their road to the title game was by no means easy. They faced elimination games against both the United States and Japan, two of international baseball's best teams.
The leadership Puerto Rico received from catcher Yadier Molina all tournament long was like nothing I've ever seen before. He put the team on his shoulders and played some of the best baseball of his career. His ability to frame pitches that were out of the strike zone was impeccable throughout the entirety of the WBC. The heart and passion with which he played the tournament was obvious, and all his teammates reacted positively to it.
There were many surprises in the tournament as well. The first round exits of Cuba, Venezuela and Korea and the successes of Puerto Rico, the Netherlands and Italy all had part in what made the WBC so exciting in 2013.
I could go on and on about how magical this year's Classic was, but this is meant to be a column, not a novel. The brilliant "hurry up" defense Puerto Rico used against Japan, the fight between Canada and Mexico, and the long layoff the Netherlands and Japan had before the championship round are just a few of the things I would love to continue with. The smile on veteran Andruw Jones' face in the Netherlands' dugout and on the field was possibly my favorite moment of this WBC, but these are different topics for different times.
I will leave it with this. It's a shame that the American players don't treat this with the significance the other nations seem to. If the Americans happened to field their best possible team, this tournament should be a lock for them. I didn't see the smiles, the fist pumping, the yelling or flat out raw emotion on the faces of the American players that I did on the faces of the other players competing in the tourney.
Perhaps it's the time of year this tournament is played, or perhaps it's more than that. Whatever it is, I would like to see the Americans put their best product on the field for the WBC in 2017. "America's favorite pastime" should be America's biggest love. Especially at this time of year, when the MLB season has yet to commence.