The fourth time is the charm for the U.S. national team, as they defeated Japan, 2-1, to reach the WBC finals.
The United States are going to play in the World Baseball Classic final on Wednesday. This might not mean anything special to you.
Country with robust professional baseball league fields talented baseball team and creates baseball advantage in baseball tournament. Film at 11.
It’s not a big deal when you get granular like that. This is the first WBC final for the U.S., though, and it comes with an unspoken slogan: Finally. This is just the fourth iteration of the WBC, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t exorcisms to be performed. The U.S. has a chance to win the World Baseball Classic, a tournament with a three-word title that wouldn’t have made sense 50 years ago.
Exactly where heavy metal was born is an old, tired argument, and we’re not answering the question here. But whether you think it started with the opening tritone on Black Sabbath’s first album, a Led Zeppelin riff, or some out-of-print Vertigo record you just paid $150 for, it’s probably fair to concede that the bulk of what we know as proto-metal came from England. If you’re mumbling something about Blue Cheer, you’re the equivalent of a British person mumbling something about rounders, and no one is listening.
The musical genre was born, unholy and gnarled, and it spread across the globe. Rob Halford’s shrieking inspired James Hetfield’s growling, which inspired Max Cavalera’s croaks, and the music hasn’t been defined by borders for decades. Last night, I listened to a band from France and a band that started a couple miles away from my house. England is the story of metal’s past, but it doesn’t define its present.
Use this analogy for whatever you want. Cars. Movies. Burritos. Things start in one location and evolve, and those are usually only everything worth caring about. For today’s internet content, we’re going to be discussing baseball, which is as American as baseball and apple pie.
Pick a decade, and you’ll find a way to weave baseball into the story of the country, whether it’s with FDR suggesting that it’s probably a good wartime distraction, Rick Monday ruining the protest of a couple longhairs, Mike Piazza helping people forget for just a little bit, or Jeffrey Loria existing at all and allowing his big, dumb, rich man puppy feet to ruin things for people domestically and internationally, there is always something to tie the sport to the United States. It works for every era, every decade.
It’s been a long time since the U.S. has been the only country to claim that, though. I can’t bring up the Piazza-specific memories of baseball in Japan, but they exist. From Clemente in Puerto Rico to Marichal in the Dominican Republic to Dihigo in Cuba, every team in the WBC has their legends, and the teams are there for a reason. Most of the time, it’s not a reason that was invented within the last few years.
This isn’t the game of the United States anymore, and it hasn’t been for a long time.
You can see and hear it in every WBC venue, from the Japanese troubadours who follow the national team around and play songs because that’s just what they do, to the bat flips from the Netherlands and Venezuela because that’s just what they do. There are a lot of different shapes and colors and beaks on these baseball finches, and they’re all just as fun and baseball-y as anything that’s ever been offered to the world.
It’s in this context that the U.S. is in a weird limbo, caught between the juggernaut and the upstart. They’re the juggernaut because, come on, they made the rules. They host the tournament. They have the baseball infrastructure that produces players like Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw. This is the country that invented travel teams and clinics and year-round ball for 12-year-olds.
They’re the upstart because they can’t guarantee that their best players will be available for a lengthy exhibition. Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw are two of the most complete players in the history of the sport, absolute all-time marvels, and they have other things to do. That’s not to insult them; if you can’t understand, you’re too far gone. There are millions to be made and routines to keep. Most importantly, there are bodies to keep healthy. Anyone criticizing the best U.S. players for not participating is underestimating just how hard their job is. It is, and probably always will be, supremely defensible to focus on an upcoming Major League Baseball season.
That written, it’s still stunning to see the roster turnout for the other countries. The best Dominican hitter not on the roster might be Jose Ramirez. Miguel Cabrera, who has accomplished just about everything a baseball player can have possibly accomplished, would leave your corpse for the crows if you tried to keep him away from the WBC. It’s as if there’s an unspoken assumption that the trophy comes with a subtext of “Hey, so this is our sport now. Thanks.” The tug of war isn’t focused on the U.S., either. Japan was saying it as much to Cuba in 2006 as the Dominican Republic was saying it to Puerto Rico in 2013.
It’s too much to say that the U.S. needs this game. They don’t. No team needs it, really, but the U.S. doesn’t have more of a claim on it than Puerto Rico, a country that was shivved by the MLB Draft, only to see something of a renaissance in recent years. But there’s a sense of American urgency with this final, and you can understand why. Wistful yearning for days gone by can lead to some extraordinarily stupid politics, but there’s nothing wrong with recognizing the rest of the world is about to lap you and thinking, hey, waaaait a second. We invented the game, and we were stepped over. We can handle things. We’re smart, not like everyone says.
The United States is in the World Baseball Classic final. Mail that sentence back to 1950, and the response is “Of course they are,” without the responder ever knowing what the WBC is. In 2017, though, it’s a heckuva uphill battle, and if the U.S. wins, it’ll take a little luck and a lot of skill, just like every championship team in baseball history.
And there would be a sense of relief, a finally, that would come with a win. It would be hard to explain to anyone who grew up in a pre-Expos world, when baseball was the U.S. and the U.S. was baseball, but there’s more than a little fidgeting that accompanies every early U.S. exit in the WBC.
If they lose, the U.S. has to sit around and wait for four years, which seems crueler than the typical postseason fate. There’s no shame in it, though. Not when Puerto Rico has a stellar team. Not when the U.S. went through the Dominican Republic and Japan to get here, sample sizes be damned. There’s a lot to be proud of, and this tournament doesn’t define American baseball, or baseball in general.
It would sure help reinforce what most of us took for granted: The U.S. probably should have the best baseball team in the world. That’s not always the case, and it hasn’t been for decades. It doesn’t matter why that is, because it’s actually a good thing.
A little stray validation, though, would go a long way.