World Baseball Classic returns after six year hiatus


Countries around the globe competed in the World Baseball Championship, leading to Japan’s victory. (Google Images)

After a long six year wait, the World Baseball Classic (WBC) is finally back. This year brings in four additional countries than in 2017, bringing the total amount of teams competing up from 16 to 20.

The 16 countries from the 2017 WBC automatically qualified for a slot in the WBC, and the last four spots were up for grabs for any interested team who wanted to join the tournament. 

Making their first appearance in the WBC were the Czech Republic, Great Britain, and Nicaragua. The last spot was won by Panama, who was making their return to the WBC after missing out on the last two series after failing to qualify.

The other countries playing this year go as  follows: Australia, Canada, Chinese Taipei, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, Puerto Rico, USA, and Venezuela. All 20 countries were divided into four groups of five. The top two countries of each group advanced to the quarterfinals. The countries in each pool were grouped by general location to the closest stadium by them.

Each group played in different stadiums. Group A consisted of Chinese Taipei, Netherlands, Cuba, Italy, and Panama playing in Taichung, Taiwan. Group B included Japan, Korea, Australia, China, and Czech Republic which played in Tokyo, Japan. Group C countries were the USA, Mexico, Columbia, Canada, and Great Britain  competing in Phoenix, Arizona. Last Group D of Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Israel, and Nicaragua battled in Miami, Florida.

The tournament started on March, 7th and ended March 20th.

This year there wasn’t any surprising team to make it outside the group stage the favorite teams of each Pool advanced to the quarter-finals. The quarter-finalist were set like this: in Pool A, you had Cuba and Italy, in Pool B you had Japan and Australia, Pool C you had Mexico and the United States, and in Pool D you had Venezuela and Puerto Rico. The winner of each Pool will face the runner-up of the other Pool. The paired Pools were Pool A with B and Pool C with D. 

The quarterfinals game of Japan vs. Italy broke records as it was reported around 48.7 percent of households in Japan were watching the game. Someone who played a big factor in this viewing count was Japanese raising star and fan-favorite Shohei Ohtani.

 Ohtani, who plays for the Los Angeles Angels, has been unstoppable since he entered the league. As a pitcher, his skill and power was shown during the tournament where in the game against Italy, Ohtani threw a career high 102 MPH fast ball. But unlike many pitchers, Ohtani is also a feared batter who ended the tournament with a .435 batting average.

Shohei Ohtani led Japan’s team to victory. (Google Images)

He led team Japan to its third WBC final after defeating Italy 9-3 in the quarter finals and the powerhouse team of Mexico in the semi-finals in a close and hard fought battle that ended 5-4.

On the other side of the bracket was team USA, who was led by Angels center fielder and future Hall of Famer Mike Trout. Team USA had a nearly perfect record only falling to Mexico in the group stages. They went on beating team Venezuela in the quarter finals 9-7 and team Cuba in the semi-finals 14-2, making it the second consecutive WBC finals they go to.

The final was set: it was Japan versus the defending champs USA. Both teams were projected to make it to the finals. The game was a close one, and a hard fought battle between the two. 

The US took an early lead in the second inning with a homerun by Trea Turner.  Japan answered back quickly with a home run of their own making the score 1-1 after the second inning. Then, after another home run and a big fourth inning, Japan led 3-1. The game seemed over as the US could not get into scoring positions until the 8th inning when Kyle Schwarber ignited some hope for the US with a homerun of his own.

In the ninth inning, Japan brought in Ohtani to pitch to finish off this win. Ohtani struck the first two batter leaving the last and final out down to a long awaited showdown. Mike Trout faced Angels teammate Ohtani in the last bat of the game. Both captains led their teams to an amazing WBC run, but only one could win, and that was Ohtani who struck out Trout.

This win gave Japan their third WBC championship in a staggering undefeated run. There is no doubt this team gained various fans during this tournament. They showed power and skill but also respect and hospitality to their opponents throughout.

The next WBC is set for 2026 there still isn’t any confirmation on when and where the tournament will take place. There also isn’t any confirmation on how qualifying will work but what is certain is that with the amount of traction the sport gained this year more people will be viewing and rooting for there teams.