Spring training is fully underway and baseball is back. However, many teams have said goodbye to notable key players after they departed for the World Baseball Classic with the honor of representing their countries.
There has always been a large amount of controversy surrounding the importance of the WBC. Many people around the game despise it and want it to be abolished, while others can’t wait to suit up or watch their countries play on the national level. The problem many teams have with the WBC is not that players want to represent their countries. Rather, it’s the fact that they are removing themselves from camp and exhausting their bodies in high-leverage games, which do not benefit their respective clubs.
For example, a player could be involved in as many as 10 games in a span of less than two weeks during the tournament. That’s four games shy of playing every single day for two weeks after only a few days of spring training, which puts the risk of injury at a very high level. This obviously rubs many teams the wrong way as they helplessly watch as their players face the risk of injury the whole tournament.
As if it’s not bad enough, pitchers are out there throwing way too many innings. This is especially true for the pitchers who faced a heavy workload the year before or will have a heavy workload this season. This then puts extra strain on managers to avoid using them in season for a tournament that has no bearing on the MLB regular season or World Series.
Despite the popular conception that the WBC is a bad idea and should be abolished, it is absolutely crucial for the MLB. The MLB has shown a strong desire to grow internationally just as FIFA has done. The MLB does not have much presence outside of the Americas and Asia. They have tried to set up some exhibition games around the world to promote the game in places like Europe, yet that’s not enough.
One game or even a series for that matter won’t be enough. The MLB must keep the WBC because it unites groups of people to cheer for their country, to understand the beautiful game of baseball in it’s entirety. Baseball interest in many countries has grown exponentially from this tournament. Italy made a dream run out of their pool in 2013, defeating Canada 14-4 and Mexico with a ninth inning comeback. Since that tournament, the youth of Italy learned the game of baseball and started to pick up the bat instead of kicking the soccer ball. Italian born players started to make it to the MLB, such as Alex Liddi who played for a few teams in the major leagues.
There are many stories similar to those from Italy. For example, take the story of Team Israel. They qualified for the WBC for the first time ever this year, and for a team with a small MLB presence they are raring to go. This tournament has not started yet but has already lit a fire in Israel that will hopefully burn with a never ending love for baseball.
This tournament is flawed and there is no doubt about it. The timing is awkward and the players are at risk, but at the end of the day these players are putting their country’s name on the front of their jerseys on the international level. They are honoring their families, their countries and all of the players who have put that jersey on before them. This tournament is the key for expansion in baseball, and it is here to stay.