You can say all you want about how the World Baseball Classic is a waste of time.
You can say how only the Latin American countries and a select few others actually care who wins this thing.
You can say that it's basically exhibition matches.
Just don't tell any of that to the players on Team USA.
Yesterday, Team USA faced off against Puerto Rico in a do-or-die matchup. Winner advances to the semi-finals and plays Venezuela to determine the pool winner, loser goes home. After being mercy ruled by Puerto Rico earlier in the tournament, one expected to see some fire from Team USA.
Indeed, the Americans did jump out to a quick 3-0 lead, but that defecit was erased slowly, inning by inning, hit by hit, as it seemed that Puerto Rico was cashing in on every single scoring opportunity they had, while USA kept leaving runners on base. All of this led to a ninth inning where Puerto Rico entered with a two run lead, 5-3.
Then the magic happened.
Shane Victorino led off the bottom of the inning with a base hit, and was moved from first to third by Brian Roberts with another single. Things were looking good when Derek Jeter approached the plate.
The expectations of thousands of people is nothing new to be placed on Jeter's shoulders, but all he could manage was a pop-out, after which Jimmy Rollins came to the plate with one out and promptly ran the count full before taking a walk and loading the bases for Team USA.
Puerto Rico went to the bullpen to retrieve Fernando Cabrera, but it was no use, as all he could do was walk Kevin Youkilis, scoring a run and making the deficit 5-4 USA. The next man up was Mets slugger David Wright, and Puerto Rico knew they were in trouble.
Then it happened. A line shot by Wright into right field, and it lands fair. One run is in, and in comes Rollins right behind Roberts. Game over on a walk-off shot by Wright, and you could tell by the look of pure elation on David's face how he felt about that.
The dugout cleared, and Team USA celebrated their victory that advances them to the semi finals as if they'd won the whole thing.
And this is where my headline comes in.
The picture I chose for this article perfectly illustrates my point. Here we see Derek Jeter, Shane Victorino, Brian Roberts, and Kevin Youkilis celebrating a walk-off shot by David Wright.
Jeter and Youkilis are on opposite sides of one of the biggest rivalries in sports, Brian Roberts is their division rival, and Shane Victorino's team has ousted the heavily favored Mets—for whom David Wright is a superstar—from claiming their division title for two years in a row.
Yet, for one day, they all celebrated together. For one day, they couldn't care less who plays for what team, because for one day, they won one for Team USA, and that's all that matters to them.
You can take issue with the World Baseball Classic all you want. You can talk about how you don't like the pitch limits, or the fact that it's a small sample size, or that you don't feel like the best players are represented.
But don't you tell me for one second that the players participating in these games don't take it seriously. Don't even try to look me in the eye and say that it's as meaningless to them as it is to you.
You probably shouldn't say that to David Wright, either.