It was the beating of the drums. The clapping thunder from the blue thunder sticks. The Korean and Japanese flags covering dozens of rows of people as if they were holding up a 40x40 tarp as shelter from the rain. The finals of the World Baseball Classic proved to be everything once imagined to fans, spectators, and players.
For me, it started in Toronto with the opening round of play between Canada and the United States. I was sitting in the left field stands surrounded by a mix of baseball and hockey jerseys, 45,000-plus packed the Rogers Centre to see if Canada could pull off the upset against the favored Americans.
The game went back and forth, every pitch, every inning coming with an array of cheers, chants, ohhhs, and ahhhs. In the end it was the Americans that held off the Canadians. I had just seen one of the best games of my life! In March!
I stayed for the rest of the weekend, seeing Venezuela defeat Italy, and then the winners the next night between USA and Venezuela. Bonding with different cultures that one is not accustomed to made the experience second to none. It was right up there as one of the best events of my life.
Once the weekend was over, I headed back to Detroit waiting for the games to be televised so I could get another chance at seeing the teams go to battle. Unfortunately, coverage of the games was limited to a select few and others only being offered on MLB.TV. Although I was disappointed, I continued to wait for the next telecast.
Sportswriters are quick to point out the negatives of the classic, saying it is at the wrong time of the year, or that teams are unhappy because of the threat of injury. I cannot imagine a professional athlete not staying in shape or swinging a bat during the offseason. From what I have seen during the interviews, the players love the classic and the pride that comes with wearing the country on your chest.
Last night’s game should have proven to THE WORLD that the classic is here to stay and will only grow as a special event. It may not ever be as big as the World Cup, but at least it will give countries that are not really competitive in soccer a chance to call themselves champions of the world. With baseball possibly being taken out of the Olympics, this may be the only world championship that we see in the best game ever played.
Japan and Korea squared off multiple times during the tournament, making the finals a friendly but highly competitive rivalry. Both countries gained heavy respect as baseball countries and producing big league talent.
What could a fan of all sports want more? When the camera on ESPN is shaking from the first pitch to the final out, you know you have a Game Seven in March!