World Baseball Classic fills void of Olympic Baseball

Normally, baseball fans could only dream of having a lineup consisting of Nolan Arenado, Buster Posey, Paul Goldschmidt, Eric Hosmer, Giancarlo Stanton, Andrew McCutchen and Adam Jones. Dreaming of it is not necessary, however, the lineup is manifested in team USA, one of the 16 countries to have participated in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

To no one’s surprise, that lineup will compete in the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic. On March 18, team USA knocked out the Dominican Republic to cement themselves into the final four.

The tournament began with 16 teams split into four pools. After round one, the top two teams from each of the four pools moved on. The Cinderella team of the first round was Israel, who finished round one with a 3-0 record, but couldn’t manage to repeat their same success as they were knocked out in round two with a 1-2 record.

Israel was led by MLB players Ryan Lavarnway and Sam Fuld. The tournament could end up leading to a nice payday for Fuld, as the current free agent has garnered interest from several MLB teams thanks to his impressive play.

The final four teams will play in a one game semi-final matchup, with the Netherlands taking on heavily favoured Puerto Rico on March 20 and Japan taking on USA in the other game on March 21.

Although the tournament features some of MLB’s biggest stars, it’s exciting to watch teams such as Japan, Israel and Netherlands that have starting lineups filled with players many have never heard of.

Japan’s Tetsuto Yamada played hero in his team’s 8-5 victory over Cuba back on March 14. The leadoff designated hitter hit two home runs, including an eighth inning two-run shot that all but sealed the victory.

Team Canada finished dead last in their pool in round one, being knocked out of the tournament with a 0-3 record. Their lineup was no match against team USA, as they got beaten rather easily 8-0 and again 9-2 against the Dominican Republic. Their biggest players in a relatively unimpressive lineup were Blue Jays’ prospect Dalton Pompey and Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman.

The World Baseball Classic is a great concept, but the tournament has yet to take off in terms of popularity. The 2017 edition is the fourth time the tournament has taken place, following 2006, 2009 and 2013. In 2013, the Dominican Republic took down Puerto Rico by a score of 3-0 in the championship game.

With teams such as the USA, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Cuba carrying rosters filled with MLB talent, the tournament should continue to gain popularity. Near Cinderella stories, such as this year’s Israel team, could garner interest from players who chose not to participate this year.

There is both an advantage and a disadvantage that can easily be pointed out if the tournament attracts more MLB players in the future. The advantage would obviously be that it would make for more interesting baseball that gets great viewership from MLB fans. The disadvantage, however, is that with only a handful of countries developing elite levels players at a consistent level, the 16 team tournament could very easily be won by the same teams over and over again.

Either way, the World Baseball Classic is a great tournament that helps replace the international level of baseball, a sport that was removed from the Olympic Games in 2008. And if the tournament keeps up its’ success, we could once again see baseball in an upcoming Summer Olympics.

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