World Baseball Classic takes over the sports world after record-breaking tournament


Photo courtesy of @wbcbaseball on Instagram

Out of all the storylines that came and went, the World Baseball Classic (WBC) concluded with the greatest ending that anyone could have asked for. Two teammates considered some of the best players in baseball faced off for the first time in perhaps the most anticipated and exciting at-bats in baseball history.

The entire crowd in loanDepot Park in Miami, Fla. was on their feet as the title was on the line in a one-run game between the two favorites to win the tournament entering pool play. The final matchup between possibly the two countries most known in the world for baseball delivered everything that fans could ask for, making for a perfect end to one of the greatest stretches of baseball in history.

Fans were awaiting a matchup between the two heavyweights as Japan defeated the United States in a 3-2 win that featured the incredible depth of Japan’s pitching staff. Seven pitchers combined to hold the U.S. “Dream Team” lineup to two solo home runs, not allowing a hit with runners in scoring position.

Closing the game out was Los Angeles Angels two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani, who was also named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player after hitting .435 with a .606 on-base percentage, four doubles, a home run and 10 walks in seven games, while also pitching to a 1.86 earned run average (ERA) and 11 strikeouts in 9 2/3 innings. His biggest strikeout was of his Angels teammate, USA outfielder Mike Trout, to close out the game and deliver Japan their third title, the most in WBC history.

Ohtani’s stardom reached a new level during the WBC, gaining nearly 2.5 million followers, seeing a 101% increase in his number of followers on Instagram. His once-in-a-lifetime talent was put on full display in front of the entire world to see as the centerpiece of a Japanese team that was loaded with talent in all aspects that made history, becoming the second team to go undefeated in the WBC with a perfect 7-0 record.

The 2023 WBC was certainly one to remember for all fans, countries and players involved. The numbers jumped off the charts, bringing an unprecedented level of fans to the ballparks to watch the best players from all around the world. A total of 1,010,999 fans were in attendance for pool play, a 98% increase from the previous record of 510,056 fans in 2017. Mexico’s win over Team USA on Mar. 12 brought in 47,534 fans to Chase Field in Phoenix, Ari., the most of any first-round matchup in WBC history.

The tournament gauged so much interest throughout the sports world that it set the record for the most-watched baseball game of all time, eclipsing the mark set in the 1980 World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and Kansas City Royals. Japan’s win over Korea on Mar. 10 reached 62 million viewers in Japan alone, accounting for nearly half of all Japanese households tuning in for the game.

Despite all the success, plenty of criticism surrounded the tournament as key players suffered serious injuries that will keep them sidelined to start the 2023 Major League Baseball (MLB) season. Critics called the games “meaningless” after seeing New York Mets closer Edwin Diaz suffering a torn patella tendon in his right leg which will force him to miss the entire season.

Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve suffered a broken thumb in Venezuela’s loss to Team USA in the quarterfinal round, which is expected to sideline him for eight to 10 weeks. Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman suffered a “minor hamstring injury” in Canada’s 5-0 win over Colombia in the first round which kept him out of the lineup for the rest of the tournament.

Injuries are not going to be the biggest takeaway from this edition of the WBC because of the moments that made every game better than the former. Fans were treated to perhaps some of the most exciting and passionate baseball in recent memory watching teams from all over the world play for one of the most unique championships in sports. The WBC brought out some of the brightest stars, as well as emerging superstars, international sensations and surprising teams that took the baseball world by storm.

Players being able to display their talents in front of the whole world brought them to a new level of stardom through all of the competition. Emerging viral sensation Lars Nootbaar made history as the first player born outside of Japan to represent the country in international play. The St. Louis outfielder became a fan favorite overnight, growing his following on Instagram from 60,000 to over one million during Japan’s title run.

Every game carried its own playoff atmosphere as players rose to the occasion to deliver some of the most clutch and entertaining moments in key situations. In Team USA’s 9-7 win over Venezuela to advance to the semifinal round, shortstop Trea Turner crushed a grand slam in the top of the eighth inning that gave the United States the lead which they would not give up. Turner tied the WBC record with five home runs and set the third-highest mark for runs batted in with 11.

Team Japan’s third baseman Munetaka Murakami delivered one of the most electrifying moments of the tournament, sending his team to the championship game with a walk-off two-run double to cap off a dramatic 6-5 comeback win over Team Mexico. He followed up his clutch moment with a long home run against Team USA to tie the game at one.

Team Mexico outfielder Randy Arozarena emerged as one of the most colorful personalities in baseball with his celebrations after robbing a home run and delivering in huge situations that helped lift the team all the way to the semifinals. Arozarena was named to the All-WBC team with his .450 batting average and 1.507 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS), the second-highest mark of all players.

The level of talent that was on display in every game made the 2023 WBC historic for countries lesser known for baseball, paving the way for the next generation of baseball players to represent their home in 2026. Baseball has become a worldwide sport where the next superstar can come from anywhere, with players signing contracts to professional teams after establishing themselves against MLB stars.

The World Baseball Classic showed its importance in growing the game to a worldwide scale and while there still may be a long way to go to become a global pastime, the game will certainly continue to grow with every passing tournament. There is plenty to look forward to in the 2026 WBC as more people get familiar with the sport and all the excitement that it brings on the biggest stage.