By: Cory Vest
The fourth installment of the World Baseball Classic has come to an end this year, as team USA made its first ever finals appearance against an undefeated Puerto Rico team that was riding a wave of very evident emotion.
The United States, led by a dominant pitching performance by Marcus Stroman, took home their first WBC title as they defeated Puerto Rico 8-0. Stroman pitched six strong innings of one hit ball as USA’s offense broke out for 13 hits and 8 runs. Ian Kinsler opened the scoring with a two-run shot to center in the third inning. Two more runs were scored in the 5th followed by 3 runs in 7th. The US pitching staff continued to keep Puerto Rican bats quiet, only allowing 3 hits on the night. A lone run crossed the plate in the 8th inning for the US to cap the scoring.
Kinsler, Christian Yelich, Nolan Arenado, Giancarlo Stanton, and Andrew McCutchen all recorded two hit games. Kinsler, McCutchen, and Brandon Crawford each chipped in 2 RBIs apiece.
The World Baseball Classic saw a nice increase in viewership this year as numbers rose that of the 2013 WBC. The MLB network drew an audience of 977,000 for a group play game between the United States and Dominican Republic. That number increased to 1.4 million viewers for the match-up between the US and Puerto Rico. The 1.4 million was the highest for the MLB Network, not counting postseason baseball.
One of America’s oldest sports seems to be doing alright for itself, despite the average baseball game lasting three hours and 26 seconds in 2016 while delivering an average of 4.3 runs over that time span. Game five of last year’s World Series did something baseball hasn’t done since 2011 when more people tuned in to the Cubs vs. Indians game than to Sunday Night Football, a feat that rarely occurs. One might find this surprising, especially when comparing the fast-paced, hard hitting action that is football to the slower, methodical pace of baseball.
America’s pastime doesn’t seem to be past its time at all. Can we still say it is as American as apple pie however? Could the fact that baseball isn’t as American as it once was, be a contributing factor to the rise of eyes watching? What is my point? Tired of the questions?
I am too, so let me explain.
Eighteen different countries/territories were represented last year in the MLB, the most since the 1998 season. A total of 238 players of the 2016 opening day 25-man rosters were born outside of the United States. The 238 players made up 27.5% of the MLB, or over a quarter of the league. In 2015 26.5% of the league were foreign born; in 2014, 26.1%; and in 2013, a record 28.2% of players were not born in the US.
The Dominican Republic had the most players representing its country with 82. Dominican born players have led the way quite frequently, which is a reason why 977,000 people tuned in to watch the group play game that matched up the US vs. the Dominican Republic. Venezuelan born players came in at a total of 63 players, while Cuba had 23 players in the league.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and the New York Yankees, were the most diverse teams in 2016 with 7 different countries being represented in their clubhouses. Seattle fans cheered on the highest number of foreign born players, as 13 of them made the roster.
With a high variety of countries being represented and a number of big names going to bat for these countries, the MLB is certainly appealing to a diverse crowd. Players such as Adrian Beltre, Robinson Cano, Manny Machado, Carlos Santana, Nelson Cruz, and Jose Bautista suited up to represent the Dominican Republic in this year’s WBC. Names like Yadier Molina, and Carlos Beltran showcased their skills for their home country Puerto Rico. While Felix Hernandez, Jose Altuve, and Miguel Cabrera wore the Venezuelan jersey.
Not only were these names and talents on display, so was the passion and fire they bring to the sport. Puerto Rico was a prime example as Yadier Molina, and his teammates, could be seen pumping their fist ecstatically, while celebrating an out, or a crucial hit. The flair was so evident in fact, that Ian Kinsler, of team USA, made a comment regarding it prior to their match-up with Puerto Rico.
“I hope kids watching the W.B.C. can watch the way we play the game and appreciate the way we play the game as opposed to the way Puerto Rico plays or the Dominican plays. That’s not taking anything away from them. That just wasn’t the way we were raised. They were raised differently and to show emotion and passion when you play. We do show emotion; we do show passion. But we just do it in a different way.”
Whether you agree or disagree with the display of emotion, and how much of it is appropriate, one is left to wonder if it may be good for baseball. While some viewers may tune out due to the dramatics and over celebration, others may gain interest.
Who can forget Jose Bautista’s bat flip? The flip gained tons of attention and set a precedent for bat flips to come. Speaking of Bautista, one cannot help but remember the fisticuffs with Rougned Odor. Of course, throwing blows on the diamond is never warranted nor condoned, but there is no denying the fact that it draws eyes and viewers.
Ready to sit back, crack open a beer, grab your peanuts and cracker jacks and tune in to three hours’ worth of baseball? I’m probably not either, but hey, baseball is far from dead. It’s still kicking…and punching.