As Major League Baseball’s regular season draws to a close, this offseason carries extra weight due to the revival of baseball’s globe-spanning event: the World Baseball Classic.
Many fans are ecstatic about the return of the Classic, which had been scheduled for 2021 but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now it’s back and bigger than ever, having expanded the field from 16 national teams to 20. Every team from the 2017 iteration of the event is in, as well as four qualifying clubs. As of this writing, Great Britain and the Czech Republic have qualified from Pool A, while Pool B’s qualifiers will begin shortly. This marks the first appearance in the event for both the Brits and the Czechs.
It’s not just fans that are excited, though. Players across MLB are eagerly awaiting the Classic, including many Colorado Rockies.
“I think it’s cool,” said pitcher Austin Gomber. “It’s like baseball’s World Cup. Every year I’ve always watched it in spring training. I think a lot of guys take pride in representing their countries. I think it’s good for exposure. International free agents, guys that are over in Japan... getting to come here and play on that stage and be seen by teams over here, it’s definitely a positive for the game.”
That last point is a good one — the opportunity to see international stars is a main attraction of the Classic, especially from other teams. For instance, Miami Marlins star Jazz Chisholm has announced that he will play for Great Britain, an exciting development for a team appearing in its first WBC. Chicago Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki was first introduced to American baseball fans when he appeared for Team Japan in the 2017 event, while Korean reliever “Final Boss” Seung-hwan Oh appeared for Team South Korea that same year. Oh would later become a member of the Rockies in 2018 after being traded from Toronto.
It’s a great opportunity for front offices as well. General manager Bill Schmidt said that the event is a chance to “see how they handle things, especially young and up-and-coming guys. (We can) get a feel for them.” Many prospects take part in the festivities such as Cincinnati Reds No. 2 Noelvi Marte, who showed out in games with Team Spain recently.
Players are also excited to see their friends and allies compete.
“One of my best friends in high school teammates plays for Team Israel, (former Rockies minor leaguer) Scott Burcham,” said catcher Brian Serven. “He played in it back in ‘17 on Team Israel. That’s kind of what drew my interest was to watch him. I think he’s playing again this year so I’ll be watching him.”
Burcham’s inclusion on the ‘23 Team Israel isn’t confirmed at time of this writing, but he’s made a great case for himself. The shortstop brought home the winning run in extra innings during Israel’s victory over South Korea when those clubs last matched up.
He’s not the only member of Colorado’s organization to have taken part in the most recent Classic. In 2017, there were six Rockies on WBC teams: the aforementioned Burcham and Troy Neiman for Team Israel, Robbie Perkins for Team Australia, Jake McGee and Nolan Arenado for Team USA, and Carlos González for Team Venezuela. Arenado and McGee would win out as the tournament saw Team USA best Team Puerto Rico in the finals.
As of the time of this writing, it’s unclear how many current Rockies will take place in 2023’s event. Jake Bird has committed to Team Israel and will pitch out of their bullpen, while Germán Márquez has announced his intention to join Team Venezuela (though no official announcement has been made just yet). Justin Lawrence has also said that he would like to join Team Panama should they make it out of their qualifying round.
The idea of so many stars from within and without MLB playing on different squads is a boon for the Classic. Ryan Feltner recalls the excitement he felt watching Team USA in his youth.
“As a kid growing up, I was very familiar with all of the Major League Baseball players,” Feltner said. “It was great to see those guys all on one team of pulling in the same direction. I think it’s great for the game and I’m definitely a fan of it.”
This year’s Team USA lineup is arguably the most stacked ever, featuring the likes of Mike Trout, Paul Goldschmidt, Bryce Harper, and Tim Anderson. The pitching staff is still undecided, and could include any number of candidates. Kyle Freeland, for instance, would love to take part.
“I’d definitely be open to joining and being a part of it if I’m invited,” he said. “(It would be) a cool thing to put on my résumé — to be a part of representing United States, representing the Rockies.”
Freeland also understands the importance of the Classic as part of MLB’s continued effort of expanding the game to new and wider audiences.
“I think it grows the game of baseball throughout the world,” he continued. “It helps reaches places that baseball isn’t really (prominent) and allows kids, fans, whoever, to just see the game live and through their own eyes. It’s something special.”
Second baseman Brendan Rodgers echoes those sentiments. He would also love the opportunity to compete, and thinks that the exposure to other cultures and fanbases is a great chance to expand the sport.
“We get into those other countries, like Japan,” he said. “All those countries have crazy amounts of fans — diehard fans — and I think it’s very cool seeing the variety of fans from all over the world. It’s something I would definitely want to do.”
As rosters continue to take shape as the 2023 edition of the World Baseball Classic approaches, we will stay tuned on which Rockies get to take part. Regardless of the number, it’s clear that the event has a substantial place in the hearts and minds of fans and players alike.
There can be no better summation of the importance of the Classic than catcher Elias Díaz’s: