Shohei Ohtani, the 2023 AL MVP, will lead two-time WBC champion in their pursuit of a third title. Credit: Wikipedia Mogami Kariya, Shohei Ohtani (52251723213) (cropped 2), CC BY-SA 2.0

When the World Baseball Classic made its debut in 2006, there was widespread skepticism, including a column penned by this journalist, that in essence asserted it was an urgent and desperate attempt by Major League Baseball (MLB) to expand a declining U.S. fan base among the preteen, teenage, and 20- to 30-year-old demographics whose interests, viewership, and ticket and merchandising purchasing habits skewed heavily toward the NFL and NBA. 

Major League Baseball, which throughout much of the 20th century was the most popular sport in the United States, had a precipitous drop in its following beginning in the 1960s as the emergence of television broadcasting on a national scale presented broader options for a population that was becoming more ethnically diverse, with varied viewing preferences. 

In succeeding decades, football and basketball—both professional and college—experienced rapid escalation in televised games, coinciding with MLB splintering into a more regional composite. Just 11% of adults in the U.S. polled by the Washington Post in 2021 responded that baseball was their favorite sport, with 34% listing football. More concerning is only 7% of those under 30 said baseball was their top choice.

Watching the World Baseball Classic inspires a more entertaining and festive experience than MLB contests. The international tournament has elements of the Olympics, a music concert, and Independence Day celebrations because the energy and emotional investment of fans attending the games is palpable. The WBC was slated to hold a tournament every three years, but changed to be staged every four years after the first two tournaments (2006 and 2009). 

Japan won back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2009. The Dominican Republic took the title in 2013 and the U.S. captured the championship in 2017. The current tournament began yesterday, with 16 teams representing five regions in the world—the Americas, Asia, Australia, Europe/Africa, and the Pacific—engaging in a round-robin format that will lead to an eight-team single elimination setup. 

Teams are divided into four pools, playing at LoanDepot Park in Miami, Chase Field in Phoenix, Intercontinental Baseball Stadium in Taiwan, and the Tokyo Dome in Japan. The top two teams from each pool will move on to the quarterfinals. The semi-finals will take place on March 19 and 20, and the finals on March 21, all in Miami. 

The United States is in Pool C with Mexico, Colombia, Canada, and Great Britain. Some of the game’s most decorated and notable stars will be playing for their respective countries, including Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, and Pete Alonso for the United States; Shohei Ohtani for Japan; Franciso Lindor for Puerto Rico; and Manny Machado and Rafeal Devers for the Dominican Republic. 

The WBC is being televised on Fox, FS1, FS2, and Fox Deportes.

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