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EDITORIAL | World Baseball Classic Reminds Japan of the Pure Joy Baseball Can Deliver

The games at the 2023 World Baseball Classic were of such high caliber that they conveyed the inherent joy of baseball at its finest.

First, we would like to thank the team members of Samurai Japan who emerged victorious at the World Baseball Classic. This year's WBC brilliantly showcased the joy inherent in the game of baseball.

There were many thrilling moments that we will long remember. 

Among them were the young Triple Crown winner, Munetaka Murakami, who had been in a slump, leading Japan to victory in the semifinal against Mexico by hitting a come-from-behind, sayonara two-run double in the last at-bat of the game. 

Then there was the super dramatic finale against the United States. Shohei Ohtani replaced Yu Darvish on the mound to start the ninth inning. With two outs, Ohtani faced Los Angeles Angels teammate Mike Trout, a three-time American League MVP who is considered by many to be Major League Baseball’s best all-around player. And Trout went down swinging to end the game. 

All of Japan was enthralled by the action in Miami. The special allure of baseball, and sports in general, lies in the way in which reality surpasses whatever could have been imagined.

Not only did the Japanese team win the big prize, it consistently earned the respect of the losers with its behavior during and after every game. That brought a refreshing feeling to the tournament. 

World Baseball Classic
Samurai Japan players, including Shohei Ohtani (center), celebrate the team's victory over the United States in the World Baseball Classic final on March 21 in Miami. (KYODO)

'Baseball Won Tonight'

The classic was also marked by some exemplary statements. After his team was edged out by Japan in heartbreaking fashion, Mexico manager Benji Gil said, "Japan advances, but the world of baseball won tonight."

Likewise, after the final match, US manager Mark DeRosa said, "The baseball world won tonight." 

That was the greatest achievement of the tournament. The games were of such high caliber that they conveyed the inherent joy of baseball at its finest. 

Hideki Kuriyama, the Samurai Japan manager, said that he had invited Darvish and Ohtani to represent Japan because of a sense of crisis he felt regarding the decline of popularity of baseball among Japanese youth. 

Even Trout, the captain of the US team, had personally recruited American stars to join him on the team and help build the strongest possible lineup of hitters. However, the level of competition at this year's WBC was so competitive that the Dominican Republic, which boasted a star-studded roster on par with that of the United States, was unable to advance past the first round of the tournament.

The good efforts by European countries also attracted attention. 

Samurai Japan World Baseball Classic
Japan manager Hideki Kuriyama receives the traditional doage (victory toss) after the team's triumph in the WBC final on March 21 in Miami. (ⒸSANKEI)

Nurturing the Dreams of the Next Generation

The WBC was launched by Major League Baseball ー the MLB ー and its players' association with the goal of globalizing baseball. The first tournament was held in 2006. There was some backlash against the profit-sharing arrangement that favored the United States and the complex rules of the tournament. But Japan's manager at the time, Sadaharu Oh, said: "First, let's get started. Then we can grow together."

The WBC has come a long way since then. Murakami, who also hit a tie-breaking home run in the final game, was so excited by Japan's victory in that first 2009 tournament that he wrote in his elementary school graduation book, "I want to be selected for the WBC and play before the eyes of the world."

No doubt there are Japanese youngsters who saw Murakami and Ohtani in action who will dream of playing at the WBC in the future.

Soccer's World Cup also had humble origins. There were no more than 13 teams participating in the first tournament in 1930. The strenuous efforts of players and enthusiasm of others concerned transformed it into the premier global sports event it is today.

Judging on the basis of the latest tournament, the future of the WBC looks bright.  


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun


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