The World Baseball Classic typically doesn’t draw the fanfare of similar events like the FIFA World Cup. And that’s fine. It’s still relatively new after being founded in 2006, and it never features the top stars from MLB.
New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard, who is one of the best young pitchers in the game and most captivating presences off the field, summed up his reasons for not playing in the game rather bluntly: “I’m a Met. And ain’t nobody made it to the Hall of Fame or win the World Series playing in the WBC,” he told reporters March 3 after a spring training matchup against the Houston Astros.
Syndergaard is right, in a sense. Players have no obligation to forego traditional spring training to participate in an event with no real fan support behind it. The United States has never won the tournament, with Japan’s taking the crown twice in 2006 and 2009, and the Dominican Republic’s winning in 2013. MLB’s top athletes don’t care, and neither do the fans.
But for a league with nearly 28 percent of its athletes born outside the U.S., the WBC does matter. In a time when the United States’ president is against allowing immigrants from various regions around the world, the WBC is another symbol of the world’s rejection of Donald Trump’s policies.
It’s fitting that in a time when Jewish citizens around the U.S. are being discriminated against, Team Israel won its first three games of the WBC this year, one of which was an upset over the heavily favored team from South Korea.
While Trump remains silent about his supposed wall and Latin American immigration reform, teams from Colombia and the Dominican Republic faced off against the United States and Canada in Miami. Out of the 16 teams in the WBC, five are from Latin American countries.
Baseball is always criticized for its slow pace of play, but the sport is miles ahead of others in terms of becoming a global game. While no players actively participated in the on-field protests in support of Black Lives Matter last year and just 8 percent of the league’s players are African American, baseball is also making a push to become more inclusive.
While the United States falls into disarray as Trump institutes his rhetoric into action, baseball can become a guiding force for the progressive social movements in the U.S., just as it did with Jackie Robinson 70 years ago.