World Baseball Classic has global impact; SIU players react 

March 31, 2023

Team Japan won its third World Baseball Classic (WBC) last Tuesday as it defeated the U.S. by a 3-2 score. It summed up perfectly for baseball fans, with Los Angeles Angels teammates Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout facing off in the top of the ninth with two outs in a one-run game. Two of the most talented players to ever play the sport going at it head-to-head as they played for their respective countries. Ohtani threw a nasty sweeping slider in a 3-2 count that Trout swung through as Japan celebrated being on top of the baseball world again. 

“Everyone wanted to see Ohtani versus Trout and it was the last batter of the game, but I think it’s pretty good for baseball and people want to see stuff like that,” Salukis outfielder Pier-Olivier Boucher said.

Boucher and his fellow SIU outfielder Matthew Vallee are both from Quebec, Canada. They room together and usually always try to have a baseball game on, no matter if it’s their home team Toronto Blue Jays or a World Baseball Classic semifinal match.


“When we’re back home, we just put a game on usually so whatever game’s on, if it’s the Jays, we just always have baseball on TV,” Vallee said.

Boucher said, “We did every day when we could, when we didn’t have no practice or nothing like we just watched on TV.” 

Another teammate of theirs, Kaeber Rog, is a Curaçao native, and he was rooting hard for Team Netherlands during the WBC.

“I watched as most of it that I could watch. I watched Team Netherlands almost every game. It was a little harder because they played in Taiwan… it was like 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. every day…So I watched the beginning of games and for the end of the games, I watched highlights,” Rog said. “It’s the most fun baseball to watch in my opinion.”

Not only is it entertaining to watch, but it’s significant for the players as well. Several on the Dominican Republic team were asked a question posted on Instagram on which they would rather pick, winning the WBC or the World Series.

“Everything you do for your country has a bigger significance,” San Diego Padres hitter Nelson Cruz said.

Of the six players shown in that clip posted by La Vida Baseball, some said they had equal value, but no one picked the World Series outright.


“I think the MLB is obviously the best baseball in the world. But I think if you compare the WBC and Major League Baseball… the World Baseball Classic is more like…just straight everyday trying to win for your country,” Rog said.

Rog’s statement is backed up by the incredible audience that the WBC brought in over a two-week period. The classic’s final game between Japan and the U.S. was broadcasted on Fox Sports One, which claims to have drawn 5.2 million viewers over the night. This makes Tuesday’s game the most-watched World Baseball Classic game ever. It trounced the initial record set by a matchup between the U.S. and Puerto Rico in 2017 that topped out at 3.05 million viewers.

The big takeaway is the reach to the global audience where countries outside of America shattered records as they watched and rooted for their teams. Two preliminary games in the tournament were found on a vast amount of televisions in several countries. The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico squared off in pool play where 61% of televisions in Puerto Rico turned on the game. A quarterfinal game where Japan and Italy faced off had 48% of households in Japan tuned in, according to the Clutch Points website.

Japan also hosted a game on March 12 against Australia in the Tokyo Dome. Ohtani smashed a ball 448 feet away in the first inning and fan Yuma Akatsu caught it. Ryan General of NextShark detailed Akatsu’s experience after Ohtani hit the souvenir her way. She passed the ball to other fans around her where they got to take a quick picture and have a small moment with the ball as well.

“It was a great experience,” Akatsu told NextShark. “I’m really happy that I was able to share that experience with everyone else around.”

The ball made its way around to the 41,664 fans in attendance and eventually back to Akatsu. Compare that  to a huge moment that took place late during the last MLB season: the fan who caught Albert Pujols’ milestone 700th home run at Dodger Stadium left the game shortly after getting it authenticated on site. Whether it was to later exchange it with Pujols for money and memorabilia or to escape the premises without getting bombarded for the piece of history, that ball definitely wasn’t getting passed around the stadium.

Another member of Team Japan was Saint Louis Cardinals outfielder Lars Nootbaar, who actually was born and raised in California. His mother, Kumiko Enokida, is Japanese and Nootbaar was the first ever to join the Japan baseball team by virtue of ancestry in order to honor his mother. Even with the language barrier he faced upon arrival in Japan, Nootbaar became a Japanese sensation in no time. 

“It’s been unbelievable,” he said.

His celebration after players recorded hits, making the action of a pepper grinder, was seen being done by fans throughout the Tokyo Dome. He gave his teammates pregame speeches as his personal translator converted the English into Japanese a few feet away. Over Japan’s World Baseball Classic championship run, the Cardinals’ new international superstar’s Instagram following has jumped to over 1 million followers. For reference, he began March at 50 thousand and is now equal in following to that the Cardinals have in total. After Japan beat the U.S. in the WBC final, Nootbaar gave the gold medal to his mom.

“Without her, none of this would be possible,” Nootbaar said.

A very intriguing story throughout the tournament was Tampa Bay Rays star Randy Arozarena. He was born and raised in Cuba, where he made a name for himself as one of the top players in the country at only 19 years old. But due to various circumstances, such as an embargo being placed on the island and then affecting the economic system, Arozarena left Cuba by taking the risky journey of rafting to Mexico in order to make the most out of his talent.

“You honestly just have to risk your life for your family. When you’re in the ocean, the only thing you’re thinking about and hoping for is that you get here,” Arozarena told in 2020. “There’s been people that are out in the ocean for days, months, and there are others that don’t make it because they die.”

But Arozarena survived the voyage, playing for several Mexican baseball clubs before signing an international deal with the Cardinals and later being traded to the Rays. But he still wasn’t a Mexican citizen, even though he wanted to play for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic. Arozarena pleaded for the President of Mexico to help in the process of earning his citizenship after WBC organizers lifted some restrictions on players being able to play for certain countries.

He officially became a Mexican citizen in April 2022, and qualified to play for the national team. He didn’t disappoint in his efforts to be a part of Team Mexico, as he slashed .450/.607/.900 with a home run, six doubles, and 9 RBI. He also stood out in the outfield, with two huge catches, including robbing a home run in Mexico’s semifinal game against Japan. He virally posed with his arms crossed and a straight face after each of his signature moments. Even though Mexico didn’t reach its ultimate goal, Arozarena recognized his impact.

“I feel good because I know there are children who are now starting out in baseball and that is going to be a boost to grow their career,” Arozarena said in a post-game interview.

Team Mexico manager’s Benji Gil echoed Arozarena’s statements.

“These two weeks are going to attract so many players in Mexico, and Mexicans that live abroad. For that reason, I believe this was a victory even though we didn’t win today,” he said.

SIU alumni and San Francisco Giants pitching prospect Joey Marciano was also involved in the tournament, as he was selected for Team Italy, although not pitching. Marciano was drafted by the Giants in the 36th round of the 2017 MLB draft. After family circumstances forced an early retirement in 2019, Marciano returned to professional baseball the following year. 

He has since been a consistent and reliable reliever in the Giant’s minor league system, recording a 3.66 ERA while striking out 121 batters in 105.2 innings pitched between the organization’s Double-A and Triple-A affiliates. He could possibly make his major league debut for the Giants this season.

Some more huge takeaway moments include early in the Classic when Czech Republic pitcher Ondrej Satoria, whose day job is being an electrician, and who never topped 80 miles per hour on the mound, struck out Ohtani during Japan’s 10-2 victory. Satoria had Ohtani so out in front of the pitch, his helmet flew off and he fell to a knee on his swing. A few days later, they met as Ohtani asked for a signed jersey from the entire Czech Republic team and took a picture with Satoria.

“I really appreciated his post on Instagram. When he gives respect to us, it means a lot…we are amateurs, he is probably the best player who is playing baseball right now,” Satoria said. “I’ll put {the ball} somewhere in my living room. I got some dirt from the mound too, I’m going to put some in a bottle, and a picture of Ohtani when he’s swinging at my changeup.”

Moments like the ones described are the reason baseball was, at least for two weeks, the most popular sport in the U.S. The World Baseball Classic was a step in the right direction for baseball to show the true capabilities it holds as a sport. 

Sports reporter Howard Woodard can be reached at [email protected].

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