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Rush of emotions sets Classic apart

Joy of the premier international tournament often transcends outcome
MLB.com @jonmorosi

On the penultimate day of pool play in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, Brazil and China met in Fukuoka, Japan. Both teams were 0-2 and had been mathematically eliminated. Yet after China rallied from an eighth-inning deficit to win, 5-2, many players were overcome with emotion, openly weeping on the field. What was so moving about an apparently meaningless game?

Well, it mattered to China's shortstop, Ray Chang, who delivered the game-winning hit. He had broken his leg in a Triple-A game in 2011, the night before the Minnesota Twins planned to give him what would've been the only Major League callup of his professional career.

On the penultimate day of pool play in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, Brazil and China met in Fukuoka, Japan. Both teams were 0-2 and had been mathematically eliminated. Yet after China rallied from an eighth-inning deficit to win, 5-2, many players were overcome with emotion, openly weeping on the field. What was so moving about an apparently meaningless game?

Well, it mattered to China's shortstop, Ray Chang, who delivered the game-winning hit. He had broken his leg in a Triple-A game in 2011, the night before the Minnesota Twins planned to give him what would've been the only Major League callup of his professional career.

It mattered to Chang's parents, Chinese immigrants who moved to Kansas City to open a restaurant and raise a family. His mother, Wendy, spent 14 hours in flight to watch her son play in the Classic and hug him after the game.

:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::

And it mattered to Chinese baseball, as the win enabled Team China to qualify for this year's World Baseball Classic. MLB operates three Development Centers in China, and Classic participation is vital in sustaining the momentum there.

So that is why we saw tears streaming down the faces of players who weren't advancing. They understood something powerful about the World Baseball Classic: Here, even more so than in the World Series, one swing can change a country's sports destiny.

In the World Baseball Classic, we met Daisuke Matsuzaka, Yu Darvish, Yoenis Cespedes and Aroldis Chapman before they became MLB stars. We witnessed upsets that remain sources of pride for their countries: Canada over Team USA in 2006; the Netherlands over the Dominican Republic (twice!) in '09; Italy over Mexico in '13. And we've seen history that transcends sport: 10 years before the American and Cuban presidents sat side-by-side at a ballgame in Havana, officials from MLB, the MLB Players Association, and the U.S. and Cuban governments negotiated an agreement for Cuba to participate in the 2006 Classic, including games on American soil.

No matter where the World Baseball Classic is played, players pour out of dugouts amid blaring horns, thumping drums and waving flags … in the second inning. They are not playing as much as they are celebrating their unique baseball culture. And if we pay attention, we can pick up new traditions as well -- like, perhaps, Fernando Rodney's rally plátano that helped inspire the Dominican Republic's unbeaten championship run in 2013.

Four years later, we meet again to relive old memories, make new ones and mark the progress of baseball's expansion around the world. Ray Chang is back at shortstop for Team China this year, too, for the final act of his professional playing career. When the World Baseball Classic ends, Chang will formally retire to begin a new job in a growing industry: He's the next manager for Major League Baseball's Development Center in Nanjing, China, and promises to bring the experience to the next generation.

The World Baseball Classic runs from March 6-22. In the U.S., games will air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN will provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. will have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. Internationally, the tournament will be distributed across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Marlins Park, Tokyo Dome, Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico, Petco Park, as well as the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.

Jon Paul Morosi is a columnist for MLB.com.