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Miami preps for second major event of 2017

A multicultural melting pot, the city and its players embraced the spirit of the WBC before hosting the All-Star Game
MLB.com @boomskie

The Marlins are about to host the All-Star Game for the first time since the franchise's inception in 1993. That also means that Marlins Park, their sparkling new home, hasn't yet gotten its hands on an All-Star Game either, nor a jewel event of any kind. After all, the Marlins played, and won, both the 1997 and 2003 World Series when they still resided in Pro Player Stadium.

But the ballpark has welcomed several games during the World Baseball Classic, MLB's once-every-four-years international tournament, which boasts all the pomp and circumstance of an All-Star Game or postseason tilt. Earlier this year, Round 1 of Pool C -- a four-team bracket that included the United States, Dominican Republic, Canada and Colombia -- played out at Marlins Park.

The Marlins are about to host the All-Star Game for the first time since the franchise's inception in 1993. That also means that Marlins Park, their sparkling new home, hasn't yet gotten its hands on an All-Star Game either, nor a jewel event of any kind. After all, the Marlins played, and won, both the 1997 and 2003 World Series when they still resided in Pro Player Stadium.

But the ballpark has welcomed several games during the World Baseball Classic, MLB's once-every-four-years international tournament, which boasts all the pomp and circumstance of an All-Star Game or postseason tilt. Earlier this year, Round 1 of Pool C -- a four-team bracket that included the United States, Dominican Republic, Canada and Colombia -- played out at Marlins Park.

Those games turned out to be a launching pad for Team USA's first-ever title run in the tournament's fourth iteration. The Marlins themselves had a huge impact on that Team USA championship, as outfielders Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton were starters on that squad.

Several of their regular-season teammates also made impacts throughout the tournament: Right-hander Edinson Volquez pitched for the Dominican Republic, while third baseman Martin Prado starred for Team Venezuela. A pair of Miami Minor Leaguers -- pitchers Tayron Guerrero, who was recently selected to the 2017 Futures Game, and Greg Nappo -- bolstered Team Colombia's roster.

Video: VEN@DOM: Volquez fans six over 4 1/3 innings

Colombia didn't make it out of Miami, but Teams D.R., Venezuela and USA all advanced to the second round in San Diego. There, the United States went 2-1 to qualify for the championship round.

"I just loved playing with these guys," Yelich said after the U.S. defeated Japan and Puerto Rico in the final round at Dodger Stadium in March. "They went out every night doing what we could to win. It's a bunch of grinders and just an honor to go out and represent our country."

The tournament left an indelible impact on the two young Marlins players, who both grew up in the Los Angeles area, just miles from Chavez Ravine. Asked what he would recommend to other youngsters about playing in future Classics, the 25-year-old Yelich -- who also represented his country during the 2016 Fort Bragg Game to honor his older brother, Cameron, a Marine -- didn't miss a beat.

"Do it," he said. "This is the most fun I've ever had playing baseball. No joke. That's 100 percent. Nothing's even close. This group of guys was awesome. This experience, these crowds behind us -- who could have asked for more? It was unbelievable."

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Yelich and Stanton played key roles in Team USA's victory over the Dominican Republic to vault their crew into a semifinal matchup against Japan, the winners of the first two Classics (2006 and '09).

The D.R. jumped out to a quick lead on March 19 at Petco Park, but Yelich doubled to tie the score, 2-2. Stanton later slammed a mammoth two-run homer into the red bricks of the Western Metal Supply Co. building in the left-field corner, putting the U.S. ahead for good. According to Statcast™, the blast traveled 424 feet and had a 117-mph exit velocity, which at the time rated as the fourth-hardest-hit ball since the tracking system was implemented in 2015. Stanton also laid claim to the first two hits on that list.

Overall, the powerful 27-year-old outfielder didn't have a great WBC by his standards, going just 1 for 9 in three games at Marlins Park. He finished the tournament with a .227 average (5 for 22 overall), four RBI and that home run while playing in seven of his team's eight games. But that longball alone was worth his presence in the tournament.

"The feeling of confidence should never be a question," Stanton said after that game. "It's just getting your timing. So you've got to lock in ASAP and just get ready to go."

Yelich, though, had a monster tournament, posting a slash line of .310/.375/.448. In the first two categories, he ranked third among the team's regulars. Prado also played terrifically in Venezeula's five games, boasting a .368 average, .955 OPS and five RBI.

On the mound, Volquez started twice and authored eight innings of one-earned-run ball, averaging a strikeout per inning. Guerrero worked one frame for Colombia, allowing a hit, walking one and whiffing two. Nappo made two appearances, pitching two-thirds of an inning and giving up just one hit.

All in all, it was a tremendous display for the Marlins. Miami Manager Don Mattingly summed up his team's showing on that stage succinctly: "It's good to see your guys having success," he said.

Video: Mattingly on Yelich raising his profile in WBC 2017

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The World Baseball Classic also provided a terrific showcase for Marlins Park itself. Pool C set a first-round, single-venue record of 163,878 fans. The crowds were boisterous, particularly in the D.R.'s games. In fact, the Dominican Republic's come-from-behind victory over the U.S. on March 11 drew 37,446 fans, the largest audience to date at the young ballpark.

Overall, the tournament's first-round attendance was up 34 percent from 2013, setting the tone for the entire Classic, which drew more than 1 million fans for the first time. All that bodes well for the events of All-Star Week, as fans from around the globe again have the opportunity to watch the game's top players at Marlins Park, in what should be a truly unique atmosphere. 

This article appears in the 2017 MLB Official All-Star Game Program. Read more features on allstargame.com.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.