'It's great for the game of baseball': Team USA reflects on Classic

March 22nd, 2023

MIAMI -- Remember that sinking feeling you might have experienced after summer camp, or a really fun vacation? When you made friends you knew you’d probably never see again, or at least not until the next summer. You’d had the best summer of your life, but it abruptly ended and you had to head home and get ready to go back to school.

That’s probably the best way to describe how Team USA feels after losing to Japan, 3-2, in the championship game of the World Baseball Classic on Tuesday at loanDepot park.

As fans and players alike pack up to head back to their respective homes, the Major Leaguers on Team USA are heading back to their ballclubs’ Spring Training facilities to finish out the final week of camp before Opening Day on March 30.

"There was talk about that before the game," manager Mark DeRosa said. "Just the fact that they were going to have to go back to their camps. I mean, you're playing in front of 50,000 people every night. … You get to rub elbows with your greatest peers in the sport, pick their brains, work together."

"It was probably the funnest 10 days I've ever had," team captain Mike Trout said. "It reminded me of travel ball when I was a kid, brought back a lot of good memories -- just to the friendships. You don't get … you grind every day, you play against these guys. And now they're your teammates. The whole WBC was special for me."

Team USA finished the tournament 5-2. The players won’t leave the Classic with friendship bracelets -- though they did receive silver medals for their second-place finish -- but they’ll leave with something arguably 10 times better: A lifelong bond, and memories of playing playoff baseball in March.

"The thing that I'll take away -- and I said this to them when I addressed 'em in the locker room -- is that I'm just proud of the fact that I was able to achieve the goal of bringing some of the greatest superstars in the game and kind of building a team," DeRosa said. "It wasn't an individual AB every time. They really started to enjoy being around each other. I saw them relax as this tournament went on. That's the stuff that's hard. I would have liked to have won this thing, no doubt."

Having come together from Major League teams with the sole goal of defending the United States’ 2017 World Baseball Classic title, Team USA did something even more important. It reminded us why baseball is the best.

"I was talking to a lot of people about this," Trout said. "Fans come to the ballpark obviously cheering for their team, you know, like, obviously the Angels. But then you’ve got families and people coming to the ballpark [for the WBC] to cheer for their country. It's different. It's just -- I can't really express what was different about that. You just feel it in your veins, you know? It's a special, special feeling."

"[The WBC] brings a lot of passion, brings a lot of energy," Tim Anderson said prior to the championship game. "And I think this is helping the game grow for sure."

With sold out ballparks and merchandise selling seemingly faster than it could be made, the Classic not only promoted the game of baseball internationally, but it also renewed many fans’ love for the game. It was the closest thing to the Olympics that many players will ever experience.

"For us to represent our country and to see the way that, one, the fans have been reacting in our games to where, you know what -- this is playoffs before the season even starts," Kyle Schwarber said pregame Tuesday. "It's a great atmosphere for everyone, it's a great atmosphere for us as players, and this is the atmosphere that we all love to thrive in and be in. … Like Tim said, it's great for the game of baseball.

"It's been kind of one of those bucket list items, being able to play in this and getting to experience it, and this is something that you want to continue to play in. … Being able to be teammates with some of the best players in the game now and seeing the way that they work, seeing the way that they are as people -- not just as competitors -- I think that's been the fun thing."