Nolan Arenado wants the World Baseball Classic to grow into a global event with stature approaching soccer’s World Cup.
“I feel like the hype is a little bit higher this time around than it was in 2017. There’s more guys that want to do it,” the St. Louis third baseman said ahead of this year’s tournament. “I know it’s not the World Cup, but just watching the World Cup and how awesome that was just to represent your country ... I don’t know if it will get quite there, but get it close at least.”
Baseball’s top international championship, which was delayed two years because of the pandemic, opens Wednesday at Taichung, Taiwan, when the Netherlands plays Cuba and Panama faces Taiwan in a Group A that also includes Italy.
Group B of the expanded 20-nation field starts the following day in Tokyo, with Australia, China, the Czech Republic, Japan and South Korea competing for two quarterfinal berths. Group C begins Saturday in Phoenix, featuring the defending champion U.S., Canada, Colombia and Mexico, Group D starts the same day in Miami, where the Dominican Republic, Israel, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and Venezuela compete.
“Last WBC, I was kind of on the fence of doing it and not doing it, and when I decided not to do it, watching the games, I kind of regretted I didn’t do it,” said Angels outfielder Mike Trout, a three-time MVP who leads the U.S. team. “It looked like they were having so much fun.”
Mookie Betts, Shohei Ohtani of Japan, and Miguel Cabrera and Jose Altuve of Venezuela, are among seven MVPs on 30-man rosters. There are 63 All-Stars.
First- and second-place teams in each group advance to the knockout stage, with quarterfinals in Tokyo on March 15 and 16, and in Miami and March 17 and 18. The semifinals will be in Miami on March 19 and 20, and the championship is at Marlins Park on March 21.
“A lot of players, not every single one, but a lot of players place tremendous value on an opportunity to play with their country’s name on their chest,” Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said. “I think that the change this year is we have seen less resistance from clubs in terms of making players available and ... I think a big piece of that is a credit to the professionalism of the staffs of the various countries and you can actually work with the WBC staff in a way that allows the player to get ready.”
Japan won the first two WBCs in 2006 and 2009, followed by the Dominican Republic in 2013. The United States’ 8-0 win over Puerto Rico in the 2017 championship was seen by 2.3 million on MLB Network plus an additional 800,000 on ESPN Deportes and a Spanish-language simulcast on ESPN2.
Fox and its networks have U.S. television rights this year.
The Dominicans are considered the favorite with a roster that includes Julio Rodríguez, Juan Soto, Manny Machado, Rafael Devers, Wander Franco, Willy Adames and Jeremy Peña, along with pitchers Sandy Alcantara, Cristian Javier, Luis Garcia and Johnny Cueto.
Trout is joined on the U.S. roster by Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Mookie Betts, Pete Alonso, J.T. Realmuto, Trea Turner and Tim Anderson, along with pitchers Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Daniel Bard and Ryan Pressly.
“It’s pretty cool to have the USA across your chest,” Trout said.
Managers include Mike Piazza (Italy), Yadier Molina (Puerto Rico), Ian Kinsler (Israel), Mark DeRosa (U.S.), Ernie Whitt (Canada), Hensley Meulens (Netherlands) and Benji Gil (Mexico).
Trout is looking forward to a possible matchup against LA teammate Ohtani in the semifinals or final. The Angels’ two-way player could pitch against Trout.
“Every person I talk to that faces him says they don’t want to be in the box,” Trout said.