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My experience at the 2023 World Baseball Classic

If you didn’t already think the WBC was important for baseball, going to a game will assure you of that

World Baseball Classic. March 17, 2023. Miami.
| Hannah LaMotta/South Side Sox

The World Baseball Classic wrapped up just a few days ago, with Team Japan coming out on top against the U.S. Before that finale was a tournament full of close games, surprising finishes, and a truly wonderful atmosphere to be a part of. I am proud to say that I was able to be a part of that atmosphere at LoanDepot Park in Miami.

Last week was my spring break. As a college senior with no spring break plans, I wasn’t having the best time. Kind of bored, actually. While I was staying up until 8 a.m. to watch the World Baseball Classic games for Pool A and Pool B on the other side of the world, I thought to myself, why not go to a game? Yeah, the closest ones were in either Arizona or Florida and I definitely couldn’t make it out to Japan or Taiwan — but I always find a way when it comes to baseball.

A friend of mine was already staying in Miami for the week for her spring break. We often talk about baseball together, watch games, and go to games. Unfortunately she is a New York Yankees fan, so she’s dragged me out to Yankee Stadium a few times. While we were talking on Sunday night, I realized she was … in Miami. LoanDepot Park is also … in Miami. I sent a joking text about how funny it was that she was so close to the World Baseball Classic.

She told me to come for the week so we could go to a game. I laughed and said to myself, “Yeah, right.” Then I proceeded on with my day.

A few hours later I had booked my flight to Miami.

How did that all happen, I still don’t know. But it was so worth it.

We got tickets for the game on Friday, March 17. At the time, it was still undetermined who was going to play. At this point I was so excited that I didn’t even care. I was already habitually watching every game and memorizing the lineups, so just being a part of that atmosphere was special enough to me. The matchup ended up being Mexico vs. Puerto Rico — and it did not disappoint.

For a quick rundown, Mexico ended up winning that game, knocking Puerto Rico out of the tournament with a 5-4 comeback win. I didn’t bring home any of my jerseys from my apartment at college because the chances of me going to a baseball game were 0% during my time off, so I borrowed my dad’s old Konerko jersey to represent in the stadium. (I did get two people to stop me to admire the White Sox, so that’s a win).

I could tell this was going to be a good game by the time I stepped out of the Uber in front of the ballpark.

The first thing I saw was Puerto Rico merchandise being sold on the street. I was tempted to buy a hat, because their design for this tournament was one of my favorites. That followed with Mexico merchandise, and then Puerto Rico again, and then Mexico. Each street was filled with vendors and fans. The energy was amazing from the start.

Walking in, fans were waving their flags, chanting, singing, you could tell that everyone truly cared. At first, I had an equal rooting interest for each team. I didn’t have any obligations to root for one or the other. The only reason I wouldn’t want to root for a team is if a player was a Cub, Guardian, or Twin, but I put my differences aside for this tournament … mostly.

We walked in a bit late: Miami traffic doesn’t stop for anyone.

As we walked through the stadium to our outfield seats, we tried to admire the atmosphere fully. Before we could do that, Javier Baéz hit a home run for Puerto Rico, and the crowd was going insane. I didn’t want to miss anything else, so I tried to rush to our seats.

Before I could do that, Eddie Rosario hit a home run, too. Yep, back-to-back in the first inning. As you can imagine, there were Puerto Rico flags flying high and proud from each section.

A blurry and chaotic yet real reaction to when Javier Baéz hit his home run for Puerto Rico. I was still walking to my seats, but it was cool to see the park from a different perspective.
Hannah LaMotta/South Side Sox

When we finally sat down, everyone was still standing. I would say that the ratio of fans was probably Puerto Rico 65%/Mexico 35%. Certain sections had more fans of each team. The section I was in was more heavily Puerto Rico fans, and the energy influenced me to root with them the rest of the game. It was loud, and I loved it. Above me there were a group of people playing instruments between every at-bat and during every commercial break. Everything from drums, to horns, to trumpets.

View from my outfield seats.
Hannah LaMotta/South Side Sox

To me, it was so important and fun to see how different countries celebrate their teams and how they represent their country at a baseball game. I would say music was a big part of the game for these teams. Musician Daddy Yankee even made an appearance on the big screen in between an inning, waving a Puerto Rico flag. Everyone in the stadium just went crazy.

Fans of team Puerto Rico hold up their flag in-between innings.
Hannah LaMotta/South Side Sox

The energy started to shift to Mexico once they caught up in the later innings of the game. Randy Arozarena made an incredible catch to save a 5-4 lead in the eighth inning, and it was pretty fun to see his heroic World Baseball Classic run in person.

Tensions ran high for Puerto Rico fans as they went into the ninth inning, down one. Although it threatened a few times, Puerto Rico ended up losing the game. That didn’t stop fans from celebrating their country, as many stayed afterwards to cheer on their team. You could tell the love and respect was truly there between the players and fans. As for Mexico, fans gathered behind their dugout to celebrate the win with them. They waved their flags and cheered with them. Mexico fans then rejoiced as they walked out of the stadium whether it was through chants or songs.

Team Mexico and fans celebrate after the final out that had Mexico moving on to the semifinals.
Hannah LaMotta/South Side Sox

The lesson in all of this really lies beyond the critics. Many people criticized the World Baseball Classic, emphasizing that “nobody cares” about it. Many people said it was a waste of time, a waste of money, and just a useless tournament before the MLB season. It was already clear to me that was all wrong, but being at a game showed me just how important this tournament was for the sport of baseball all around the world.

Bringing up the MLB season in these talks really dismisses other countries and their players. There are some players that aren’t in the majors, and some even have day jobs and play baseball on the side. The WBC means something to them, and they matter. They got a chance to do something they may not get to do in their everyday lives — playing baseball on a big stage — and got to represent their country while they’re at it. As for the MLB players themselves, it clearly means something to them just as much, if they were willing to play despite the possible risk for injuries (which, of course, could happen in any game, even Spring Training).

These games gave players something to really play for: their country. The energy from the players and the fans was unmatched. Something you don’t usually see in March — competitive baseball — was played. Fans traveled all around the world to support their countries, and so many people got to see so many different cultures and traditions through these games. It was genuinely something I will never forget.

I am so happy I made the decision to go, because it opened my eyes to the beauty that baseball is, and how important it is for the rest of the world to be a part of.

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