Gil LeBreton

With Jones’ catch, World Baseball Classic marched into U.S. living rooms

The U.S team celebrates an 8-0 win over Puerto Rico in the final of the World Baseball Classic in Los Angeles on Wednesday night.
The U.S team celebrates an 8-0 win over Puerto Rico in the final of the World Baseball Classic in Los Angeles on Wednesday night. AP

At approximately 9:30 last Saturday night, San Diego time, center fielder Adam Jones dropped the World Baseball Classic into the laps of American fans and dared them to notice.

The yawning was over. For Team USA, it was finally, symbolically game on.

Buoyed by Jones’ leaping catch, the U.S. team, managed by venerable Jim Leyland, went on to defeat an all-star-laden Dominican Republic squad 6-3 en route to the finals.

And suddenly, it seemed, the WBC mattered.

Baseball in March has always been played at a gentle, methodical pace.

Half-baked lineup cards. Sun tan oil. Day games on the outfield berm. Old-timers taking their afternoon naps.

By the time most Cactus League exhibition games sputter to their conclusions, the regular players are back in their rented condos, trying to decide if there’s enough daylight left to play nine holes of golf.

But this version of March baseball was different, we soon learned. This was Wladimir Balentien going deep and Giancarlo Stanton pounding one off the warehouse wall. This was Javier Baez making his no-look tag.

When Jones punctuated the U.S. victory last Saturday by leaping over the wall to rob real-life teammate Manny Machado of a home run, the WBC was transformed from spring afterthought to compelling TV.

Team officials battled it. When the Netherlands team inquired whether Kenley Jansen could pitch another inning after throwing nine pitches the inning before, the Dodgers told them absolutely not. Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer, after pitching four scoreless innings against Colombia, refused to go out for a fifth, citing team instructions.

“It looked exciting, but the timing of the WBC is tough,” Texas Rangers first baseman Mike Napoli said. “It depends on the player, but for me the timing was just bad. I want to get in here and start working on what we really want to accomplish, and that’s winning a championship.

“I think that takes coming together as a group. It takes time to start an identity and see how we’re all going to be.”

The Rangers had to donate eight players to the WBC cause, including both catchers.

But as each WBC participant returned, their nations eliminated, they sang the praises of playing with the name of their country stitched across the chest.

“This is kind of our Olympic thing,” said the Rangers’ Ryan Rua. “Being able to play those countries that are so passionate about baseball was fun to watch.”

Ideas for altering the WBC schedule are sure to abound. Some want it to replace the All-Star Game once every four years.

But interestingly, no one seems ready any more to advocate the end of the WBC. It pushed all the right buttons this time, apparently. It made baseball in March fun.

“It’s the nature of competition,” reliever Tony Barnette said. “It wasn’t going to be long before everybody that went to the WBC before wanted to do things the right way.

“Now, at this stage, after the fourth WBC, you see that every single team that showed up was hungry. Everybody wanted the bragging rights of winning it all. It was fun to watch — fun to watch the emotion and energy that every team brought to the table.”

Without the grand TV stage of the WBC, how many people would remember Baez’s tag or Jones’ catch had they happened in just another spring exhibition game? In a regular spring training game, would Jones even have leaped for that ball?

“All you’ve got to do is look at the tweets, and you will see that American players love the fact that the USA won,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. “I absolutely loved the emotion and passion that every team played with. It’s a true sense of their own community, and who they are and how much they love to play the game in their own way.

“How to make it better? You would hope that some day you could look up and see that the best players we have to offer would show up and want to play.”

If that is the legacy of the 2017 WBC, baseball will be blessed for it. As the Olympic Games have shown repeatedly, meaningful competition should always match the best against the best.

As Clayton Kershaw mowed down the Rangers in a meaningless Cactus League exhibition Thursday, it was easy to be reminded of that. Kershaw was one of the U.S. stars who begged out of the WBC.

They didn’t need him, as it turned out. The World Baseball Classic lived up to its name — all three words of it — for these two weeks.

We’re No. 1. Party at Leyland’s.

United States

002 020 310 —8

Puerto Rico

000 000 000 —0

U.S. ab

r

h

bi

Pu. Rico ab

r

h

bi

Kinsler 2b

5

2

2

2

Pagn, A lf

4

0

2

0

Jones cf

3

0

0

0

Lindor ss

4

0

0

0

Yelich lf

5

1

2

1

Correa 3b

4

0

0

0

Arenado 3b

5

2

2

0

Beltran dh

2

0

0

0

Hosmer 1b

2

1

1

0

Molina c

3

0

1

0

McCtchn rf

4

1

2

2

Baez 2b

3

0

0

0

Crawford

5

0

1

2

Rosario rf

2

0

0

0

Stanton dh

4

0

1

1

Rivera 1b

2

0

0

0

Lucroy c

3

1

1

0

Vrgs ph-1b

1

0

0

0

Hernndz cf

3

0

0

0

Totals 39

8

12

8

Totals 25

0

3

0

E—Baez. DP—United States 2. Puerto Rico 1. LOB—United States 12. Puerto Rico 3. 2B—Yelich, Stanton, Pagan, A. HR—Kinsler.

United States

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

Stroman W, 1-0

6

1

0

0

1

3

Dyson

1

0

0

0

0

2

Neshek

1

1

0

0

1

1

Puerto Rico

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

Lugo L, 0-1

4

5

4

4

4

7

Jimenez

1

1

0

0

0

0

Berrios

1  2/3

1

3

3

1

4

Romero

0

1

0

0

0

0

Burgos

1

2

1

1

1

1

Claudio

 1/3

2

0

0

0

1

Pagan, E

1

1

0

0

1

0

HBP—by Berrios (Hosmer). WP—Lugo, Burgos. PB—. Balk—. T—3:30. A—51,565.

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