The video showing Masataka Yoshida’s return to Red Sox camp is charming and sweet, telling the story of an exhausted but exhilarated champion rejoining his American baseball teammates.
The morning after he’d helped his Japanese countrymen edge the US in the championship game of the World Baseball Classic, Yoshida was all smiles and tousled hair as he said (in English), “I’m tired,” and leaned into a congratulatory hug from Sox manager Alex Cora.
With an outstanding WBC performance that might have earned him the MVP if not for the otherworldly heroics of teammate Shohei Ohtani, Yoshida wore an undeniable expression of joy, of satisfaction from a job well done.
Baseball itself should be sporting the exact same visage.
The WBC, back for the first time since 2017, back after a pandemic, back after labor strife, back in spite of scheduling hurdles, was better than anyone could have hoped, showcasing the international reach of a sport we are so accustomed to casting as America’s national pastime that it can be easy to forget its global popularity.
Seriously, how soon can 2026 get here?
The entire tournament was great, captivating, dramatic, tense, and well-played. From the heartbreaking — when Mets closer Edwin Diaz tore his patellar tendon during a victory celebration — to the heart-stopping — when Japan’s walkoff semifinal win over Mexico ended a game that can stand up to any this sport can offer — the exclamation point arrived as if straight out of Hollywood.
In the final at-bat of the final inning of the final game, the baseball gods delivered the dream showdown, Ohtani on the mound and Mike Trout at the plate. Ohtani, who’d moved from his bruising DH spot to the bullpen to close out the game, worked the count full with three 100-m.p.h.-plus fastballs along the way, eventually fooling the American captain (and, by the way, his Angels teammate) into swinging through a devastating slider. As the Twitter feed @Baseball Quotes1 amazingly pointed out, Trout has swung and missed at three pitches in a single at-bat just 24 times in more than 6,100 MLB plate appearances.
As Ohtani celebrated, tossing his cap in the air and later describing the night as the “best moment in my life,” Trout remained positive through his disappointment, tweeting later, “It’s hard to sum into words what these last couple of weeks have meant to me. I had the time of my life representing that USA on my chest! The energy was electric and made the WBC a moment I’ll always cherish. So thank you all so much. It was an honor to be your captain.”
It’s hard to believe it was only a year ago that baseball was mired in labor strife, delaying the start of the season while billionaires and millionaires argued over money, blithely willing to give away the month of April as if other sports wouldn’t swoop in and steal the public’s imagination. Yet here we are now, smack in the middle of March Madness, right on the cusp of the NBA and NHL playoffs, and baseball is cool again.
There was Jordan Spieth Thursday, telling Associated Press golf reporter Doug Ferguson that the WBC final “was one of the coolest sporting events I’ve ever watched.”
Back it comes in three more years, and though this year’s will be tough to top, anticipation for the next one is sure to ramp up even more than it did this time around. As Fox Sports PR people boasted Wednesday, the 5.2 million viewers who tuned in across FS1, Fox Deportes, and Fox Sports streaming services made the final the most-watched WBC game ever in the US. On the main broadcast on FS1, the final averaged 4.5 million viewers, the most of any game on the channel since Game 2 of the 2022 NLCS.
Looking ahead, the US team needs to solve its pitching participation problem, wherein top pitchers join the team as readily as hitters like Trout, Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, Nolan Arenado et al. Much like Nick Pivetta had been willing to do to pitch for Canada, ramping up his workouts well ahead of spring training until a bout with COVID derailed his plans, MLB needs to work together with coaches and players to get better pitchers on the roster.
Commissioner Rob Manfred wants it to happen.
“It’s not lobbying,” he told reporters at the WBC. “It’s having facts to support it — that pitching in high-leverage situations like these are, that actually helps players develop.”
With no better option for when to play the event, Manfred was also right when he said, “It’s just no perfect time. We can’t really do it during the playoffs because so many players would be down. We have talked about something in the middle of the season. I think on balance, although it’s not perfect, this is probably the right place for it.”
Here’s hoping NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was listening and figures out a way to get NHL stars back in the Olympics. And if not to Manfred, then to one of his game’s brightest stars, Connor McDavid, who said Wednesday before his Oilers played Arizona, “I thought [the WBC] was really cool. It’s what we’ve been asking for in hockey for a long time. It’s best-on-best.
“Everyone has been talking about baseball — did you see Ohtani vs. Trout? — and that’s what hockey’s been missing for almost a decade now. That’s what we’ve been asking for.”
Wearing national colors over team ones raises the emotional stakes, and playing meaningful, essentially elimination games every night ups the actual ones. Who in Red Sox Nation isn’t excited to see what Yoshida does now? The WBC did that, and it was fantastic.
Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.