MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

Shohei Ohtani vs. Mike Trout for all the marbles — the best baseball player in the world vs. the best baseball player in the world to determine the outcome of the World Baseball Classic. Who comes up with this stuff? Every baseball fan in the world, that’s who, and this time, not only did it really happen, it did not disappoint. In fact, it exceeded the greatest expectations.

With undefeated Japan leading the defending WBC champion United States, 3-2, Trout came to the plate in front of a mad, packed house in Miami to face his Los Angeles Angels teammate Ohtani, giving the baseball world the ultimate match-up of No. 1 seeds (which reminds me, how do the Angels not win?).

Trout got the count to 2-1, which is the best hitter’s count according to analytics, before Ohtani blazed a 100 mile-per-hour fastball to the knees and middle, and the pitch had so much ride on it Trout was helpless as he swung and missed for strike two.

When the count reached 3-2 (yes, it had every dramatic detail), Ohtani unleashed a nasty slider, clocked at 87, and the horizontal bend away on the pitch rendered the best baseball player in the world helpless once more as he went down swinging to the best baseball player in the world and Japan became the new king of the WBC.

How difficult is it to get three pitches past Mike Trout? In 6,174 career at-bats, the Angels center fielder has recorded three swinging strikes just 24 times – that’s 0.39 percent of his career at-bats. The only pitcher who has done that to Trout twice is Ohtani’s countryman, Yu Darvish.

The World Baseball Classic has always been the goods. It was terrific the moment it was conceived in some greed-filled boardroom. But this year? This year? Yikes! This year was off the charts. Right off the top of my head, I can think of four edge-of-seat games that I watched and enjoyed this year: Puerto Rico-Dominican Republic, USA-Venezuela, Japan-Mexico and Japan-United States. It was baseball, man, and it was such good baseball.

Miami played the perfect host to pool-play rounds and then the semifinals and final round, as attendance records were crushed and the spirit for and the pride in country were everywhere. It was loud, man, just watching it on TV.

But you don’t believe me? Then believe our friend Ray Haines, a world traveler when it comes to sports, but particularly when it involves the city of Miami (smart guy) and particularly when it involves baseball.

“I’m on my flight home as I type this,” Ray tweeted on Wednesday. “I was able to attend 10 WBC games in the last 10 days. An amazing experience. I can’t wait to do it all again in 2026. Selfishly I love that it’s in March. The chance to get out of the end of Maryland winter to watch some baseball. Perfect!

“Easily the best baseball atmosphere I’ve ever been a part of in my travels (and he’s a Cardinals fan). I’m hoping Miami has earned the chance to keep hosting pool play along with the semis and finals. It was a great host. The perfect home of the WBC.”

It’s baseball, man. It’s a celebration every day and every night. It’s a community event; it’s a national event. We just saw that baseball is a global event.

It is the perfect game, the perfect experience because it is a pastime for family, friends, large groups, small groups or solo. It’s the best game, not only in America, but everywhere in the world. Because you never know what is going to happen next.

“It is the best of all games for me,” wrote Jimmy Cannon. “It frequently escapes from the pattern of sport and assumes the form of virile ballet. It is purer than any dance because the actions of the players are not governed by music or crowded into a formula by a director. The movement is natural and unrehearsed and controlled only by the unexpected flight of the ball.”

Baseball is a joy; it is laughter, and it’s tears. Damn skippy there’s crying in baseball!

It is anticipation and hope, dreams realized and dreams vanquished. And it’s all because it’s an experience – not an event, not just a game — an experience; because, other than the new pitch clock, there is no clock in baseball. As Earl Weaver once said, “You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.”

Everybody loves baseball, because everybody believes in their hearts, no matter how old we may be, we can still play or manage baseball, because at some point of our lives, we all have played or managed baseball.

“With those that don’t give a damn about baseball, I can only sympathize,” wrote Art Hill. “I do not resent them. I am even willing to concede that many of them are physically clean, good to their mothers and in favor of world peace. But while the game is on, I can’t think of anything to say to them.”

Seven days until Opening Day.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT