The World Baseball Classic is just three days away, and tournament heavyweights like the Dominican Republic and the United States have yet to play. But there were still plenty of incredible sights and sounds from the opening games of the tournament in Taichung, Taiwan and Tokyo, including bat flips, team celebrations, emotional crowd moments and even a new team favorite from Japan to Lars Nootbar.
[WBC Daily: Japan, Cuba dominate; Czech Republic wins; Chinese Taipei rallies]
Below are some of the best moments you may have missed during the first few days of the 2023 World Baseball Classic.
Be sure to check out the rest of the action through March 21, only on the FOX family of networks, Tubi and the FOX Sports app.
Shohei Ohtani Comes home
It had been six years since Shohei Ohtani had played a competitive game at the Tokyo Dome, and seven years since he had played in a Japanese jersey. (You probably know what he’s been up to in the meantime.) So when the two-way superstar returned to lead a powerhouse Japan team that is one of the favorites to win this year’s WBC, he received a fitting hero’s welcome back in home
Japan’s Shohei Ohtani records his first shutout of the 2023 World Baseball Classic against China!
Shohei Ohtani hits an RBI single to extend Japan’s lead over Korea
All Ohtani has done is go 4-for-7 with three runs, three RBIs and three walks over Japan’s first two games in Pool B. Oh, and he pitched four innings with five strikeouts in his Game 1 start of Japan against China.
As much as Ohtani has excited hometown fans, however, another MLB star has also quickly captured the hearts of the Japanese faithful, as well as his new teammates.
Japan loves Lars
The American outfielder of the Cardinals of St. Louis, Lars Nootbar, is fulfilling his lifelong dream of playing in Japan, honoring his mother’s Japanese heritage. Nootbar is outstanding in his first taste of Tokyo Dome action going 4-for-8 over Japan’s first two games with four runs and an RBI, and making two spectacular catches.
And despite the language barrier, he is quickly winning over his teammates and becoming a fan favorite off the field as well.
Even Ohtani, who helped recruit Nootbar to Team Japan, is embracing his teammate’s “pepper mill” celebration.
Impeccable vibe at the Tokyo Dome
Carton Show panelist Cody Decker, who played professional baseball in Japan, had high praise for the atmosphere at the Tokyo Dome. It’s easy to see why.
Even fans not present at the Tokyo Dome were showing their support all over Japan.
The amazing local Chinese Taipei audience
The only venue louder than the Tokyo Dome when Japan plays might be the Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium when Chinese Taipei plays. The home crowd rocked all night during Chinese Taipei’s comeback win over Italy in an instant classic on Friday.
Things only got crazier when Yu Chang, who hit the game-tying homer against Italy on Friday, crushed a grand slam against the Netherlands on Saturday.
The incredible celebration of Italy
Not to be outdone in the cuteness department, Team Italy led by Hall of Famer Mike Piazza has adopted the Italian pinched fingers gesture as their official celebration whenever someone gets hit. And there’s been plenty of reason to use it because, just like their coach in his playing days, this Italy team tracks.
Oh, and Team Italy also has an espresso machine in their dugout because of course they do.
The Netherlands are no strangers to the World Baseball Classic and the team, which features San Diego Padres star Xander Bogaerts, feels right at home with some tributes to the NFL’s Justin Jefferson and footballer Cristiano Ronaldo.
Know the type of Cuban horn
The opening game of the World Baseball Classic between Cuba and the Netherlands had a bit of atmosphere, namely a loud horn. According to MLB.com, the horn belongs to a Cuban baseball superfan who is very close to the team.
The incredible history of the Czech Republic
One of the beauties of the World Baseball Classic is that it not only features some of the brightest stars in professional baseball, but also teams like the Czech Republic made up mostly of regular guys who end up representing their country in front of the world.
And that’s how a college baseball player ends up pitching four no-hit innings at the Tokyo Dome…
… He eventually set up his teammate for a game-winning home run in the ninth inning that brought at least one person in the Czech cheering section to tears.
Martin Muzik hits three-run home run to give Czech Republic lead over China in top of ninth inning
It also made Muzik hug his coach after the game.
Although the Czech Republic was no match for Ohtani and Japan in their next game, the home team superstar still paid tribute to the incredible Eastern European team.
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