The World Baseball Classic finally got the dream match-up it was hoping for Thursday night at Marlins Park.
A collection of 21 All-Stars and 47 major leaguers suited up for the Dominican Republic and United States and put on a show in front of one of the largest baseball crowds Little Havana could see all season.
But the high point of the 2013 World Baseball Classic thus far is hardly the lone highlight of the tournament, organizers say. Paul Archey, the senior vice president of international business operations for Major League Baseball, says the third installment of the WBC is accomplishing the goal of what it first set out to do in 2006: the game is spreading internationally.
He points to a new $13 million stadium that under construction in the Netherlands -- a direct result of the Dutch's two upsets of the Dominicans during the 2009 tournament.
"We did a qualifier in Germany this year," Archey said. "Will we play a pool in Europe next time? It's tough to play in March in Europe. You need a roof and I don't think this one [in Amsterdam] will have a roof. But there are some places, maybe Southern Italy where you can play. A qualifier in the Netherlands? Maybe."
There is more. Attendance is booming in the Korea Baseball Organization. MLB now has television partners in China. More than $22 million has been generated for international federations.
The first four games featuring the U.S. on MLB Network were the most watched games the network has broadcast aside from last year's playoffs.
Attendance itself is up. A total of 463,017 fans came through the gates for first-round games in Japan, Taiwan, Puerto Rico and Phoenix. The previous record entering the second round was 453,374 in 2009. Among the highlights was the largest attendance ever in Taiwan, where 23,431 watched Chinese Taipei face Korea at Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium on March 5.
So far, a total of 73,141 have come to Marlins Park for the first three games of Round 2.
Italy, which made a surprising run to Round 2 in Miami, now has it's own baseball academy just like the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Puerto Rico. The next Italian major leaguer could be on his way soon.
"We have a young kid at our academy and about 10 scouts already came down to see him, and I think he's going to be signing soon," Italy manager Marco Mazzieri said Wednesday. " I'm not going to tell you his name because he's already getting too much of a big head from my point of view."
Past tournaments have featured players who have gone on to make significant contributions in the majors. Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, MVP of the 2006 and 2009 tournaments, who signed with the Boston Red Sox in 2007.
Cubas 2009 team included Yoenis Cespedes, now starring for the Oakland Athletics, and Aroldis Chapman, an All-Star for the Cincinnati Reds. Japans team featured three players who became standout rookies in 2012: Norichika Aoki of the Milwaukee Brewers, Hisashi Iwakuma of the Seattle Mariners and Yu Darvish, an All-Star for the Texas Rangers.
"We've learned something everytime we've done it," Archey said of the tournament. "This year we added teams, added the qualifiers and named players to the roster earlier and spent a little longer in major league camp. We get feedback and make adjustments as we need to. The fact we now have a history at all is a good thing."