Players for the U.S. and Cuba teams line up before the start of a World Baseball Classic semifinal on Sunday night in Miami. Team USA will play for the tournament championship on Tuesday evening. Marta Lavandier/Associated Press

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Boston Red Sox are getting closer to full strength as we wind our way toward the end of spring training. Key players like Rafael Devers and Kiké Hernández are back with the team after missing more than a week of camp.

They weren’t away from the team because of injury. They were representing their countries in the World Baseball Classic, returning after their countries were eliminated.

It would be easy to understand if any of these players feel let down returning to camp. The atmosphere at the WBC has been electric. Team USA’s win over Venezuela in Miami on Saturday night felt like Game 7 of the World Series or, more accurately, the World Cup Final.

Trea Turner’s eighth-inning grand slam interrupted our national obsession with March Madness for a bit, putting baseball back in the forefront of fans who might not have spent a prior moment thinking about the coming season. It’s exactly what the WBC was designed to do.

That can’t be a bad thing right?

The bad news was the underlying fear of injuries in the midst of intense competition. Last week Mets closer Edwin Diaz suffered a patellar tendon injury while celebrating a Puerto Rico victory. He could be lost for the season. Jose Altuve was hit by a Daniel Bard pitch while batting for Venezuela. He’s expected to be out two-to-three months.


That’s why fans – and baseball executives – watch these WBC games with one part excitement and one part fear. They love the attention it brings to the game. But they hate the thought that someone who plays for their major league team could be lost to an injury suffered while representing their country.

It’s worth the risk. We’re in a transitional period of America’s Pastime. Pitch clocks, larger bases and shift restrictions are being introduced in the game, all in an effort to reignite excitement and re-engage fans. The World Baseball Classic does both.

The WBC’s international flare is loud. Horns blare, bells ring and players pimp base hits. Team USA players surrounded Turner at home plate after his go-ahead slam, the type of celebration usually reserved for walk-off dramatics. U.S. Manager Mark DeRosa urged his players to let loose and celebrate moments … just like players from other countries.

When the Red Sox played Puerto Rico in an exhibition game in Fort Myers this spring, JetBlue Park ushers had to be reminded not to confiscate drums or horns or noisemakers from fans. The Red Sox wanted that type of atmosphere in the ballpark. And the island flare was noticeable.

Injuries happen. Diaz could’ve been injured fielding a ground ball during a spring training game. Altuve could’ve been hit by a pitch on a back field in Astros camp. That the injuries happened when so much attention was being paid only serves as a reminder that the WBC is succeeding in putting baseball back in the limelight.

“It can become bigger and bigger,” said Boston Manager Alex Cora. “I don’t know if it is going to become FIFA, but at least for our tournament – baseball – it has been amazing.”

The tournament wraps up Tuesday night at loanDepot Park in Miami, where WBC games have averaged more than 31,000 fans a game. That’s nearly triple the average attendance of Miami Marlins games in 2022. The Red Sox will have one player in the final. Masataka Yoshida hit a three-run homer in Japan’s 6-5 win over Mexico in the semifinals. He will be the last Red Sox player returning to camp, with less than a week remaining before the team heads north to begin the season.

Cora will be watching the final closely Tuesday night. So will many Red Sox fans. We’ll all be excited if the game lives up to what we’ve seen in this tournament so far. And even more excited if no one is injured in the process.

Tom Caron is a studio host for the Red Sox broadcast on NESN. His column appears in the Portland Press Herald on Tuesdays.

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