The World Baseball Classic lets us see another side of baseball that is often obscured by the glamour of the Bigs. It reminds us of the grassroots origins of the game and many of the stars that carry its mantle.

The world baseball classic is an international competition that has remained insulated from the corporate machine that dominates modern professional baseball. Much like the Olympics, the World Baseball Classic fosters a spirit of competition that is untainted by the pressures of the entertainment industry and remains gloriously pure.

Professionals can still have fun

We see grown men, seasoned veterans playing the game like the boys playing stickball in the alleys of Puerto Rico or even the grimy streets of New York. They play for themselves and for their countries. Magic that rarely emerges in the day-to-day of the MLB reveals itself at every turn, and in those rare moments, we can see the pure joy of competition through in the faces of the players. Players experiment with bleach and hair clippers, sometimes with… spectacular results. Exhibit A below (Viewer Discretion Advised).

The youthful joy that high schools headed to state or in the college postseason is resurrected in the hearts and hair follicles of the national teams, especially Puerto Rico.

Molina vs. Martinez

With the strength of their new haircuts, the Puerto Ricans handed Carlos Martinez a defeat, secured by a solo homerun by none other than Yadier Molina. The game provided the backdrop for a unique duel between pitcher and catcher. Yadi hit a shallow Texas-leaguer to left-center field for a base hit in his first at-bat against Martinez. Given his reputation, Molina knows Martinez better than anyone else in the majors, and he likely understands his pitching style better than Martinez does himself. Pitching to your own catcher is always an unusual situation because they know exactly how you intend to pitch them.

Once Yadi arrives at first base, we get to see a small glimpse of the chemistry the pair have when Martinez cracks a begrudging smile. Molina has no such inhibitions and you can see him grinning widely, likely anticipating the leverage the will have in the locker room this year.

Chemistry is Tangible

During MLB games, every single action has incredible weight and although baseball will always be a game, there is a feeling of seriousness that permeates the field due to the incredible expectations of thousands.  We rarely get a glimpse into the depth and warmth of the friendships that players, especially pitchers and catchers, share with one another. This small, apparently insignificant, moment illustrates what we can’t see. Chemistry is one of the mythical “intangibles” that can make or break a pitcher’s season, but for a young pitcher like Martinez, that relationship can guide his entire career.

Feeling young is being young

Amid the usual turmoil surrounding the baseball season, ever more frequently we will hear that Molina is getting old and subsequent speculation regarding his replacement. While he is aging, the energy he is showing during the WBC should be encouraging. He has been a workhorse for more than a decade now, and he still has a lot of fight in him yet.

Mar 14, 2017; San Diego, CA, USA; Puerto Rico catcher Yadier Molina (4) waves a flag after defeating the Dominican Republic during the 2017 World Baseball Classic at Petco Park. Puerto Rico won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Remember your roots

The World Baseball Classic is a great way for the players to be able to enjoy the game of baseball away from the normal pressures of the media and enormous fan base. It also lets us see inside the minds of our favorite players when they let down their guards. We get to see the joy and pride the players take in the game that is hidden behind the bright lights and the big money. We see the magic that keeps us captivated and makes men dedicate their lives to the pursuit of baseball greatness.

Photos Captured by Orlando Ramirez-USA Today Sports