By MARK KNUDSON
Special to woodypaige.com
Baseball can lay no claim to being “The world’s sport.” Soccer gets that designation hands (pun intended) down. But baseball IS America’s National Pastime. So why there’s so much apathy among American players about representing their country in the World Baseball Classic remains a head scratcher.
“And then you see the United States, where there are so many great baseball players, but some guys want to play and some guys don’t, because they really don’t care.” – Colorado Rockies/Team Venezuela outfielder Carlos Gonzalez to columnist Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post.
Gonzalez is 100% on point. Guys (and fans, too) just don’t care. And it’s hard to understand why. Many of us who were privileged enough to play the game at the Major League level would have sacrificed a non-essential body part for a chance to wear Team USA’s red, white and blue.
“I’m very thankful for the opportunity to participate in this event. It made all the work I did in the last six weeks worthwhile.” – Roger Clemens in 2006, speaking to gathered media after Mexico eliminated the United States from the first World Baseball Classic, 2-1.
Sure, some guys feel the way Clemens felt after his only stint for his national team. Clemens actually came out of retirement for the express purpose of pitching for Team USA. (He stayed un-retired after that for another full season.) And yet many of today’s stars don’t give a rip. More and more American players seem more concerned about the George Washington’s in their oversized wallets than they do about what the father of our country would have wanted them to do.
“Because I’m a Met. Ain’t nobody make it to the Hall of Fame and win the World Series playing in the W.B.C.” – Noah Syndergaard when asked by the New York Times why he withdrew from this year’s WBC.
The overpowering lack of awareness in Syndergaard’s recent comment on why he’s skipping out is difficult for many of us to grasp. Playing in the WBC only requires a player to miss a small portion of his team’s spring training camp, nothing more. It’s not Team USA vs. the New York Mets. A guy CAN actually participate in the former without it effecting the latter.
That is, unless a player gets injured during the WBC. That fear – so far greatly unjustified – is often used as an excuse. Yet players are monitored exactly the same during the WBC as they are during spring training. Pitch counts, shorter stints in games, etc. A player has every bit as much a chance of getting hurt in typical spring training as he does playing in the WBC.
“Injuries were the first concern when the W.B.C. started, but it hasn’t been a problem. I don’t see it as a concern. Players learn how to prepare and adapt.” – Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz on MLB Network talking about 2017 WBC.
Let’s not forget that the Cardinals already lost standout pitching prospect Alex Reyes to season ending elbow surgery and the Angels don’t expect closer Huston Street back before the start of the regular season after he suffered an elbow strain in an exhibition game. These kinds of injuries are a part of EVERY spring training.
So what’s the REAL reason, Money? Just spoiled?
“I think when you really look at it, if the guys play that you really want to play with, then definitely I’ll play. But if we’re not going to have the opportunity to win, then I don’t want to play. If we do that, then I’m definitely in. If not, I probably won’t do it.” – Bryce Harper to CSN Mid-Atlantic last fall before he opted out.
If I can’t win, I don’t want to play? Really? That’s an American mindset?
“I gave it very serious consideration. It’s an honor, and I wanted to do it. Just taking a lot of things into consideration, I thought it was best for me not to do it. It wasn’t a decision I took lightly. Just the respect I have for Joe [Torre, Team USA general manager], the respect I have for getting to put on that uniform, I didn’t want to take that for granted. It was tough.” – Clayton Kershaw, coming back from a back injury in 2016, to SB Nation, February 2017.
What a player is missing out on is an experience he will never ever be able to replicate.
“To be honest, I’m not sure. I love watching the WBC and playing for Team USA was a highlight of my career.” – Former MLB pitcher Don August, a member of the 1984 USA Olympic baseball team, when asked about today’s players turning down the chance to rep the Stars and Stripes.
And it’s not just the players. The families – some of whom came here from other countries – get a renewed sense of pride when their offspring suits up in red, white and blue.
“Since he was 14 years old, all my son has wanted to do is play baseball for the USA. To see Nolan wear the colors of the United States on a baseball field means everything to me.” – Fernando Arenado, son of a Cuban immigrant and father of Colorado Rockies All-Star Nolan Arenado, to Mark Kizla of the Denver Post.
Hard to know would have to change first – the players mindset leading to excitement about the WBC, or success on the field leading more to players getting excited about participating. As things stand, the “meh” attitude among many star players is why Team USA is 10-10, exactly .500, all-time in WBC play.