PHOENIX – Some notes from Team USA’s first practice on Tuesday in preparation for the World Baseball Classic:
• USA coach Mark DeRosa spoke to his club for around 15 minutes, but it was not he who spoke before the players entered the pitch. After DeRosa finished, Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, the reigning National League MVP, asked to say a few words.
Goldschmidt and Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado are the only members of Team USA to have played for the 2017 team that won the WBC. Adam Jones spoke to that team before the tournament, and Goldschmidt vividly remembers how the former outfielder’s message resonated.
“I just honestly shared what he shared,” Goldschmidt said. “It’s not a vacation after spring training. If we want to win, you have to take it seriously. All of these teams do.
“The team we were on in 2017 did that. It’s kind of what Jonesy said: if you want to win, you have to play like it’s a playoff game. It’s not like the All-Star Game, where it’s kind of an exhibition.
• DeRosa wore a uniform for the first time since 2013, his last season as a player. He said it was weird not gluing his wrists, putting on bracelets, wearing sunglasses. And although he prepared his remarks to the team in advance, he admitted to being worried about what he would say.
“I had to take a snapshot,” DeRosa said. “It’s like having my first game at bat at Yankee Stadium and hearing Mr. Sheppard (the late announcer, Bob Sheppard) say your name. Or like getting married.
“I was so nervous to get up and talk. But I thought about it for a while. And I got to know a lot of them through conversations. I just wanted to wake them up to the fact that we we need to get together quickly.
The calendar requires it. Team USA will play exhibitions against the Giants and Angels over the next two days, train at Chase Field on Friday, then face Great Britain in their first tournament on Saturday. If he reaches the championship game in Miami, he will end up playing seven games in 11 days.
• Goldschmidt lost playing time in the 2017 WBC after a 1-for-13 start and hasn’t featured in the last three matches. Still, he said his time with Team USA may have been “the best baseball experience I’ve ever had.”
“I made so many lifelong friends, I learned a lot playing in those atmospheres,” Goldschmidt, who at the time had only appeared once in the playoffs, said during the 2011 Diamondbacks loss to the Brewers in the Division Series.
Arenado also didn’t hit well in the 2017 tournament, going 5 for 31 with 11 strikeouts and two walks. With no playoff experience, it was the first time he had played in games of such magnitude. And he reacted by pressing.
“It was maybe a little bit of pressure, wanting to do a lot. And wanting to do too much too soon (in the baseball calendar),” Arenado said. “It’s a tough tournament to prepare for.
“It’s always good to have high expectations, but I probably had them a bit unreasonably high. I think that hurt me a little. But that was the great thing about this team. Everyone picked me up. I didn’t need to be that guy. I think that was a good lesson learned.
• Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge, the biggest free agent signed this offseason, does not play in the WBC. But Trea Turner and Xander Bogaerts, who signed the second and third biggest contracts, are participating for the United States and the Netherlands respectively. And Carlos Correa, No. 4 on the list, only backed out of his commitment to Puerto Rico because his wife, Daniella, is due to give birth to their second child.
Turner said the Phillies did not try to talk him out of the tournament.
“When I met them at the start of the offseason, in free agency, we had discussions about it,” Turner said. “But they never seemed opposed to it, or anything like that. I never felt like it was a problem.
“Other teams I spoke to had mentioned it. I didn’t think it was that serious. I told everyone I spoke to, I really want to play, but I understand your point of view. The Phillies had several guys. That could have helped too.
The Phillies in the WBC include another of their free agent signings, right-hander Taijuan Walker (Mexico). Their other major league participants are wide receiver JT Realmuto and left fielder Kyle Schwarber (Team USA), pitchers Ranger Suárez and Jose Alvarado (Venezuela), reliever Gregory Soto (Dominican Republic) and catcher Garrett Stubbs (Israel). .
• It’s easy to see why Realmuto pressured DeRosa to include Padres right-hander Nick Martinez in the USA squad. Martinez threw 10 scoreless combined innings against the Phillies in the regular season and 2022 playoffs, striking out 14, allowing just three hits, walking none.
“Last year was the first time I faced him,” Realmuto said of Martinez, who has spent the previous four seasons kicking in Japan. “To be honest, I hadn’t heard much about him. The first time I faced him, I was like, ‘Who is this guy?’
“His stuff was amazing. He commanded the strike zone well, pitching both sides of home plate. He was swinging and missing inside the strike zone. I was impressed with his stuff in the regular season. Then the way he pitched against us in the playoffs, he was dominant on the biggest stage of his career.
“When DeRo called me and asked me, I said, ‘You have to catch this guy. He is an absolute standard. He has good behavior. He commands the mound, just has a big presence there. I think it fits perfectly what we need.
• Mets second baseman Jeff McNeil never had the chance to represent the United States in amateur tournaments; he spent his first three years at Nipomo (Calif.) High on the golf team and did not turn to baseball until his senior year. So in December, when McNeil bumped into DeRosa at the Wally Joyner Golf Tournament in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, he made it clear he wanted to play in the WBC.
“I’ll do anything for you guys, let me know,” McNeil said.
As I wrote in January, DeRosa told McNeil that Trevor Story of the Red Sox was one of the first players to commit to the team and he also had Mookie Betts in second. But when Story underwent right elbow surgery on Jan. 9, DeRosa kept a promise he made to McNeil and added him to the team.
• And finally, White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson heard something from DeRosa that none of his former managers ever told him.
“I need the bat flip,” DeRosa said.
“You’re going to get it,” Anderson replied.
“It was definitely a first,” Anderson said. “But I think it’s the right setting. We play exciting ball. We don’t have just one city behind us. We have the whole country. Of course, they want something that will excite them.
(Top photo by Paul Goldschmidt: Daniel Shirey/WBCI/MLB Photos via Getty Images)