The U.S. will bring the star power to World Baseball Classic

The World Baseball Classic has been played four times, a classic attraction in baseball-loving countries with one exception. Eventually, a bunch of megastars — MVPs and Gold Glove winners and the like — signed up to represent the United States.

The Dominican Republic, which won in 2013, has regularly rolled out its celebrity players like five-time All-Star Robinson Canó and four-time All-Star Dellin Betances. Japan has won twice with its notable players including star pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka and ten-time All-Star Ichiro Suzuki.

For Team USA, Angels center fielder Mike Trout was the catalyst to achieve that star power this year. Team USA general manager Tony Reagins, the former general manager of the Angels, persuaded Trout to play for the first time in the WBC, the building block for a star-studded roster.

“From the conversations we’ve had with other players, players who have been involved in the tournament in the past and their experiences, it’s just starting to swell,” Reagins said. “Very soon after that, you start getting some of the best players in our game to say, ‘Yeah, I want to be in it.’ ”

Trout, who was announced as Team USA captain last July, helped recruit a team that includes: two-time home run derby champion Pete Alonso; Dodgers star and 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts; 2022 NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt; two-time NL MVP Bryce Harper (who will retire after elbow surgery); two-time All-Star Tim Anderson, along with several others, all with their own personal hardware.

Dodgers catcher Will Smith and former Philadelphia Phillies teammate Trea Turner are also part of the US squad.

Japan won the first tournament in 2006 and became champions again in 2009. The USA defeated Puerto Rico for the title at Dodger Stadium in 2017. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the tournament from 2021 to 2023. The tournament will start on March 8th with the finals being played in Miami on March 21st.

“I think since I’ve watched the last few World Baseball Classics that’s caught on,” said Harold Reynolds, a former major league player and WBC broadcaster. “When it started, these guys were in little league, playing travel ball or in academies. So it’s going to be like World Cup soccer, like, ‘When I get older, I’ll play here.’ ”

Angels manager Phil Nevin has said that one of his fondest memories as a player was wearing “USA” on his chest and playing for the team at the Olympics while he was a student. (MLB players on 40-man rosters have never been able to play in the Summer Games due to conflict with the regular season.)

“All these guys, I look forward to seeing them play and hearing their stories while they’re there,” Nevin said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a lot of these guys.”

Seven-time All-Star Nelson Cruz played for the Dominican Republic in their first three tournaments and is now the team’s general manager. Roster options include six-time All-Star Manny Machado, reigning NL Cy Young champion Sandy Alcantara and three 2022 World Series champions in Jeremy Peña, Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier.

Nelson Cruz of the Washington Nationals scores against the St. Louis Cardinals on September 8, 2022.

Nelson Cruz, who scored a run for the Washington Nationals against the St. Louis Cardinals on September 8, 2022, is the Dominican Republic’s general manager for the World Baseball Classic.

(Jeff Roberson/Associated Press)

“All the Dominicans want to serve, you know, they all want to play,” Cruz said. “So that’s a good thing.”

Interest is also high in Japan, where Angels star Shohei Ohtani has signed up for the national team. Five-time All-Star Yu Darvish has also signed up.

When tickets for the first-round matches went on sale in Japan, they sold out in seconds, with resale prices many times their original value. And Japan coach Hideki Kuriyama doesn’t even have a firm plan as to when, how long or what roles Ohtani will play. However, he is balancing having him in his usual role as pitcher and designated hitter.

The possible matchup Trout vs. Ohtani that could happen if both teams reach the last four is exciting even the participants.

“Forget I’m the manager,” Kuriyama said. “I just want to see that.”

The dramatic influx of US talent has created unprecedented excitement around the tournament. The Angels have about a dozen players in the US, Japan, Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela and Israel rosters.

“I think the turnout was pretty impressive,” said Angels General Manager Perry Minasian.

“I think people will appreciate the intensity of these games. I do not know if [you’ve] been, especially in the later rounds, but I would highly recommend it.”

https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2022-12-09/world-baseball-classic-usa-mike-trout-shohei-ohtani-japan The U.S. will bring the star power to World Baseball Classic

Emma Bowman

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