International Pastime

International Pastime

Cactus League serves as showcase for World Baseball Classic

An addition to Major League baseball’s official rulebook, expected to go into effect this season, permitting language interpreters to join managers and pitching coaches in conversations with foreign-born pitchers is further evidence of the increasing internationalization of a national pastime shared by many nations. Baseball’s globalization has become so far reaching that interpreters will be allowed to assist pitchers speaking an array of languages including: Spanish, Japanese, South Korean, Taiwanese, Dutch and Italian.

In accordance with the increasing number of foreign born players in the Major Leagues, it should come as no surprise that baseball has become increasingly popular around the world. What may come as a surprise is how well the game is being played in other countries. Proof of the world’s increasing proficiency at the professional level will be on display here in Arizona’s Cactus League this spring.

The pageantry, color and spectacle of baseballs’ biggest and perhaps most significant international tournament, the 2013 World Baseball Classic, brings a vibrant component to this year’s Cactus League season.

“I am delighted that the Baseball fans of Arizona, one of the capitals of our sport each spring, will once again enjoy the unique brand of enthusiasm of the World Baseball Classic this March. This event not only celebrates baseball’s remarkable global growth, but also continues the stunning expansion of our game’s reach. Arizona fans have supported baseball wholeheartedly throughout Spring Training for many years, and I believe they will embrace the World Baseball Classic as an invaluable platform for the development of our sport,” said Baseball Commissioner, Bud Selig.

With the ouster of baseball from the Summer Olympics in 2008, the 2013 World Baseball Classic, (the third since 2006) has become the game’s most high-profile venue for international competition. Even when baseball was an Olympic sport, schedule conflicts kept major league players in North America and Asia from participating. The World Baseball Classic is the only international baseball tournament to feature major league players on national baseball teams.

Team Japan has won both of the first two World Baseball Classics which were separated by three years in 2006 and 2009 but is now scheduled to be played every four years. A perennial all-star during his first 10 years in the American major leagues after playing for 10 years in Japan, Ichiro Suzuki suited up for his home nation in each of the first two World Baseball Classics and delivered the game-winning hit against South Korea in the 2009 championship game. Future major leaguer Yu Darvish, now with the Texas Rangers, pitched the last two innings for Japan allowing a game-tying single in the ninth but preserved the lead after Ichiro’s go-head hit in the 10th, finishing the tournament with a 2-1 record and a 2.08 ERA in 13 innings with 20 strikeouts. Current Boston Red Sox hurler Daisuke Matsuzaka was named WBC tournament MVP in both 2006 and 2009.

There are no players from American Major League teams on Japan’s roster for the 2013 tournament but the defending champs will be fielding a star-studded squad just the same including, Nippon Professional Baseball’s Central League MVP catcher Shinnosuke Abe, who led the league with a .340 batting average
last season while hitting 27 home runs with 104 RBI for the Yomiuri Giants. A formidable Japanese pitching staff includes, Masahiro Tanaka, who has won 75 games in six seasons with the Rakuten Golden Eagles, with a 2.50 career ERA and Tadshi Settsu, who posted a 17-5 record with a 1.91 ERA for the Softbank Hawks. If Japan does repeat again as WBC champs it will be on the strength of its pitching staff which also includes, Kenta Maeda (14-7, 1.53) for the Hiroshima Carp, and Yomiuri southpaws Toshiya Sugiuchi (12-4, 2.04) and Tetsuya Utsumi (15-6, 1.98).

First-round WBC competition runs from March, 2-10 in four different countries with Arizona’s Cactus League ballparks and the Arizona Diamondbacks Chase Field hosting both tournament games and exhibitions between MLB spring training squads and four international teams including, Canada, Mexico, Italy and the United States.

In all, 16 teams qualified to play in the 2013 WBC; 12 teams that won at least one game in the previous
tournament in 2009 were automatically included, while the other four emerged from a 16-team qualifying round, resulting in Spain and Brazil’s first tournament appearance. Teams participating in the qualifying rounds played for countries from a surprisingly diverse crosssection of the planet including, Israel, the Czech Republic, New Zealand and Thailand was well as France, Germany and the Philippines.

Non-tournament exhibition games begin March 5 with Team U.S.A. playing against the White Sox at Camelback Ranch in Glendale while Italy plays the Oakland A’s at Phoenix Municipal Stadium and Mexico meets the Arizona Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale. Three more international exhibition games are scheduled on March 6, with Mexico taking on the L.A. Dodgers at Camelback Ranch, Italy against the L.A. Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium, Canada versus the Cincinnati Reds in Goodyear and
U.S.A. facing the Colorado Rockies at Salt River Fields.

First-Round Pool D tournament play features six games between four teams beginning with Italy versus Mexico at 1 PM on Thursday, March 7, at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Canada takes on Italy on Friday,
March 8, again at Salt River Fields at 12:30 PM and Mexico versus the United States in a 7 PM, night- game at Chase Field. Pool play in Arizona concludes with Canada versus Mexico at Chase Field on Saturday, March 9 at 12:30 PM followed by the United States against Italy at 7:00 PM and U.S. versus Canada also at Chase Field on Sunday, March 10 at 1:00 PM.

Players from Cactus League teams are well represented on WBC squads and in some instances will be playing for their home countries against their own teams, like Diamondbacks pitcher David Hernandez who will be moving to the visitor’s dugout and clubhouse at Salt River Fields for team Mexico on March 5.

The Italian squad features Cactus Leaguers in Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Nick Punto, Sand Diego Padres outfielder Chris Denorfia and Seattle Mariner first baseman Alex Liddi and pitcher Brian Sweeney who must be Italian on his mother’s side.

Team Mexico is comprised almost entirely of Major League players with eight players on its provisional roster coming from Cactus League clubs including, Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Sergio Romo, and Milwaukee Brewers starting pitchers Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada. Former major league outfielder Karim Garcia, a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks inaugural 1998 team has not played in the majors since 2004 and is among the few players on the Mexican team to have played in the Mexican League last season.

Four members of the Milwaukee Brewers were on the Canadian team’s provisional roster including pitchers John Axford and James Henderson, infielder Taylor Green and outfielder Rene Tosini. Other Cactus Leaguers playing for Canada include Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto, Chicago White Sox pitcher Jesse Crain, San Diego Padres pitcher Mark Hardy and Seattle Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders.

Teams from Japan, Brazil, Cuba and China comprise Pool-A in other first-round tournament games taking place in Fukuoka, Japan while Australia, Chinese Tapei, Korea and Netherlands are the Pool-B teams playing in Taichung Taiwan, March, 2-5 . Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Spain and Puerto Rico are the Pool-C teams in San Juan, Puerto Rico, March, 7-10.

The top two teams from each pool will advance to second round play in Tokyo, Japan and Miami, Florida, March 8-16. The winners and runners up in the second round will meet in a final-four, single-elimination, championship round in at AT & T Park in San Francisco, March 17-19.

Cactus Leaguers on the Team U.S.A. provisional roster include, Arizona Diamondbacks newly acquired closer Heath Bell, feisty infielder Willie Bloomquist, Cincinnati Red second baseman Brandon Phillips, Cleveland Indians pitchers Chris Perez and Vinnie Pestano, Kansas City Royals infielder Tim Collins, Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jonathon Lucroy, San Diego Padres pitcher Luke Gregerson, San Franciso Giants pitchers Jeremy Affeldt and Ryan Vogelsong and Texas Rangers pitcher Derek Holland.

Team U.S.A’s revamped roster contains only four players from the 2009 squad and includes last year’s NL Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey (traded by the New York Mets to the Toronto Blue Jays during the off-season) and 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers, (who finished runner-up in MVP voting last year). The rest of a starting lineup resembles a Major League all-star team, with Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones, New York Mets third baseman David Wright and New York Yankees first-baseman Mark Teixeira as well as Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer. New Manager Joe Torre’s team hopes to improve upon its previous performances, finishing fourth in 2009 and eighth in 2006 while failing to emerge from the second round.

There are 12 Cactus Leaguers in the Dominican Republic’s provisional roster including: Shortstop Erik Aybar of the Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez, Texas Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre, outfielder Nelson Cruz and pitcher Alexi Ogando, as well as Kansas City Royals shortstop Miguel Tejada and pitcher Kelvin Herrera.

The going will not be easy for whichever team emerges as WBC champion; Japan has to be considered the favorite to repeat but the surprising South Korean squad actually has the best composite record (12-4) over the first two tournaments to Japan’s (12-5), each team has defeated the other four times. Although there are no Major Leaguers on this year’s Korean team, a powerful batting order includes first baseman Lee Seung-yeop who hit 5 home runs in the 2006 classic and infielder Kim Tae-kyun who hit .345 with three home runs and 11 RBI in the 2009 classic.

American League 2012 Most Valuable Player and the Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera leads a strong Venezuelan squad that also features World Series MVP, San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval and two all-star caliber shortstops in the Texas Rangers’ Elvis Andrus and Cleveland Indians Asdrubal Cabrera.

The Dominican Republic also looks like a power house with New York Yankees all-star second baseman Robinson Cano, Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre, Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes and L.A. Dodgers third baseman Hanley Ramirez.

No matter who comes out on top Cactus League fans are the real winners this year with an extra-round of excitement added to the schedule.

 

Player Position Team Country
Heath Bell RHP Arizona Diamondbacks USA
Willie Bloomquist UTL Arizona Diamondbacks USA
Nelson Figueroa RHP Arizona Diamondbacks Puerto Rico
David Hernandez RHP Arizona Diamondbacks Mexico
Miguel Montero C Arizona Diamondbacks Venezuela
Gerardo Parra OF Arizona Diamondbacks Venezuela
Anthony Rizzo 1B Chicago Cubs Italy
Brandon Phillips 2B Cincinnati Reds USA
Mike Aviles SS Cleveland Indians Puerto Rico
Asdrubal Cabrera SS Cleveland Indians Venezuela
Chris Perez RHP Cleveland Indians USA
Vinnie Pestano RHP Cleveland Indians USA
Carlos Santana C Cleveland Indians Dom. Republic
Carlos Gonzalez OF Colorado Rockies Venezuela
Ramon Hernandez C Colorado Rockies Venezuela
Jesse Crain RHP Chicago White Sox Canada
Andy Gonzalez 3B Chicago White Sox Puerto Rico
Andre Rienzo RHP Chicago White Sox Brazil
Alexis Rios OF Chicago White Sox Puerto Rico
Hector Santiago RHP Chicago White Sox Puerto Rico
Bruce Chen LHP Kansas City Royals China
Tim Collins LHP Kansas City Royals USA
Irving Falu 2B Kansas City Royals Puerto Rico
Kelvin Herrera RHP Kansas City Royals Dom. Republic
Luis Alonso Mendoza RHP Kansas City Royals Mexico
Salvador Perez C Kansas City Royals Venezuela
Erick Aybar SS Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Dom. Republic
Fernando Cabrera RHP Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Puerto Rico
Ronald Belisario RHP Los Angeles Dodgers Venezuela
Luis Cruz SS Los Angeles Dodgers Mexico
Adrian Gonzalez 1B Los Angeles Dodgers Mexico
Nick Punto IF/3B Los Angeles Dodgers Italy
Hanley Ramirez 3B Los Angeles Dodgers Dom. Republic
Paco RodrÃguez LHP Los Angeles Dodgers Spain
John Axford RHP Milwaukee Brewers Canada
Jeffrey Bianchi SS Milwaukee Brewers Italy
Ryan Braun OF Milwaukee Brewers USA
Hiram Burgos RHP Milwaukee Brewers Puerto Rico
Marco Estrada RHP Milwaukee Brewers Mexico
Yovani Gallardo RHP Milwaukee Brewers Mexico
Carlos Gomez OF Milwaukee Brewers Dom. Republic
Taylor Green 2B Milwaukee Brewers Canada
James Henderson RHP Milwaukee Brewers Canada
Jonathan Lucroy C Milwaukee Brewers USA
Martin Maldonado C Milwaukee Brewers Puerto Rico
Pedro Figueroa LHP Oakland Athletics Dom. Republic
Chris Denorfia OF/RF San Diego Padres Italy
Luke Gregerson RHP San Diego Padres USA
Edinson Volquez RHP San Diego Padres Dom. Republic
Felix Hernandez RHP Seattle Mariners Venezuela
Alex Liddi 3B Seattle Mariners Italy
Oliver Perez LHP Seattle Mariners Mexico
Mike Saunders OF Seattle Mariners Canada
Jeremy Affeldt LHP San Francisco Giants USA
Santiago Casilla RHP San Francisco Giants Dom. Republic
Javier Lopez LHP San Francisco Giants Puerto Rico
Jose Mijares LHP San Francisco Giants Venezuela
Angel Pagan OF San Francisco Giants Puerto Rico
Sergio Romo RHP San Francisco Giants Mexico
Pablo Sandoval 3B San Francisco Giants Venezuela
Marco Scutaro 2B San Francisco Giants Venezuela
Ryan Vogelsong RHP San Francisco Giants USA
Elvis Andrus SS Texas Rangers Venezuela
Adrian Beltre 3B Texas Rangers Dom. Republic
Engel Beltre CF Texas Rangers Spain
Nelson Cruz OF Texas Rangers Dom. Republic
Derek Holland LHP Texas Rangers USA
Alexi Ogando RHP Texas Rangers Dom. Republic
Jurickson Profar SS Texas Rangers Netherlands

 

 

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