Team USA on a Mission at the World Baseball Classic
Three years ago marked the inception of the World Baseball Classic.
The concept was for teams around the world competing against each other for a few weeks in March, before the start of the regular season, to show who's really the best.
At first, the WBC was met with a lot of hostility.
In order for their to be enough teams playing, players with for example, Dominican heritage could play for the Dominican team even if they weren't born there.
Some people felt that if a player is getting paid by an American team, then they should either represent the US or not play. Others felt that they should be allowed to represent their heritage.
Many owners were very leery of the whole idea because the thought of any of their players suffering an injury that could effect their season, is not pleasant especially with the high salary rates. Teams do have the ability to block their players from participating, but that can also cause all kinds of issues.
Others argued that the WBC affected the flow of spring training, which in essence it does. Teams usually start their full squad work outs mid-February and with the WBC, any player participating report to those camps around March 1. Some would say this could effect team chemistry, because the entire team isn't there to bond during spring training.
And who's going to take this competition seriously, anyway? It's March—players are nowhere near their best yet, and no one is going to want to risk going all out because their entire season is still in front of them.
How good could any of these games actually be? Most people will have their TVs tuned in to March Madness, so does all this matter anyway?
The answer is yes.
Three years ago, Team USA had to settle for an eighth-place finish, which left them very unsatisfied. America is supposed to be the powerhouse when it comes to baseball, and they felt they got knocked out too soon.
There are only four members from the '06 squad on the current team—Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones, Scot Shields, and Jake Peavy—and they are taking the competition very seriously.
The team seems to have a renewed vigor with the addition of some young players like David Wright, Dustin Pedroia, and Ryan Braun. Veterans like Jeter, Jones and Roy Oswalt provide stability to the line up.
In 2006, no one was really sure what to expect from the Classic, and I hate to say that some teams were just going through the motions, but that often happens when you're dealing in unfamiliar territory.
Now that it has been broken in, everyone knows what to expect, and Team USA isn't taking anything lying down.
Derek Jeter, who was named team captain last week, has worn one uniform for his entire career, and he has said that a Yankee uniform is the only one he wants to wear. However, the USA jersey is the only other jersey that Jeter would ever consider wearing.
Jeter feels a sense of duty, as does the rest of the team, which is why this time around they have no intention of going home early.
In the first two games of the tournament, Team USA played against Canada and Venezuela. They were trailing at parts in both games, but the team never panicked and came back to win both games and advance to the second round.
The entire team is on the same page, and no one is looking to outdo anyone else. You would think that there would be some issues considering many of these guys are starters and aren't necessarily starting every single game—or playing in every game, for that matter.
Both Jimmy Rollins and Derek Jeter are the starting shortstops for their teams, and they are platooning the position. JJ Putz is sharing the closer role with whomever necessary so the best possible job can get done.
What makes this team so great is that while they are focused on winning, they are also really enjoying playing with each other. Players from the American league that hardly ever see certain guys from the National league and vice-versa are getting to experience them first-hand. The outfielders are bumping chests at the end of games like they've been playing together for years, and the players are sharing fist taps in the dugout like it's an old habit.
Perhaps if more players understood the concept of playing for the team and not playing for stats, they would be more successful. The greatest teams in history have not always been filled with the biggest talents, but everyone understood their role and got the job done.
Team USA is playing with a purpose and enjoying themselves at the same time. They are taking this tournament as seriously as they take the regular season, and giving people a reason to realize that the WBC isn't a joke.
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