It took the 2004 Olympics to get big-name stars back in international basketball as representatives of the United States. After Team USA finished third and took home the Bronze medal, the prevailing embarrassment that followed has given us two (2008, 2012) of the most dominant Olympic basketball teams of the modern era.
Team USA baseball finished fourth at the World Baseball Classic in 2009. After a full four years to think about that finish, MLB stars are rising from the ashes to bring the same fire and passion that LeBron James and Kobe Bryant brought back to U.S. basketball.
This year's roster has a chance to get that excitement going.
For the first time in the three-year tournament history of the WBC, the United States will be one of the favorites. When looking at the roster (via MLB.com), there's a good reason why.
|2013 U.S. World Baseball Classic Roster||Notable 2013 Absences|
|Mark Teixeira||1B||Yankees||Justin Verlander||SP||Tigers|
|Brandon Phillips||2B||Reds||Josh Hamilton||OF||Angels|
|Jimmy Rollins||SS||Phillies||Mike Trout||OF||Angels|
|David Wright||3B||Mets||Prince Fielder||1B||Tigers|
|Joe Mauer||C||Twins||Matt Kemp||OF||Dodgers|
|Ryan Braun||LF||Brewers||Clayton Kershaw ||SP||Dodgers|
|Adam Jones||CF||Orioles||Zach Grienke||SP||Dodgers|
|Giancarlo Stanton||RF||Marlins||Jason Heyward||OF||Braves|
|Ben Zobrist||INF||Rays||B.J. Upton||OF||Braves|
|Willie Bloomquist||INF||D-backs||Justin Upton||OF||Braves|
|Shane Victorino||OF||Red Sox||Ian Kinsler||2B||Rangers|
|Jonathan Lucroy||C||Brewers||Dustin Pedroia||2B||Red Sox|
|J.P. Arencibia||C||Blue Jays||C.C. Sabathia||SP||Yankees|
|R.A. Dickey||SP||Blue Jays||Derek Jeter||SS||Yankees|
|Ryan Vogelsong||SP||Giants||Troy Tulowitzki||SS||Rockies|
|Derek Holland||SP||Rangers||Andrew McCutchen||OF||Pirates|
|Kris Medlen||SP||Braves||Jered Weaver||SP||Angels|
|Craig Kimbrel||RP||Braves||David Price||SP||Rays|
|Heath Bell||RP||D-backs||Evan Longoria||3B||Rays|
|Chris Perez||RP||Indians||Cliff Lee||SP||Phillies|
|Vinnie Pestano||RP||Indians||Cole Hamels||SP||Phillies|
|Luke Gregerson||RP||Padres||Buster Posey||C||Giants|
|Glen Perkins||RP||Twins||Bryce Harper||OF||Nationals|
|Steve Cishek||RP||Marlins||Stephen Strasburg||SP||Nationals|
|Jeremy Affeldt||RP||Giants||Matt Wieters||C||Orioles|
|Tim Collins||RP||Royals||Jim Johnson||RP||Orioles|
|Mitchell Boggs||RP||Cardinals||Joe Nathan||RP||Rangers|
As you can see, manager Joe Torre will have a lot of talent to work with. His starting lineup would be a quality one in any MLB stadium, even if the starting pitching isn't as strong as the coaching staff would hope.
Playing in Pool D, USA will get a good early test against Mexico. Italy and Canada round out the pool, but Team USA is fully expected to take care of business against those squads and be in a good position for the bracket round.
Big bats like Mark Teixeira and Giancarlo Stanton will be an expected spark in the middle of the lineup, while experienced veterans Jimmy Rollins, Brandon Phillips and Shane Victorino will need to provide a veteran leadership that helps some of these players who have never tasted postseason/pressure baseball.
That's the kind of atmosphere that the WBC provides.
If you look at the table above, you'll see that Team USA does have a fairly stacked roster. However, the names that are on the right side of the list provide a window into what this tournament could look like if everyone were geared up to represent their country.
To be fair, spring training and injuries have prevailed over general interest in a tournament that didn't exist prior to 2005. However, Japan's title run has piqued interest all over the world, and there's a good chance the Dominican Republic squad has the same goal as the U.S. this year—prove the first two tournaments were a fluke without MLB stars.
That makes 2013 vitally important for the U.S. roster.
With a deep tournament run to the finals, the United States can send a message to the stars that have chosen either not to participate or shown so little interest that they don't receive a call to join up.
That message is simple: Come play for your country, and have fun doing it.
We all know what happened after NBA stars failed to bring home the gold in 2004. With the same kind of stakes on the line for both the WBC being a talent-filled tournament on all sides and the United States sending its best competition each year, this is a crucial tournament for the current 28 Americans scheduled to put the Red, White and Blue on the line.
Granted, basketball is completely different than baseball in international play. The United States has held a considerable advantage over almost every country for the last 40 years, but baseball is a different story.
American players are some of the best in the world, but Japan, Cuba, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic all feature stacked lineups that would make any MLB manager jealous. That makes roster selection even more important in baseball than it is in basketball, because most countries are fishing with dynamite before the tournament even begins.
The stakes have never been higher for Americans and international baseball. It's time for the American stars to rise to the challenge, and hopefully inspire the rest of MLB's USA stars to come out of hiding for two weeks in March every four years.