GUADALAJARA, Mexico — Two questions remain constant during the 2017 World Baseball Classic, the fourth installment of the tournament: Who will win? And how much will players care?
Some of the United States’ best players, including the Nationals’ Bryce Harper, the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and the Angels’ Mike Trout, chose not to participate. Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard, one of the most exciting young players in baseball, was blunt in explaining why he was not taking part.
“Ain’t nobody make it to the Hall of Fame and win the World Series playing in the W.B.C.,” Syndergaard said early this month.
But that is hardly the sentiment of many Latino players. There are 21 players who have appeared in the previous three tournaments and are on their country’s roster for the 2017 Classic, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Of those 21, nearly half are Latinos, and many are among the biggest names to participate in the event.
No player on the United States team has taken part in all four tournaments while Puerto Rico, for example, could have four four-time participants by the time this Classic concludes.
“It’s a great experience,” said the Astros’ Carlos Beltran, one of those four. “It’s great to represent your country in a tournament like this.”
Jose Reyes, a Mets infielder, is the only player from the Dominican Republic, the defending champion, to have appeared in all four tournaments. He said he felt the same way as Beltran.
“Any chance that comes your way to represent your country, you have to do it because you’re highlighting your country,” Reyes said in Spanish last week. “That’s why I’ve never said no. I feel like I’m not only doing this for my country, but for all the Dominicans all over the world.”
The largest concentration of these four-time participants are playing here this weekend at Estadio de Béisbol Charros de Jalisco, the only one of the four sites in the first round of the W.B.C. that is in Latin America.
For Puerto Rico, relievers J. C. Romero and Orlando Roman and catcher Yadier Molina are making their fourth appearance. On Friday, Puerto Rico notched an 11-0 win over Venezuela, which has first baseman Miguel Cabrera and reliever Francisco Rodriguez playing in their fourth edition.
Despite an elbow injury that threatened his participation, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, the face of Mexican baseball, is playing in his fourth tournament, appearing in a 10-9 walk-off loss to Italy here on Thursday night.
“For me, it is very important to be here, and that’s why I made an effort to rehab,” Gonzalez said.
Reyes, Molina, Beltran, Cabrera, Rodriguez and Gonzalez have all had notable success in the major leagues. And since the W.B.C. began in 2006, they have yet to say no to taking part, even at this advanced stage of their careers.
“I’m healthy, and I love competing,” Molina said. Regardless of Syndergaard’s comments, playing in the W.B.C. four times has not stopped Molina, 34, from winning two World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals, nor has it hurt his strong Hall of Fame credentials.
Some players decline to participate because they do not want to risk an injury. But even though Reyes has been injured numerous times in his career, he said he had never feared being hurt.
“As more and more years go by, I think more players will take it more seriously,” Reyes said of the Classic.
The tournament is held every four years, so this could be Beltran’s final one. He is 39, and wearing the Puerto Rican uniform meant more to him than saving his body extra wear and tear before the regular season.
“Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this?” he said.
Beltran said he also looked forward to sharing a clubhouse with the emerging stars on the Puerto Rico team — players like Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez and Carlos Correa — and forming new friendships that will last beyond this tournament.
“When you have the chance to put your country’s jersey on and to take the field with the future stars, too, that’s a great opportunity,” he said.
Part of the W.B.C.’s allure for Latino players is that kind of camaraderie. The Dominican team, whose first-round games are in Miami, has a boisterous clubhouse and brings plantains into the dugout as a good-luck charm.
The enthusiasm of the Latino fans also adds to the tournament’s allure for some players.
Before Friday’s Puerto Rico-Venezuela game, a group of Puerto Rican fans started an impromptu dance party as they moved through the concourse of the stadium, playing drums and singing. When the Dominican Republic went undefeated during the 2013 W.B.C., its fans made cavernous Marlins Park in Miami feel more crowded than usual with the tooting of horns, waving of flags and beating of drums.
“We love that,” Reyes said. “It’s a different culture. Here in the big leagues, people don’t welcome bringing drums to the stadium. But that makes it fun. When you go to the stadium, you want to have fun and the atmosphere.”
The fun and the pride are enough to keep some players coming back for more.
Source: New York Times