If you want to cancel the WBC, do you also want to cancel spring training and celebrations? As Pete Alonso said, “There is danger at work. Anyone can get hurt at any time.”
PHOENIX—People who don’t like the World Baseball Classic usually fall into two buckets: general managers, who get paid to worry, and those who don’t really love baseball.
If you happened to watch Team USA at the WBC here on Wednesday night, you have to see it Mike Trout Fly to third base with a triple after burning a run with that famously tight, vicious swing of his. Mookie Betts Get the extra base twice with great baserunning decisions. and in back-to-back defensive plays, Nolan Arenado pirouettes at third base as he turns a sure hit into an out and Betts gracefully runs in a fly ball that’s an arm’s length over the fence in the right-field corner. and saw seven pitchers from Colombia with a combined nine games of experience bravely hold the USA Dream Team to a scrappy three.
Team USA won, 3–2, to advance to a quarterfinal match Saturday in Miami against Venezuela. Team USA manager Mark DeRosa said he will talk with his pitching staff Thursday about whether to give the ball to Adam Wainwright, with his reduced speed, or skip him and start Lance Lynn. You may see seven or more future Hall of Famers play hard and for national pride in this win-or-go-home game. If you’re not digging this as a mid-March gift, don’t tell me you love baseball.
Diaz was wheeled in after suffering an apparent knee injury while celebrating Puerto Rico’s win against the Dominican Republic at the WBC.
Sam Navarro/USA TODAY Sports
The argument against the WBC is that players get hurt, an argument that has no statistics, but has grown in volume and ridiculousness when the best get closer to the game, Edwin Diaz of the Mets, went down with a knee injury Wednesday night. Diaz was not injured playing for Puerto Rico. He was injured jumping up and down with his teammates after sealing a victory for his beloved country over the Dominican Republic and while playing with his brother, Alexis, for the first time.
If you want to cancel the WBC because Díaz was injured, where were you calling for spring training to be canceled when Dodgers shortstop Gavin Lux blew out his knee? Diaz’s injury was pure luck. Period.
But if you buy the dumb logic, maybe we should just ban celebrations too. After all, Lance McCullers Jr. injured his elbow when he was hit by a champagne bottle in the Astros clubhouse after a 2022 postseason series clincher. Cody Bellinger destroyed his shoulder in the 2020 NLCS with a vicious hit to the arm with Kike Hernandez. Ramón Ramírez pulled a hammy running onto the field to celebrate a no-hitter by Johan Santana in 2012. Chris Coghlan tore a meniscus while shoving a pie in the face of a Braves teammate after a win in 2009. And nine years ago kendrys morales infamously broke his leg jumping at home plate after retiring from a grand slam in 2010, derek jeter injured his leg jumping at home plate in the mr. November. (It just took him 21 years to admit it.)
“I don’t think it’s really the tournament, but it stinks,” the Team USA reliever said Adam Ottavino, Diaz’s teammate with the Mets. “I just think about him a little bit and you know, he’s my friend, so I’m just worried about my friend.
“It’s awful. I know what it meant to him to be in that situation for Puerto Rico and I know the type of kid he is. I know how hard he works. I know how much he cares and what he means to Puerto Rico and the Mets.”
Team USA said Pete Alonso, another Díaz teammate with the Mets, “It’s very heartbreaking to hear about Edwin. I was really looking forward to having him this year because he looked really sharp in the spring and I know he’s been throwing the ball well the last few days. It’s really disappointing. I hope he has a speedy recovery.”
This is a tournament of flag-waving, anthem-singing, pot-banging, brass and percussion fans who never stop making noise. From SNL-worthy celebrations (a crown for Great Britain, a sombrero for Mexico, etc.). Players coming out of the dugout like Little Leaguers for a simple RBI single. With firefighters, civil engineers, independent ball dreamers, old-timers and rookies getting the chance to face some of the game’s biggest stars.
The starting pitcher for Colombia Wednesday night was Luis De Avila, a left-hander who is just 21 years old and has already pitched for three organizations, was suspended 72 games for testing positive for a banned substance, released and claimed in the minors league Draft Rule 5. He’s also just 5’9”. If you don’t think that makes him unique, know this: no left-handed starting pitcher at his height has won a major league game in 20 years. The Marlins’ Michael Tejera was the last to do so, in 2003. De Avila worked around Trout’s signature triple, getting Arenado to bounce into what was a theatrical beauty of a double play that the Colombians made, resulting in the dugout to be emptied in celebration. Columbia took a 2-1 lead in the fifth before a two-run single by Trout, with Betts making a perfect read on his bloop single to score from second, putting the Earth back on track.
Amidst all the passion, the biggest treat of this tournament is watching Betts and Trout bat against each other in Team USA’s lineup, playing in the same outfield and tagging most every minute of their workday as if filming a friend. film.
And so I asked them: if people hit the WBC because of the injury risk factor, what will you tell your teammates and others about that experience?
“This is the most fun experience I’ve had on the baseball field, representing your country,” Trout said. “It was a blast. Now, obviously there is a risk. [But] You know, you’re still playing baseball in spring training. So to me, it’s just a part of that atmosphere. It’s special, it means a lot to me.
“And, you know, I knew it was going to be a fun time, but I never knew it was going to be this much fun. I mean, we’ve got a really good team in there and it’s fun to come to the field every day.”
Said Betts, “You can always try to blame the WBC, but this is just a freak accident that could happen to anyone at any time. Well, to echo what Mike said, man, this is so much fun. It’s so much fun. That’s a lot better than putting four bats in the backfield, you know? So I encourage them [players] who are watching—come, join, play. This is a lot of fun.”
I’ll take the Trout and Betts endorsements over the Doomsdayers.
Over the years, the clubs themselves have damaged the WBC with their own lobbying campaigns against it, most of them done privately with subtle pressure on players not to participate.
“They really can’t stop you from playing if you haven’t been hurt the previous year,” says Ottavino. “So as long as that’s still the case, I don’t know how they can [stop you]. They can threaten you all they want, but I mean kids will still want to play. You can see the passion involved in these games.
“But yes, no one [with the clubs] he really wants you to play. Neither team really wants you to play in it, anyway. This was before this [Díaz injury]. So that boosts it a little bit, I guess.”
Alonso, the DH against Colombia, and Jeff McNeil, the Mets second baseman who had the night off, were on the bench when one of the Team USA coaches approached them in the first innings.
“I have some good news and some bad news,” the coach said. “The good news is that Puerto Rico has moved on. The bad news is that Edwin Díaz is injured.
“Every day you show up in the yard there’s a chance you’re going to get hurt,” Alonso said. “There is danger at work. Anyone can get hurt at any time. That’s the risk we take playing baseball. We are athletes and unfortunately injuries are part of the game.”
It was a very unfortunate injury to one of the game’s biggest stars, the most expensive reliever in history (he just signed a five-year, $102 million contract), and a major cog in the Mets’ quest for a pennant. That it happened at the WBC was nothing but a coincidence. It had nothing to do with the “rising too fast” bag. (See last year’s spring training rush). It had nothing to do with overuse. (The tournament has heavy restrictions on the use of pitchers.) The best players in the world here know it was a fluke, nothing more, nothing less, and certainly not a warning to the tournament. Why can’t armchair experts see this?