• Team USA manager Mark DeRosa addressed his club for about 15 minutes, but he didn’t speak until the players took the field. After DeRosa finished, Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, the reigning National League MVP, asked to say a few words.
Goldschmidt and Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado are the only members of Team USA who played for the 2017 squad that won the WBC. Adam Jones spoke to that team before the tournament, and Goldschmidt vividly remembers how much the former outfielder’s message resonated.
“I just honestly shared what he shared,” Goldschmidt said. “This is not a vacation from spring training. If we want to win, you have to take it seriously. All of these teams do.”
“The team we were on in ’17 did that. That’s kind of what Jonesy said: If you want to win this, you’ve got to play like it’s a playoff game. It’s not like the All-Star Game, where it is a kind of exhibition.”
• DeRosa wore a uniform for the first time since 2013, his final season as a player. He said it felt weird not taping his wrists, putting on bracelets, putting on sunglasses. And although he prepared his remarks to the team in advance, he admitted he was nervous about what he was going to say.
“I had to take a snapshot,” DeRosa said. “It’s like getting my first at-bat at Yankee Stadium and hearing Mr. Sheppard (the late announcer Bob Sheppard) say your name. Or like getting married.
“I was so nervous to get up and speak. But I thought about it for a while. And I’ve gotten to know a lot of them through conversations. I just wanted to wake them up to the fact that we have to get together quickly.”
The schedule dictates as much. Team USA will play exhibitions against the Giants and Angels the next two days, practice at Chase Field Friday and then face Great Britain in their tournament opener Saturday. If it reaches the championship game in Miami, it ends up playing seven games in 11 days.
• Goldschmidt lost playing time in the 2017 WBC after a 1-for-13 start and did not appear in the final three games. Still, he said his time with Team USA was perhaps “the best baseball experience I’ve ever had.”
“I made so many lifelong friends, learned a lot getting to play in those atmospheres,” said Goldschmidt, who at the time had made just one postseason appearance, in the Diamondbacks’ 2011 Division Series loss to the Brewers.
Arenado also didn’t hit well in the 2017 tournament, going 5-for-31 with 11 strikeouts and two walks. With no previous postseason experience, it was the first time he had played in games of such magnitude. And he responded by tapping.
“It was maybe a little bit of pressure, wanting to do a lot. And wanting to do too much too soon (in the baseball calendar),” Arenado said. “It’s a tough tournament to get ready for.
“It’s always good to have high expectations, but I probably had them a little unreasonably high. I think it hurt me a little. But that was the great thing about that team. Everyone picked me up. I didn’t have to be that guy. I think it was a good lesson.”
• Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge, the free agent who agreed to the biggest contract of the offseason, is not playing in the WBC. But Trea Turner and Xander Bogaerts, who signed the second- and third-largest deals, are participating for the United States and the Netherlands, respectively. And Carlos Correa, No. 4 on the list, only bowed out of his commitment to Puerto Rico because his wife, Daniella, is due to give birth to their second child.
Turner said the Phillies didn’t try to dissuade him from playing in the tournament.
“When I met with them early in the offseason, in free agency, we had discussions about it,” Turner said. “But they never seemed against it or anything like that. It never felt like it was a problem.
“Other teams I talked to had mentioned it. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. I told everyone I talked to that I definitely really want to play, but I understand your side of it. The Phillies had several guys. That might have helped, too.”
The Phillies in the WBC include another of their free-agent signings, right-hander Taijuan Walker (Mexico). Their other major-league participants are catcher JT Realmuto and left fielder Kyle Schwarber (Team USA), pitchers Ranger Suárez and Jose Alvarado (Venezuela), reliever Gregory Soto (Dominican Republic) and catcher Garrett Stubbs (Israel).
• It’s easy to understand why Realmuto lobbied DeRosa to include Padres right-hander Nick Martinez on the Team USA roster. Martinez threw a combined 10 scoreless innings against the Phillies in the 2022 regular season and postseason, striking out 14 and allowing just three hits without walking anyone.
“Last year was my first time facing him,” Realmuto said of Martinez, who spent the previous four seasons pitching in Japan. “To be honest, I hadn’t heard much about him. The first time I faced him, I was like, ‘Who is this guy?’
“His stuff was incredible. He commanded the strike zone well, pitched to both sides of the plate. He got swings and misses inside the strike zone. I was impressed with his stuff in the regular season. So the way he pitched against us in the postseason, he was dominant on the biggest stage of his career.
“When DeRo called me and asked, I said, ‘You’ve got to get that guy. He’s an absolute stud. He’s got the right demeanor. He commands the mound, just has a big presence out there. I think He is a perfect fit for what we need.”
• Mets second baseman Jeff McNeil never had a chance to represent the United States in amateur tournaments; he spent his first three years at Nipomo (Calif.) high on the golf team, turning to baseball only in his senior year. Then in December, when McNeil bumped into DeRosa at the Wally Joyner golf tournament in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, he made it clear he wanted to play in the WBC.
“I’ll do anything for you guys, just tell me,” McNeil said.
As I wrote in January, DeRosa told McNeil that the Red Sox’s Trevor Story had been one of the earliest players to commit to the squad, and that he also had Mookie Betts at second. But when Story underwent right elbow surgery on Jan. 9, DeRosa kept a promise he made to McNeil and added him to the team.
• And finally, White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson heard something from DeRosa none of his former managers told him.
“I need the bat flip,” DeRosa said.
“You’ll get it,” Anderson replied.
“That was the first one, for sure,” Anderson said. “But I think it’s the right attitude. We play exciting football. We don’t just have one city behind us. We have the whole country. Of course they want something that gets them fired up.”
(Top photo by Paul Goldschmidt: Daniel Shirey/WBCI/MLB Photos via Getty Images)