MIAMI — Practice was over, the day was over on Friday, but Team USA’s players immediately gathered around the batting cage trying to put on the greatest show of it World Baseball Classic.
They were USA coaches Ken Griffey Jr. and Brian McCann playing an impromptu home run derby.
“We knew something was wrong the moment we saw Griffey bring his own bat onto the team bus,” said Los Angeles Angels All-Star Mike Trout. “We hoped. We begged. And then he did it.”
Borrowing Trout’s batting gloves, Griffey played a single round of the home run derby, hitting the pitches in right field at LoanDepot Park on the final swing, his 10th.
The players went berserk, shrieking and high-fiving Griffey as the Hall of Famer smiled into his trademark.
It was the thrill of a lifetime, players said, and many were watching Griffey swing in person for the first time.
“It was sick,” Trout told USA TODAY Sports. “Nothing like that.”
Players have been asking Griffey to do a round of batting practice throughout the tournament, and it wasn’t until Friday that he finally relented.
“The lads put a lot of pressure on him,” said Trout. “We really wanted to see it. He said, “Give me 10 swings and I know I can hit one.”
“You still have it!” someone shouted as Griffey walked towards the clubhouse.
“I don’t know what I got,” Griffey said, laughing. “But I have something. I need three weeks off now.”
In defense of the WBC
Players who compete in the WBC are disappointed with this criticism of the tournament given Mets closer Edwin Diaz’s injuryUS starter Lance Lynn will have his say by Friday at the latest.
If people blame the WBC for Diaz’s injury, they say, why not blame spring training for Dodger’s shortstop? Gavin Lux’s season-ending injuryand turn that off too.
“Edwin is a great player and it is a Big loss for the Mets‘ Lynn said, ‘but if you look at what this is about and all this, I don’t think he would tell you that he regrets being a part of it. We like to compete, we like to compete for our countries, people we care about and stuff like that.
“You never want to get hurt. People are getting hurt at spring training games every day right now, and no one is saying we shouldn’t have spring training. So that’s the unfortunate part of the game, people get hurt, but the beauty of the game is seeing the fans, seeing the passion that the players have at this time of year, especially at these events. That’s why you play the game.
“So it’s difficult to tell guys not to play the game they love for the country they love because you can hurt yourself walking down the street to be honest. It’s unfortunate but I think you see the bigger picture, people are playing for their countries and having a great time.”
Other teams are frustrated that FOX dictated that Team USA play Saturday night instead of Friday, moving the game against Venezuela to Saturday while Puerto Rico and Mexico play Friday night.
Mexico should have had the extra day off instead of the Americans by beating the USA in WBC Pool C.
The extra day also allowed US coach Mark DeRosa to select Lance Lynn for the regular break, bypassing Adam Wainwright or Nick Martinez. Lynn, who excelled in five innings against Canada on Monday, also has no fielding restrictions from the Chicago White Sox. He can pitch 80 pitches, the maximum allowed by any WBC second-round pitcher.
The WBC is popular!
There was a record 1,010,999 fans attending the first round of the WBC, nearly doubling the previous record of 510,056 set in 2017 with an average of 25,275 per game. The games in Japan averaged a record 36,198 fans per game.
TV viewership in Japan also set records, with an average TV rating of 42.3 at Super Bowl size, while Puerto Rico’s rating was 62% as they beat the Dominican Republic and progressed to the quarterfinals.
let’s get loud
There are more than 100,000 Venezuelans living in the Miami area and they will surely have a crucial home advantage against Team USA in an environment that many of the US players have never experienced.
“This is going crazy,” DeRosa said. “It’s going to be like Caracas-Magallanes on steroids. So I’m hooked on it.”
DeRosa, who played winter ball in Venezuela, loves the country’s passion and will never forget his experience there in 1999.
“I played for Caracas,” DeRosa said, “and spent two months there and loved every second of it. I can remember the hotel and traveling to all these places and I thought it helped me immensely not only to get ready but to move on and get into the big leagues.
“I also understand the journey of Latin American ballers to the United States. That opened my eyes to it. So I understood that they were coming over and the struggles that they were dealing with at a young age because I know I was dealing with that over there, some kind of communication, food. And these guys took care of me, the Bobby Abreus of the world, really took me under their wing and Alex Gonzalez made me feel welcome over there. So I was grateful.”
WBC executives are restricted in the use of their pitchers in the tournament and try to accommodate the desires of their major league clubs, but that shouldn’t dilute the beauty of the WBC, DeRosa said.
“I think there’s certainly handcuffs to what you can do from game to game,” DeRosa said. “But that was the commitment we gave to the players in the squad, that was the commitment we made to the parent clubs. So, yeah, it’s a lot harder.
“But I’m not going to jeopardize anyone’s career or [MLB executive] Tony Reagin’s relationships with those GMs, my relationships with the managers and coaches too. I just won’t do it. So it just takes a lot of thought and I have great coaches to lean on and we sort of pulled it off. You almost have to script lightly what you’re going to do.”
Finally something familiar
Now that Team USA is eliminated from Pool C, the Americans will be better prepared to face an opposing pitcher, with 11-year veteran Martin Perez set to start for Venezuela on Saturday.
“I feel like in terms of Britain and in terms of Colombia,” DeRosa said, “there were some unknowns before the pitch. I just listen to the hitters trying to formulate a game plan and what this guy has and watch him warm up. I think that changes with a guy like Martin Perez on the hill. There are many people who have seen him in the big leagues.
“And on the other hand, there’s probably a lot of people in that Venezuelan line-up who’ve seen Lance [Lynn]. So I feel like familiarity in the team almost creates a little more relaxation.”
Venezuela’s star power
Team USA meets some of the game’s biggest stars in Venezuela, including Jose Altuve and Ronald Acuña Jr.
“A lot of respect for these guys,” DeRosa said. “Altuve is one of the most amazing racquets I have ever seen in my life. Ronald, I’ve lived in Atlanta for the last 25 years, he’s one of the biggest superstars to ever come through this organization. He’s one of my kids’ favorite players. [Luis] Arraez is a batting champion, it will be his home ground this year. So a lot of respect for all the guys over there, honestly.”
Team USA’s MVPs
A manager’s dream at the top of the US lineup, Mookie Betts and Mike Trout’s 2-1 smash left DeRosa in awe.
“Mookie is good at everything,” DeRosa said. “I mean, I watch him take groundballs at shortstops I think, I honestly think he could play pretty much anywhere on the diamond he wanted to play and be one of the best at it.”
“Mike will go down in history as one of the greatest players of all time,” DeRosa said. “I don’t know what it is, but he’s just different. Even in this room, among these guys, he stands out. The ball just comes off his racket differently than everyone else.
“I didn’t know he was that big and that strong. There are moments throughout the game where he gets cheered on, where he shakes your hand or grabs you somehow and it’s like he’s dragging me around this shelter. I’m just blown away by the size, strength, speed and explosiveness. He has everything.”
Mark DeRosa’s next appearance?
DeRosa, who has been interviewed twice for major league job openings, has no idea if this tournament will lead to a future managerial job.
“The experience was incredible,” he said. “Being in the locker room with these guys and being in the clubhouse with these guys has been one of the highlights of my life.
“The game has started to slow down. I was more nervous in the exhibition games than I think now. Now that could change [Saturday], but managing within the parameters of the pitching guidelines we’re dealing with makes it, I won’t say, easier, but you kind of have outs, don’t you? You must follow a specific, easily scripted plan.
“In terms of management going forward, I literally didn’t see this as some kind of stepping stone. I kind of embraced that because in my heart I felt like this was a perfect opportunity.
“So I have no idea what the future holds.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: WBC 2023: Team USA is in awe as Ken Griffey Jr. demonstrates his home run swing
Source : sports.yahoo.com