Underdogs, Yes, But Independent-Packed Team Spain Players Are Used to Fighting for Approval
Spain seems to be a long shot among the 12 teams remaining in the third World Baseball Classic, but there were plenty of smiles and expressions of hope when I tracked down several of the 13 current or former Independent Baseball players on the 28-man roster shortly before they left Florida for their first round of competition in Puerto Rico.
Espana opens play in Pool C in San Juan against the host country Friday, and also will go up against the powerhouse teams from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, knowing that only two teams will advance to the second round in Miami next week.
Independent players are vital for Italian resident Mauro Mazzotti’s team, as best evidenced by the fact eight of the 10 starters in this week’s exhibition opener against Pittsburgh, a 10-0 loss, have been in the non-affiliated ranks with only nine players on the entire roster so much as in major league organizations today.
These players are used to fighting for their baseball life, which they do most every day in Indy ranks, still everyone I talked to was upbeat because they have had the joy of playing baseball restored outside of the major league-affiliated minors where winning is not the top priority and it is easy to get lost if you are not among the elite.
While it may seem somewhat conflicting because of past experiences that have not always ended up as each player would have liked, participating in the WBC also is a welcome opportunity for the players to take part in games where the world is watching with every at-bat or pitch featured on the MLB Network. They can showcase themselves one more time since the only direct route to the glamour and fortune of the major leagues is through an organizational job.
“You (can) get lost in organizations,” expressed centerfielder Daniel Figueroa. “It humbles you a bit.” Then there is the opinion of Nick Schumacher that playing for Team Spain could be “a perfect launching pad” for a greater career. Fellow reliever Eddie Morlan also wants to take advantage of the opportunity at a time when “my career is at the low point. I’m excited because it is a way for people to see me.”
Every one of those I got to chat with spoke fondly of their time in Independent leagues. “It has kept me alive (in baseball),” Gabe Suarez praised. Schumacher pointed out “it gave me a chance to be the player I was in college”, which had led to him getting drafted. “I got a lot better when I went back to an organization because of the Atlantic League,” added infielder Jesus Merchan.
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New Lancaster Signee Curt Smith Helps The Netherlands Advance
While many of the 34 World Baseball Classic players with Independent experience are hoping this added exposure might lead to major league-affiliated jobs, Netherlands first baseman Curt Smith knows he has his next role, signing to play in the Atlantic League (Lancaster) shortly before the games started.
Smith blistered the ball at a .335 clip in the American Association (Lincoln) two years ago, and was at Double-A Jacksonville, FL (Miami Marlins farm) last year. The 26-year-old went 2-for-7 with two runs, an RBI and a .500 on-base percentage in helping The Netherlands advance to the second round of the WBC. Yurendell de Caster, a .327 hitter at Winnipeg (American Association) last season, also is on the team, but did not see action in the first round. Ching-Lung Lo (Lancaster) hurled two scoreless innings to help Chinese Taipei advance.
Many Independent Baseball fans will have their attention affixed on Italian first baseman-DH Chris Colabello, who homered in the team’s first game against major league competition (Oakland). The longtime Can-Am star (Worcester, MA) has been getting a good look in Minnesota’s major league camp where he was hitting .333 (5-for-15, three RBI) when he left for the WBC.
Greeenberg Perfect This Time
Adam Greenberg, beaned in his very first major league plate appearance in 2005 then given one more at-bat last September by the Miami Marlins, had an opportunity to move from Baltimore’s minor league camp to the major league diamond on Wednesday. The fleet outfielder, a fixture for years with Bridgeport, CT (Atlantic League), came to the plate twice this time, and left with a perfect on-base percentage. He walked once, singled another time, drove in a run and also scored in the Orioles’ romp over Team Spain.
(This is an excerpt from the column Bob Wirz writes year round on Independent Baseball. Forty columns are planned during 2013. Fans may subscribe at www.WirzandAssociates.com, enjoy the blog, www.IndyBaseballChatter.com, which has supplemental stories, or comment to RWirz@aol.com. The author has 16 years of major league baseball public relations experience with Kansas City and as spokesman for two Commissioners and lives in Stratford, CT.)