Five thoughts about the World Baseball Classic as the rain finally subsides before Team USA plays Venezuela in a seeding game.
1. Team USA ballplayers want Felix Perez, the paralyzed Iraq War veteran who was their clubhouse postgame guest Tuesday, with them in Los Angeles as their guest for the World Baseball Classic semifinals. Third baseman David Wright offered to personally pay for Perez's trip to L.A., including airfare, hotel and tickets for Perez and his family. When Wright broached the idea with teammates, they agreed to support Perez's trip as a team.
"Twenty-eight guys would have offered to do the same thing," Wright said of his gesture. "There's nothing I was doing that anybody else wouldn't do. I took the idea to a couple of the older guys on the team to see if it was a good idea, see if they gave it the thumbs up. They all loved it."
Perez, 27, was a sargeant with the 82nd Airborne deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq when he suffered his injury. He attended the elimination game Tuesday in which the United States, down 5-3, scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to advance. As Perez waited in his motorized wheelchair at a gate outside Dolphin Stadium, hoping to acquire autographs on an American flag he carried with him during his tour of duty, a stadium security officer escorted him to the Team USA clubhouse, where players invited him in as they celebrated the victory.
Perez said Tuesday after meeting the players that he would like to watch the U.S. win the tournament at Dodger Stadium. "If we make it to the final, I will definitely go to L.A.," he said.
Now, because of the gesture of Wright and his teammates, Perez could be on his way. Wright was in the process of obtaining Perez's contact information Wednesday night before the U.S. team was to play a seeding game against Venezuela.
2. Team USA intends to start Indians third baseman Mark DeRosa at first base in its semifinal game Sunday, though Cleveland had asked the team when the tournament began not to use DeRosa at first base. DeRosa has appeared in just 13 games at first base in his major league career. The team intends to discuss the situation with Indians officials and work out DeRosa at first base during practices Friday and Saturday in Los Angeles.
The U.S. needs a replacement for Kevin Youkilis, who is out of the WBC with a left ankle strain and tendinitis in his left Achilles. It tried Adam Dunn at first base Wednesday night against Venezuela to disastrous results. Dunn made a throwing error, a fielding error and was spared another throwing error by a balk call that nullified the play.
"It's not fair to ask an outfielder to come into the infield," manager Davey Johnson said.
The Americans could add Derrek Lee of the Cubs, the only first baseman from their provisional roster, but USA Baseball Executive Director Paul Seiler said he did not intend to ask Chicago officials to add Lee, who has been treated for a mild quadriceps strain. "We're not even going to ask them to make that decision," he said "Even if a guy had a hint of an injury, it would be totally disrespectful to the player and the club."
But Seiler backtracked somewhat when a reporter informed him that Cubs GM Jim Hendry said he would not block the addition of Lee but instead would leave the decision up to Lee himself. But in the same sequence of questions Seiler also said he expected the team to consider its option "internally."
Dunn, by the way, stood outside the USA clubhouse in a public hallway at Dolphins Stadium before the game in his undershirt, undershorts and jock strap with protective cup, pronouncing himself ready for first base. But Dunn said he had no idea where he would play for his major league team, the Nationals, after the WBC.
"I really don't know where I'm playing with the Nationals," he said. "I have no idea. Really."
3. With the spate of injuries, Johnson called for a rule change that would allow teams to replace not only injured players on their active roster, but on their provisional roster. In that case, Team USA would have been able to replace Lee with a healthy first baseman and then add that player to the active roster. But there is a problem with that idea.
International baseball regulations require provisional rosters to submitted one month in advance of competition, in part because all such players are subject to international drug testing protocols, including making themselves available at any time to drug testers. Under Johnson's idea, a player added to the provisional roster this late in the competition would have skirted all drug testing protocols that apply to all other players.
The lesson is to be more efficient in constructing a provisional roster, including the inclusion of players who can play multiple positions. In addition, the USA put 21 pitchers on its 43-man provisional roster.
4. USA left fielder Ryan Braun, who sat out the past two games with a muscle strain in his side, said he will be in the starting lineup Sunday. Braun said he intended to work out Friday -- the USA team is not working out Thursday before it travels to Los Angeles. "I expect everything to be fine and I'm playing Sunday," Braun said. "I feel fine."
The Americans, though, still have up to three roster spots they could fill, spots to replace Youkilis, third baseman Chipper Jones and pitcher Matt Lindstrom. But the team is leaning toward adding no one.
"We have not reached out to anyone to replace any of our injured players," Seiler said after the game last night.
Seiler said there was no need to replace Lindstrom because the staff already had enough pitchers to cover the maximum of two remaining games. If the USA does not add a position player, however, it will go into the semifinals with just a two-man bench: backup catcher Chris Ianetta and center fielder Curtis Granderson, assuming Shane Victorino gets the start in center.
"We're going with what got us here," Johnson said.
The starting lineup is likely to be pitcher Jake Peavy, catcher Brian McCann, DeRosa at first base, Brian Roberts at second base, Jimmy Rollins at shortstop, David Wright at third, an outfield of Braun, Victorino and Dunn, and Derek Jeter at DH.
The team has the option to add up to two players from among seven choices on the provisional roster: Lee, outfielders Vernon Wells, Ryan Ludwick and Sizemore, third baseman Evan Longoria, and catchers A.J. Pierzynski and Brian Schneider. (Lee, Wells and Schneider have had minor injury issues this spring.) It is likely none will be added. The USA staff believes it has enough healthy bodies on hand -- as well as an established team chemistry over the past three weeks -- rather than providing Johnson with more options on the bench. Johnson said he does not need a third catcher and that he is not in need of pinch-hitting options.
The team did receive another scare Thursday when David Wright needed X-rays on his left big toe after fouling a ball off his foot in the first inning. (Incredibly, no one bothered to check Wright immediately after the incident and during the next half inning as he limped noticeably and showed discomfort.) Wright said he would have taken himself out of a spring training game with the same injury but decided to remain in the game in part because of the depleted USA roster. Johnson had only one player, McCann, on his bench Wednesday. The X-rays on Wright's toe were negative and Wright said he intends to play Sunday.
5. After the U.S. beat Puerto Rico in that elimination game thriller, the Americans didn't want the night to end. So they made sure it didn't, gathering together as a team in their hotel hours after the winning hit by David Wright, the shot heard round the World Baseball Classic.
"We absolutely cherished that moment as a team," said pitcher Jake Peavy, who will be the USA starter in its semifinal game. "It's a night I'll remember for the rest of my life, all us sitting around, talking about it. ... It was as much fun as watching it happen."
When asked if that win would encourage more star American players to take part in future WBCs, Peavy said, "I can't imagine anybody who is healthy turning down this opportunity. We have guys who have won world championships calling last night the happiest and most memorable moment of their baseball careers. Last night absolutely overshadows anything I've done in baseball."
The bottom line is today there are many American big leaguers out there -- Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum, Mark Teixeira, Joe Nathan, Brad Lidge and on and on -- who just might feel like somebody who missed the bus -- the magic bus.