For Diamondbacks participation in the World Baseball Classic, the cup is half-filled.
Then again, it’s half-empty.
That’s because just over half of the seven called to play for their countries are still alive, and three are back at Salt River.
On Tuesday night in Miami, Team USA, with D-backs Willie Bloomquist, Heath Bell and David Hernandez, takes on Puerto Rico. Arizona non-roster veteran pitcher Nelson Figueroa is on the Puerto Rico roster.
Three D-backs members of Team Venezuela, Miguel Montero, Martin Prado and Gerardo Parra, are back at Salt River. That’s after their team was eliminated in the opening round.
For the American squad, momentum from taking two games of three this past weekend at Chase Field represents a powerful moment. Now, the bar on emotion and passion is dramatically raised, and atmosphere soars to greater heights.
While players bleed red, white and blue throughout this tournament, the “USA” across their uniforms serves as reminder of a larger purpose.
After Sunday’s win over Canada, Bloomquist was asked if there existed a comparison between the D-backs’ West Division title two years ago and the power of playing for the United States.
“It’s different.” he said. “Here, you’re representing your country and it’s not like representing just a city. Players are more involved now on this level. For me, this is more special because we represent the best country in the world.”
After the gaining the win against Team Canada, Bell paraded around the infield at Chase Field waving an American Flag. With his father a retired Marine, Bell said he was influenced by his dad’s zeal and enthusiasm. Now, his father is battling cancer and Bell said playing for the U. S. takes on a new and special meaning.
Shutting down Canada 1-2-3 in the seventh inning, Bell kept the Americans close at 3-2. That’s when Adam Jones of the Orioles provided the game winner in the eighth with a two run double. Hernandez then came in the eighth and in his usual set-up role.
Instead, he struggled, tossed 29 pitches and was bailed out by a traffic play from second baseman Brandon Phillips with the bases loaded and one out.
Still, Hernandez could not avoid the fervor of his fellow countrymen.
“We came here to win it all,” he said. “What matters now is this matters for the country.”
If the passion and drive for the title is evident among Team USA, their Arizona teammates back in the Salt River facility felt the injection of spirit.
Reliever Brad Ziegler was a member of Team USA in the last World Baseball Classic in 2009, and detected a clear change from the last American contingent.
“I think this year’s team is different in an important way,” Ziegler said Monday morning in the D-backs clubhouse. “In 2009, manager Davey Johnson wanted to make sure players got into games and experienced the tournament. I didn’t think we played a true game.”
In the 2009 tourney, Ziegler appeared in four games and allowed three runs in 3.1 innings. In the tournament, the Americans lost 9-4 to Japan in the championship game, and that’s a feeling which continues to burn.
To that end, Team USA manager Joe Torre and his players point to a changed outlook and the need to recapture baseball as “America’s past time” from foreign hands.
“This time, Torre wants to win and is pushing buttons to achieve that goal.” Ziegler added. “Players care about winning, and are filled with emotion. Losing in the finals against Japan was difficult. That’s not where we want to be.”
On Tuesday, Italy takes on the Dominican Republic at Marlins Stadium (1 p.m. Eastern ) in the opening game. The USA-Puerto Rico match is slated for 8 p.m. Eastern (MLB TV network).
On Tuesday, the Diamondbacks split their squad. Half will take on the Mariners at Peoria. Here, lefty Patrick Corbin is slated to start and will be followed by right-hander Chase Anderson, left-hander Tony Sipp and right-hander Eric Smith.
The other half remains at Salt River to take on the Rockies. Right-hander Josh Collmenter will start for Arizona and scheduled behind is right-hander Eddie Bonine, lefty Matt Reynolds, lefty Joe Paterson, right-hander Starling Peralta and Ziegler. Game time is 1:10 p.m. and the Rockies are the home team.
On the Wednesday, the D-backs play their first home night game of the spring against major league competition. They host Milwaukee at 7:10 p.m. Last Wednesday night, they lost 1-0 to Team Mexico under the Salt River lights in an exhibition game prior to the start of the World Baseball Classic opening round.