Orioles center fielder Adam Jones has accepted an invitation to play for the United States in the upcoming World Baseball Classic in March.
Team USA manager Joe Torre called Jones before Christmas and extended the offer. And what was the Orioles’ favorite class clown’s response?
“’I’m an American,’ in my best Toby Keith voice,” Jones joked in reference to the country music star.
Jones is expected to be the only Oriole on Team USA, but club executive vice president Dan Duquette said starter Miguel Gonzalez (Mexico) and reliever Pedro Strop (Dominican Republic) are candidates to pitch for their countries.
“I think in a perfect world, we’d prefer to see our pitchers prepare for the regular season with us,” Duquette said. “But we’ll see how that plays out.”
“I would like to represent Mexico, of course,” Gonzalez said.”It all depends on what the Orioles tell me, if it's OK to go. … They called me from the front office and they asked me if I'd be willing to play for Mexico, and I told them I would, but it all depends on whatever you guys tell me, if it's OK to go or not. I'm just waiting on that.”
Orioles bullpen coach Bill Castro will be the pitching coach for the Dominican team, and minor league catchers Chris Robinson (Canada) and Allan de San Miguel (Australia) are also expected to play in the tournament, which runs from March 2 through March 19. Duquette said it is his understanding that lefty starter Wei-Yin Chen will not pitch for Chinese Taipei.
“Based on Chen pitching in the Japan Series in 2011 and [192 2/3 innings] for us last year, we would prefer that he attends spring training for us and prepares for the season,” Duquette said.
Closer Jim Johnson also was contacted by Team USA, but he declined. Johnson dealt with back issues last spring and didn’t pitch in a game until March 14. He prefers a normal spring training routine this year, though he called the invitation “a great honor.”
“Last year I had a rough spring training, and this year I didn’t want to have to rush to get ready to pitch in the WBC,” said Johnson, who led the majors with 51 saves last season. “You’re asking guys to be getting ready for the first week of March. To me, that wasn’t the best option.”
As for Jones, Duquette said, “It’s his decision and we certainly support him representing the U.S. in the World Baseball Classic.”
The full rosters are expected to be announced next week, but the U.S. team is likely to include Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, New York Mets third baseman David Wright and Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer.
Jones said he’ll talk to Torre again soon to get specifics on when he’ll need to leave the Orioles’ camp. Practices are scheduled to start March 4 in Phoenix, and Team USA’s first game is March 8 at Chase Field against Team Mexico. If the United States advances past pool play, its second round games will be held March 12 through 16 in Miami. The semifinals and finals will be held from March 17 to March 19 in San Francisco.
Jones said he began his offseason workouts a bit earlier this year in preparation for the WBC. because players are not normally in full competition mode in mid-March, there’s a danger that WBC participants could get hurt or worn down before their season begins. But the 27-year-old Jones has no concerns.
“I am not thinking at all about that,” he said. “We are fine-tuned athletes, and this is an opportunity to play for your country.”
Jones tried out for the high school version of Team USA when he was 15 and 16 and didn’t make the squad, so this is particularly gratifying for him.
“I knew if I ever got the opportunity again, I would do it,” he said. “Now, I’ll get to wear USA across my chest and play some important games for my country. That’s cool. I’m in.”
Technically, players do not have to consult their teams for permission to play in the WBC, but out of respect Jones called Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who told him to “enjoy and be ready.”
Because rosters have not been released, Jones doesn’t know how many other center fielders will be on the team. But he said he doesn’t care what position he plays.
“I play center field for the Orioles. For the United States, I don’t give a [darn] where I play,” he said. “People get caught up in that ego stuff. I’m here to support my country’s team. Everybody that’s gonna play on this team, in general, is gonna be an athlete. We just need to do what we do. In the end of the day, we need to bang. We all can play defense, but we need to bang.”
The United States lost in the semifinals in 2009 to eventual champion, Japan. The U.S. lost in the second round in the inaugural event in 2006. Japan also won that tournament.
altimore Sun reporter Eduardo A. Encina contributed to this article
About the World Baseball Classic
For the third time, baseball will crown a world champion as 16 nations compete in a pool-play tournament held from March 2-19. Japan won the first two WBCs, held in 2006 and 2009. Here’s a look at this year’s field:
Pool A (games played in Fukuoka, Japan): Brazil, China, Cuba, Japan
Pool B (Taichung, Taiwan): Australia, Chinese Taipei, Korea, Netherlands
Pool C (San Juan, Puerto Rico): Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Spain, Venezuela
Pool D (Phoenix): Canada, Italy, Mexico, United States
The top two teams in Pool A and the top two teams in Pool B will play a double-elimination second round in Tokyo with the top two teams from that advancing. The top two teams in Pool C and the top two teams in Pool D play a double-elimination second round in Miami with two teams advancing. The semifinals and finals will be held in San Francisco.