WBC Pool B teams held their official practice day Wednesday ahead of Thursday’s openers. This year more than ever with the expansion from 16 to 20 teams, the tournament is even more of a baseball melting pot of the sport’s universe that exists beyond MLB’s boundaries.
The idea of some of the best players from the world’s best major leagues representing their countries and competing on the same level playing field against teams made up of guys for whom baseball is a passion but not a profession.
Because of that mix, we get a tasty smorgasbord of stories, and today we’ve got a sampler.
Some like those one gets at all-star games where elite players mingle with former stars, but others are about guys, like Ray Chang, whose playing career was over only to be recalled by China and thrown into competition against the the world’s best.
Chang said there’s no way he would have believed when he hung up his spikes, someone told him that him in six years time he’d be facing Shohei Ohtani.
“How cool is that?” said Chang, the hero of China’s historic first WBC victory over Taiwan in 2009.
Then there was Czech Republic coach Alexander Derhak, an American who played in Australia and the Czech Republic where he settled down. Derhak, who manages one of the country’s Extraleague teams, said, “I might be one of only a few people in the country who can say ‘I make my living in baseball.'”
There are more stories than there is time to record them all.
Wednesday was listening to former Japan outfielder Hitoshi Tamura talk about the first WBC, and the impact of having two MLB players, Ichiro Suzuki and Akinori Otsuka to shoulder the pressure so the Japan-based players could relax and shine.
Or, it was listening to Bobby Valentine and Lars Nootbaar marvel at the things Ohtani does, and then seeing Ohtani give Valentine a bear hug and pretend surprise when Valentine said in English they’d been talking about him.
Or it was this gem, although since I didn’t shoot it, I can’t tell whether it’s Takuya Kai or piano-playing slugger Hotaka Yamakawa. My vote is for Kai, since he seems to lack Yamakawa’s prodigious midsection.