If the parameters for participation in the World Baseball Classic aren’t exactly lax, they aren’t so stringent, either.
In fact, there seem to be infinite avenues available to play for any given nation in the competition.
Those range from the perfectly sensible route of Rockhurst’s Ray Chang, playing again for China because both his parents were born there … to the more imaginative notion of the Royals’ Mike Moustakas having been eligible to play for Team Israel because his wife is Jewish (see Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports’ fun tale on how the team was formed).
Not that there’s anything wrong with any of that.
But it has to be another dimension of meaning to wear the colors and name of the nation in which you actually grew up.
Maybe especially if that was in a home with dirt floors like the one Salvador Perez knew — and perhaps all the more so if that country now is ensnared in desperate times.
“I think that we have the opportunity to bring something different to our country. More than baseball,” Venezuela manager Omar Vizquel said. “It will bring a smile. It will bring a lot of people together (in) unity.
“That’s why we feel so responsible.”
So, sure, there might have been plenty of banter across the diamond and in the batter’s box on Wednesday at Surprise Stadium when the Royals played an exhibition game against Team Venezuela, with teammates Perez and Alcides Escobar against instead of with them.
But as Vizquel anticipated, his team wasn’t “playing any funny games or anything like that” along the way to an 11-0 win stoked in part by two Escobar triples and an RBI single by Perez.
“A beautiful day,” Escobar said, adding that he’s honored to play for Venezuela. “Every player in every sport, everybody wants to represent his country.”
Even if the U.S. team that features the Royals’ Danny Duffy and Eric Hosmer might seem diminished by the absence of the likes of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, there is no doubt the WBC matters deeply to many for a variety of reasons.
“Yeah. I’ve had to really kind of marinate (in) that for a little bit,” said Duffy, who will leave Arizona shortly to join the U.S. team in Florida. “It’s a huge honor, it’s an incredible thing. The feeling of wearing ‘USA’ on your chest is a pretty big deal.
“I’m taking a bunch of pride in that. I’m going to get everything I can out of it. I just can’t wait.”
The classic resonates with Team Venezuela as its homeland is in economic chaos that has stoked violent crime — so much so that Perez’s mother was the victim of a carjacking last year, and that he now travels home only with multiple bodyguards.
Perez, the 2015 World Series most valuable player, and Escobar are at the heart of that sense of duty for Venezuela, which also features such home-grown stars as Jose Altuve and Miguel Cabrera and will open WBC competition against Puerto Rico on Friday in Jalisco, Mexico.
Amid what Royals 90-year-old super scout Art Stewart called an “All-Star lineup,” Perez already has entrenched himself as a vital presence.
The infectious charisma of Perez, who was unavailable to speak after the game because of what a WBC media relations representative said was a dental issue, was evident to Vizquel within minutes of the team convening for the first time at the Royals’ complex here on Tuesday.
“Today we had a meeting, and you can tell Salvador’s leadership is coming through,” Vizquel said Tuesday afternoon. “He stepped up and said some words of motivation, and that’s what we need.
“We need guys like that to take charge over in the field, and I know that (he’s going to do) a great job … handling the pitching staff.
“It’s full of veteran guys, but we still need a voice behind the plate that can take charge any time.”
That relentless voice, of course, resounds well beyond the plate.
“It doesn’t take too long to know Salvador,” Vizquel said, smiling. “If you are on a team from Japan and you come to Venezuela, and you see this guy talking to people and hugging people, you can tell that he’s a guy who cares about everybody.”
Demonstrating that sort of thing is the idea, anyway, in international competitions — not to mention trying to share your own culture whether it’s as a visitor or host.
“Given the timing and circumstances of our country, I think it’s a great opportunity for us, temporarily, to show we are united, regardless of the turmoil and things going on here and other places in the world,” Tampa Bay pitcher Chris Archer told reporters in Florida last week as he prepared to play for Team USA.
Archer later called the United States “a beautiful country of diversity and freedom and a lot of other things that other countries don’t have.”
As a nation of immigrants, that includes many players either from or connected to multiple heritages who could play for other nations.
The fact that so many are availing themselves to that only adds to the intrigue of the WBC, which concludes March 20-22 in Los Angeles.
But that’s still a different sort of feeling than what Perez and Escobar and Duffy and Hosmer and Mexican-born Joakim Soria will know, playing for the countries that raised them and to which they feel a consuming responsibility.