Regrets? Mike Trout has at least one.
“Last WBC, I was kind of on the fence of doing it and not doing it,” the three-time American League MVP of the Los Angeles Angels said. “And when I decided not to do it, watching the games, I kind of regretted that I didn’t do it.”
Trout took a pass on the World Baseball Classic in 2017, when Team USA won the tournament for the first time in four tries. He was a bystander when Adam Jones robbed Manny Machado of a home run with a catch that belongs in a museum in a win over the Dominican Republic and when Marcus Stroman pitched six-plus scoreless innings in a championship-game rout of Puerto Rico.
“It looked like they were having so much fun,” Trout said. “I’m always having so much fun on the baseball field, but when they were out there, making them plays and winning, that’s what I regretted. I should have been out there.”
“I just wanted to be a part of it,” he added. “And I thought it was a special moment when they won it. And now I get an opportunity to be a part of it. So I’m looking forward to go out there.”
Trout didn’t hesitate in July when USA general manager Tony Reagins not only invited him to be on the team but also asked him to be its captain. In a Zoom call with reporters last Friday, Trout insisted that the back issues that limited him to 119 games for a 73-89 Angels squad last year are no longer a factor.
“Once the season was over, I really didn’t feel the back at all,” he said. “The back has been a nonissue for the past few months. I felt a little bit when I came back during the season, and I’ve been on top of it pretty well, keeping the same routine in the weight room just to warm up and making sure all the back muscles around it are strengthened.”
Trout said he would’ve loved to have Bryce Harper as a teammate, but the Philadelphia Phillies slugging outfielder was shut down last November after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery. The most optimistic forecasts have Harper returning to the Phillies lineup around the All-Star break.
“I think the first one I reached out to was Bryce,” Trout said. “You know, growing up, being compared to each other, both coming up through the system at the same time, I think that no doubt that would be pretty cool to play with him. I told him, I said, ‘Look, this is a chance we have to play together. I think it’d be a pretty cool moment.’
“I think ever since then, a lot of guys reached out and said I want to be a part of this, and I think everybody wants to be a part of this because it’s gonna be something special. To be able to represent Team USA and have the whole country behind you, that’s gonna be pretty cool.”
Mike Trout on World Baseball Classic: Anything less than winning it all would be a failure
Boston Red Sox second baseman Trevor Story, like Harper, was an early confirmee who had to bow out because of injury, having undergone elbow surgery. Team USA manager Mark DeRosa recently announced that Story’s roster spot will be taken by New York Mets second baseman Jeff McNeil, the 2022 National League batting champion.
There has been considerable turnover from the American team that won in 2017, including the entire catching corps of Buster Posey, Matthew LeCroy and A.J. Ellis. Their places have been taken by J.T. Realmuto of the Phillies and Will Smith of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Jones won’t be back, and Stroman has elected to pitch for Puerto Rico (his mother is Puerto Rican). Fellow starters Chris Archer, Danny Duffy and Drew Smyly won’t return. Neither will bullpen workhorse Sam Dyson.
Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman, who had just four at-bats in 2017, won’t be back. Ian Kinsler is managing Team Israel. Chicago White Sox second baseman Josh Harrison, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich, San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford and Chicago Cubs first baseman Eric Hosmer also are non-returnees.
Rosters won’t be finalized until Feb. 7, but the most notable absentee from Team USA is Aaron Judge, the record-setting Yankee slugger who signed a nine-year, $360 million contract to remain in the Bronx and is sliding into a new role as the team’s first captain since Derek Jeter. Other American stars who likely will not be included are Minnesota Twins outfielder Byron Buxton, Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynolds, Cubs shortstop Dansby Swanson, Texas Rangers shortstop Corey Seager and White Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi.
Still, the U.S. squad is loaded. Trout, Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, Pete Alonso, Clayton Kershaw, Nestor Cortes Jr., Adam Wainwright and Devin Williams are among the notable Americans making their WBC debuts.
The timing of the tournament — March 8 to March 21, a period when starting pitchers are still in the midst of stretching out their arms — makes bullpen composition so important. Williams, the Brewers closer, heads a bullpen that also includes Pirates closer David Bednar, Baltimore Orioles reliever Dillon Tate and Mets reliever Adam Ottavino.
Starting pitchers are headlined by Kershaw (Dodgers), Wainwright (St. Louis Cardinals), Cortes (Yankees) and Logan Webb (Giants). Kyle Freeland (Colorado Rockies), Brady Singer (Kansas City Royals) and Merrill Kelly (Arizona Diamondbacks) are other early commitments.
“I think the whole main reason we’re here is to win this thing,” Trout said. “All the other stuff is great, being able to play with each other, get to know each other a little bit more, but the only one thing on our mind is trying to win this whole thing.
“There’s a lot of great countries out there with a lot of great teams, but that’s the whole reason I signed up, is to win this thing and there’s nothing else, you know. Anything else is a failure.”
From an entertainment standpoint, there is also this: The possibility exists that Trout will face fellow Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani, who is playing for Team Japan.
“We talked about it during the year last year,” Trout said with a smile, “because I knew he was going to do it.
“I get a front-row seat every time he pitches when he’s with us. It’s pretty nasty. And every person I talk to that faces him says they don’t want to be in the box. It’s going to be interesting. I’m looking forward to it. He’s one of my good friends, so it’s going to be fun.”