PHOENIX — He convinced me in a cornfield.
And after the United States’ first three games in the World Baseball Classic, manager Mark DeRosa sounds like a believer, too. He has lots of company.
Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, who hit a walk-off home run into the Iowa corn in the inaugural Field of Dreams game in 2021 — one of those dramatic moments seared into memory — is a player made for the big stage.
“He’s good,” said Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr., who is serving as Team USA’s hitting coach. “He’s really good, one of the most talented players in the league. When you talk about the best of the best, his name should be mentioned.
“To be on this field, with these guys, he deserves to be here. It’s fun watching him and learning a little bit more about him.”
And if the Americans intend to defend their WBC title, the two-time All-Star and former batting champion has to be on the field — even if it’s at second base, the position he had never played in 10 seasons of pro ball prior to his start there Monday in the U.S.’s 12-1 rout of Canada.
“What a talented ballplayer, honestly, giving us a spark, giving us an edge in the lineup, in the dugout,” said DeRosa, whose team can clinch a trip to the WBC quarterfinals in Miami with a win against Colombia on Wednesday night.
“(He) wants the moment. Got an edge about him. I think he came in here … it’s a feeling-out process at first. I think he wanted to let some people know how good he was in that dugout, in that clubhouse, the coaching staff, on down the line. He has really caught a lot of people's eyes on this team.”
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Is Anderson made for big moments? He doesn’t hesitate to answer the question.
“Yeah, for sure,” Anderson said during a Team USA workout last week. “Just embracing the moment. Not really shying away from it. I think it’s good when you just jump in and ride.
“There’s only two things you can have: You either get it done, or you can’t. That’s just how you’re going to roll with it. Just think positive and just try to come up big for your team.”
So far, that’s exactly what he’s done at the WBC. On the bench for the Americans’ 6-2 victory against Great Britain last Saturday, Anderson started at shortstop the next night and was a rare bright spot in a surprising 11-5 loss to Mexico. He drove in three runs with two hits and sprinted nearly half a football field to track down a fly ball that almost landed by the left-field foul pole at Chase Field.
In Monday night’s must-win against Canada, Anderson walked and scored during a nine-run first inning, then tripled home a run and scored ahead of Trea Turner’s home run in the second.
“This is for the world,” he said. “We’re representing the U.S., but this is not just for the team — this is for the world. This is something real big, another moment that’s gonna be here forever. No one can take it away from me.”
Just like his memorable blast into the corn against New York Yankees reliever Zack Britton. The spectacular finish turned a gimmick into something unforgettable.
“Such a blessing to be right in the mix of some of the great moments in baseball,” Anderson said. “Like you said, that moment is going to be around forever. I’m forever grateful. I won’t take anything for granted. I think that was good for the baseball world. Such a cool moment, and the first time putting it on in the cornfields.
“We set the bar high. That game was just blow for blow, all the way down to the last pitch, and I was able to walk it off.”
New York Mets All-Star Jeff McNeil, who had the highest batting average (.326) in the majors last season, started Team USA’s first two games at second base. Anderson, who didn’t hesitate when asked to play second because he had spent enough time on the right side of the bag in infield shifts, may force a change of plans.
“He's a star,” said Mike Trout, who homered Monday but may have to share his “Captain America” sobriquet if Anderson keeps playing at this level. “There's no way else to put it. I think when we went to Chicago, watching him play, I don't think we got him out, to be honest.”
Right-hander Lance Lynn, who gave the U.S. five strong innings against Canada, sees Anderson on a daily basis as a White Sox teammate.
“I think you've seen it over the course of his career. Every year, he's gotten better,” Lynn said. “And everybody tells him that he can't do something or something like that, he's going to prove you wrong and do everything that he can to win, no matter where he is, whatever the situation is, whatever situation you put him in.
“And that's who he is. He's going to win at all costs.”
Anderson, who last year became the first White Sox shortstop to start an All-Star Game since Luis Aparicio in 1970, tore a hand ligament on Aug. 6 to end his 2022 season. The White Sox, who were heavy favorites to repeat as American League Central champions, were already playing desultory baseball. Without him, they limped to the finish line, 11 games behind the division champion Cleveland Guardians.
First baseman Jose Abreu, who signed with the Houston Astros this offseason, said the White Sox “weren’t a family” last year. Anderson was asked if it hurt to hear Abreu’s comments.
“It didn’t hurt at all,” he said. “Everything he felt, I felt, and that’s OK. Sometimes that’s what you need. If he didn’t say that, then he’s lying. I think it’s only right to be honest. And you always got to face real. I think that was a real comment, and I back him up. And I support it.
“And now things are better because he said that. Now we’re building chemistry to get back to that family thing. He’s absolutely right. We had a lot of people go in different directions, and that’s OK. My year didn’t turn out like it was supposed to, but now it’s a new year. Now we know what to do to get better, and now we know what we can control, have fun and be together as one.”
Anderson, an Alabama native, turns 30 in June. Have we already seen the best of him? Not even close, he says. And he hopes you’re paying attention.
The world is his stage, and he’s not avoiding the spotlight.
“You can always go higher,” he said. “While you’re here, you want to be the greatest. I want to be the greatest for sure. I want to be one of the greatest ever to do it. I want to keep playing with excitement, keep playing with energy.”