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Dutch Players Take Leave From Spring Training For World Baseball Classic


I feel like I'm about to do one of those commercials aimed at an aging demographic in which a man with gray hair, if any, says something like this - if you, like me, suffer from advanced baseballophilia (ph), there are two things you can do about it this month.

One is the old fashioned treatment - watch pointless spring training games from Florida and Arizona. The other is guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of any truly addicted baseball fan. Watch the World Baseball Classic, baseball's attempt at a World Cup. Teams from 16 countries are competing in four pools. It's great fun. Sportswriter Jonah Keri joins us now. And, Jonah, are you as enthusiastic about the World Baseball Classic as I am?

JONAH KERI: Well, absolutely. And the thing that makes it exciting is that the players are invested in it. I mean, you could tell what indifference looks like. If you've ever watched an all-star game of any sport, that's what indifference looks like. But here, the players are hanging on every pitch. They're representing various nations and doing so with pride. And it really has generated a lot of excitement that way.

SIEGEL: The action has begun in Seoul, South Korea, and Tokyo, where pools A and B are taking place. And so far, we know three of the teams that are advancing to the round of eight, Japan - which would be considered a favorite, they've won a couple of World Baseball Classics - the Netherlands and Israel. The Netherlands, the Kingdom of the Netherlands as World Baseball power, tell me about that one.

KERI: Well, it's an interesting one. And you're not - maybe what you might think of as a typical Amsterdam native doesn't necessarily apply. A lot of it are Dutch colonies, you know, places like Curacao that have delivered some terrific baseball talent. You think of guys like Xander Bogaerts who've emerged as young stars in Major League Baseball leading that club.

So that's what really what we're talking about. And you could say the same thing for Israel. We're not talking about native-born Israelis. In that particular case, we're referring to - I guess you could call them members of the tribe that chose to play for the team. So the selection criteria by which you could play for a given nation, Freddie Freeman playing for Canada, not a Canadian, but has Canadian parents.

SIEGEL: Now, in the case of the Dutch team, you mentioned Bogaerts. Didi Gregorius from the New York Yankees is also playing. Several of their best players are playing. Not so the United States, you know, Mike Trout, probably best in the game, he's not playing. A lot of players have decided it's not worth missing spring training or risking an injury for the flag.

KERI: Yeah. Just to put a fine point on Mike Trout, we might be talking about the second coming of Willie Mays. I mean, that's how good he's been over the first few seasons of his career. But, you know, you look at the rest of the roster, there's still plenty of talent. And the players that are on the roster speak with pride about it.

So even though you might have a case where some players say, listen. It's a long season. I have to really pay attention to my regimen. And I can't commit to this. There's a little bit of a risk. There are plenty of guys that are embracing it.

SIEGEL: You mentioned the Israeli team, which so far hasn't filled in an actual Israeli, although there is, I believe, one on the roster. Ryan Braun, who was born in Jerusalem, is not part of the team. But there are several present or former high Minor League and Major League players. Sam Fuld is starring for this team.

KERI: Yeah. I can confirm that Sam Fuld is not Israeli because his parents live in Durham, N.H., across the street from where I used to live in Durham, N.H. So that is in fact the case. But he is another one of what you would call the members of the tribe and has had a pretty distinguished Major League career and is one of the leaders of a surprisingly talented club.

They do have some pretty interesting characters on that team. We'll see if they go up against some of the powerhouses, be it the U.S., the Dominican, what have you. But for now, a very impressive showing, 2-0 in the first round.

SIEGEL: And the Israelis, I think, do win the prize for best large stuffed mascot in their dugout.

KERI: Oh, no question about it. They refer to him as the Mensch on the Bench, looks a little bit rabbinical in nature and just could not be better. That's definitely been one of the highlights of the tournament.

SIEGEL: Sportswriter Jonah Keri on the World Baseball Classic. Thanks, Jonah.

KERI: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAWES SONG, "ONE OF US") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.