Friday, February 8, 2013

By Brian Waller, Columnist --


I know I know, there are some people that can’t get excited or pumped up for the World Baseball Classic (WBC) no matter how much hype the tournament gets. It’s definitely not for everyone and there are obvious flaws in the set-up, format, etc. but I still find it very intriguing. As fans of Major League Baseball (MLB), we all have our favorite teams that we pledge allegiance to. That’s the beautiful thing about the MLB; there is a team for everybody. What I love about the WBC is that all rivalries are thrown out the window in the name of national pride. There are no Yankee/Red Sox or Phillies/Mets rivalries for about a three week span; there’s just unconditional support for players representing our country on the global stage. For this period of time Shane Victorino isn’t representing the Red Sox and Mark Teixeira isn’t representing the Yankees. Same goes for David Wright and Jimmy Rollins; they are putting their rivalries on hold and leaving their team apparel in Florida for a chance to represent the USA. Like I said in an earlier piece, the WBC is approaching fast and we plan on previewing all participating teams to get those of you interested up to speed before the tournament kicks off in early March. We covered the 2-time defending champs Japan last week; now we are moving on to the WBC’s freshest face…Brazil.

The Brazil National Baseball team represents the nation of Brazil (obviously) in senior-level men’s international competition and is a member of the Pan American Baseball Confederation. The Brazilian team is composed in large part of Japanese-Brazilian players who tend to have Portuguese first names and Japanese last names.

Brazil recently went from an unknown underdog to being the most dominant team of the Panama qualifier; could this be a WBC Cinderella story in the making? Prior to the start of the qualifying tournament, few would have been able to name any Brazilian baseball players other than Indians catcher Yan Gomes, heck very few still might not be able to name any players. The world better take notice though, they have less than a month to learn about this improbable baseball squad, one which showed amazing attention to detail throughout the tournament and also displayed fantastic pitching.

Here comes the beautiful part about the WBC; as the sport continues to grow and develop in Brazil in the near future, the tournament will undoubtedly be looked upon as a turning point in the country’s baseball history. Brazil has always been globally known for competing in the sport of soccer but now, with the inspired play of this baseball squad, it is primed to take the global stage in the WBC tournament. 

Although Brazil has seemingly come from nowhere to take the qualifying tournament by storm, they are actually led by a very familiar name that any baseball fan would recognize, Barry Larkin. That’s right; Hall of Famer Barry Larkin is managing Brazil this year in the WBC. Larkin is credited as being a key figure in the country’s player development the past three years, along with his assistant coaches who have been building the program even longer. According to Larkin, many of the coaches have been working with the players on the team since they were 10, 11, and 12 years old. It’s apparent that a lot of time and dedication has gone into this forming this club into the unit it is today..

Players to Watch:

Andre Rienzo is a 24 year old righty in the Chicago White Sox organization. Rienzo has pitched in the White Sox organization for 6 seasons and has a career 29-20 record in the minors with a 3.30 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP. Rienzo, ranked the 7th top prospect in the White Sox organization by Baseball America, ended his Arizona Fall League season early so he could pitch for Brazil in the World Baseball Classic qualifying tournament in Panama.

Yan Gomes has the distinction of being the first Brazilian-born player in major league history. The 25 year old catcher/infielder was originally drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 39th round of the 2008 amateur draft but he chose not to sign. In 2009 he was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 10th round and this time he chose to sign with the club. In 2012 Gomes made his debut at the major league level with the Jays. He would finish the year batting only .204 (20-for-98) with 4 home runs and 13 RBI’s. Although it isn’t the most flattering stat line, the fact he became the first player to represent his country at the major league level made him a national hero of sorts. 

Why You Should Care:

This Brazil squad may not have what it takes to make a deep run in the WBC but they definitely have what it takes to play spoiler. They may not have what it takes to upset the reigning 2-time WBC champs (Japan) in Pool A, but I would not be surprised to see this fundamentally sound Brazilian team complete with China and Cuba. Like I stated previously, this is a squad that began its Cinderella run in the qualifying round; they remind a lot of people of the Netherlands team that upset the Dominican Republic in 2009.

Barry Larkin is the manager! This is Larkin’s first time managing any team and he is doing it on a global stage. Larkin has always been known for his solid fundamentals and his tremendous defense; traits that seem to be rubbing off on his Brazilian team. Larkin was quoted in recent interviews as stating he really enjoys the “x’s and o’s” of the game. Larkin explained he may be interested in managing again down the road but see this opportunity, coaching Brazil, as a onetime deal citing his desire to spend time with his 16-year-old sophomore daughter. It will be fun to watch the Hall of Famer manage this underdog team throughout the tournament.

Interesting Fact(s):

Due to the heavy influence from the Japanese baseball community in Brazil, the team is opening WBC in Pool A, which is competing in Japan. Brazil was originally scheduled to go to Puerto Rico but due to the baseball lineage it was decided they would play in Japan. 

Barry Larkin is no stranger to the WBC. He helped coach team USA in 2009 when Davey Johnson managed the squad. 

Next Up:

We are approaching March rather quickly so the next preview will be a two-for-one deal…China and Cuba.
Love to hear what you think!

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