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Timing of WBC not fair to Latin countries, V-Mart says

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera, with Victor Martinez to his left, makes a throw to first after fielding the ball Sunday.

Lakeland, Fla. – It’s not a perfect set-up. Nobody associated with World Baseball Classic believes staging the tournament in early March is ideal, or conducive to getting the best players to play at peak performance.

The games are essentially being played two to three weeks into spring training.

“Let’s be honest,” Victor Martinez said, “there’s nobody ready to play that tournament. It’s spring training. In spring training you play four or five innings, get two or three at-bats and you’re out of the game.

“Can you imagine what’s going to happen in the tournament if after four or five innings they take everybody out and put another team in? They are going to blow us up?”

Martinez, who is the designated hitter for Team Venezuela, believes playing the tournament so early, when players aren’t fully conditioned, is a bigger issue for Latin American teams, for whom the WBC is a more significant sporting event.

“They are going to have to find a different time to do this,” he said. “It’s not fair for the Latin countries – the Dominican, Puerto Rico, Venezuela – where there is so much passion. I am just going to talk about Venezuela. That’s all they have – baseball.

“The big hope they have is sport. This is a tough situation. … It’s not fair for our fans or ourselves.”

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The tournament is so big, so important to the national pride of those countries, Martinez said, there are often serious ramifications when the team falls short of expectations, which Team Venezuela did in the first WBC.

“We have a lot of pride and our fans have a lot of pride,” he said. “If we don’t do good, it’s really bad.”

There is also a greater risk of injury, Martinez said.

“I played in the first WBC and it was beautiful,” he said. “But it can be dangerous. The adrenalin rushes, you are representing your country and you see all the fans going crazy. I remember Carlos Zambrano, the former Cubs pitcher, he's throwing 95-97 mph in warm-ups.

“Nobody is ready that early. It’s hard to turn on that switch; it’s a little too soon.”

Martinez suggested that in the years the WBC is held (every four years), spring training should start on Feb. 1. Then players would have six full weeks of spring training before embarking on the three week tournament.

“Playing it the All-Star break – that’s not going to happen,” he said. “Playing at the end of the season, you are going to have fatigued players and hurt players. But if you start on Feb. 1 and do six weeks – it’s just once every four years. You give up just a little bit every four years.”

Martinez pointed to other sports leagues – FIFA and the NHL – who stop their seasons to facilitate world tournaments and Olympics.

“That’s big,” he said. “Then you can give your all to represent your country with no restrictions. We have a lot of players get shut down and can’t go. And we have a lot of kids who have to stay here and try to make the team. It’s tough.

“It’s not a good spot to put our fans or our players.”

Here’s the rub against Martinez’s suggestion.

“The problem with starting camp that early is, just using us as an example,” said manager Brad Ausmus. “We have 63 guys in camp and 15 are playing in the WBC. So you’d be asking 48 people to cut their offseason short, despite the fact they aren’t going to participate in the WBC.”

A compromise would be to have each team in the WBC hold their own training camp in early February, but MLB teams would balk at having their players train away from their facilities and coaches.

“You could cancel the All-Star game and cut 10 days out of the middle of the season,” Ausmus suggested. “But even that’s not perfect. Either way, somebody is going to have to give up something.”

Twitter @cmccosky