Lakeland, Fla. — After he committed to play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, Ian Kinsler reached out to his former teammate in Texas, Michael Young, who played in the 2006 Classic.
“He said it’s kind of a mix between a playoff game and an All-Star Game,” Kinsler said. “However you want to take it.”
If you’ve watched Kinsler play over the years, you know exactly how he’s going to take it — like a playoff game.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “I don’t think we are going there just to show up. I want to win. I think the team they put together, the players on this team are ultra-competitive and want to win. I don’t think there are any guys going just to play.”
Young’s point is well-taken, though. In fact, it’s been at the crux of Team USA’s inability to be competitive in the WBC format. The games take place early in spring training, and most of the players’ main priority is to their respective MLB teams and getting ready for a 162-game schedule.
So, the question becomes, can these players truly go all in for this tournament? Don’t even bother to ask Kinsler.
“I can’t go all in for it?” he asked, incredulously. “I can go all in for it. When you are representing your country, all that goes by the wayside and you are ready to play. You are going to do what it takes to win.”
The Tigers have 15 players playing in the tournament, and 12 are in big-league camp. Ten of those players will be leaving starting this weekend with Kinsler, Victor Martinez, Bruce Rondon, Francisco Rodriguez and Miguel Cabrera leaving Monday.
It’s an exodus the Tigers prepared for by inviting more non-roster players to camp than usual. There are 63 players in big-league camp.
“The position players that are going, it’s not like they are fighting for spots,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “The pitchers are a little more of a concern for me, making sure they get the work they need and they’re not overworked in the WBC.
“But Major League Baseball and the teams in the tournament do a good job keeping us informed about the pitchers they use and how much they’ve thrown.”
For a player like Kinsler, the routine doesn’t change — whether he is taking swings in exhibition games or in the WBC.
“Baseball is baseball, and either way you are still getting ready for the season,” he said. “I still go out there in spring training games and I’m trying to beat the guy out there on the mound. I am still trying to get a good pitch and hit it well.
“In spring you can take a few at-bats to work on things you need to work on, but at the same time, I don’t ever want to go an extended period of time without getting a hit or squaring something up.”
Kinsler is keenly aware of America’s pedestrian showings in past WBC tournaments. While it’s not exactly pressure he feels, there is an intense competitive urgency to rectify the situation.
“It’s a challenging tournament with a lot of good teams and there’s not a series of games (against the same country),” he said. “Baseball is a funny game, so you just never know. There’s got to be some luck on your side.
“But I know what my mindset is and that’s to win. To be able to say you are a champion with Team USA would be pretty special.”