Imagine, if you will, that you are twenty-two years old. If you actually are twenty-two, enjoy the relative ease of this assignment.
Now imagine that you’re twenty-two, and you’re a left-handed pitching prospect who’d been pitching for six years between Rookie, A, and A-Advanced leagues. You’ve done pretty well for yourself – throwing 471.1 innings in that time, going 22-26 with 4 saves, 534 K to just 221 BB, a 3.49 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP. Nice, clean, crisp pitching line, and your best year is also your most recent one.
Now imagine that you get called by your home country to pitch in the World Baseball Classic.
Wow, what an honor! What an exciting opportunity for someone who’s never played against anything beyond the Florida State League.
Now imagine that your first assignment, as a 22-year-old A-Advanced pitcher playing for your country, is to enter a game with a slim lead and two runners on base.
Your job? Pitch to Robinson Cano, Hanley Ramirez, and David Ortiz without allowing any of those two runs to score. No pressure, right?
Alexander Smit didn’t shut down the Dominican Republic. In fact, he issued a walk, gave up a hit, and got just one out – on a sacrifice fly. Still, my hat’s off to the kid for coming in against overwhelming odds and going right after some world-class hitters.
I’ve been on the fence about the World Baseball Classic, but watching Smit – who pitches in the Cincinnati Reds organization – take the ball with confidence, and exit with his team’s lead still intact despite overwhelming odds… that moment right there may have pushed me over the edge.
That is what the WBC is all about.