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But those won’t be the sole highlights of the upcoming baseball season (which to the hardcore fans begins Tuesday, yes Valentine’s Day, with the opening of spring training camps for both of Chicago’s ball clubs).
FOR IT SEEMS this is one of those quadrennial years in which the World Baseball Classic, first held in 2006, will be held beginning March 6 amongst national teams competing for an international championship of sorts – ending March 22 with a real “world” champion at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
It also seems that 16 of the players competing on those teams during March are guys who will be spending this summer playing ball for either the Chicago teams or their assorted minor league affiliates.
A sign that there is hope for the White Sox future if they actually have players in their organization who are considered among the world’s baseball elite?
As things turn out, the national team from Puerto Rico (which earlier this week had a ball club win the Caribbean Series that represents the symbolic championship of Latin America) will have in its infield for the World Baseball Classic the Cubs’ infielder Baez.
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WHILE HECTOR RONDON will be a relief pitcher for the Venezuela national team. Six Cubs minor leaguers will be playing for national teams from Italy, Canada, Mexico and Colombia, along with Venezuela and Puerto Rico.
Erling Moreno, the Cubs’ farmhand who will play for Colombia, will be able to count White Sox ace Quintaña as his teammate for a few weeks, while White Sox pitcher Miguel Gonzalez will be playing for Mexico.
Then, there will be the two arms that White Sox fans will be counting on to be their relief pitchers for 2017 – David Robertson and Nate Jones.
Both of them will be playing for the United States national team, with many baseball observers saying this year’s U.S. team may well be stocked with enough talent to actually be capable of winning the World Baseball Classic (which in 2006 and 2009 was won by Japan and in 2013 was won by the Dominican Republic).
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If that isn’t enough of a Chicago connection for you, take into account that the Canada national team will include on its roster Ryan Dempster. As in the former Chicago Cubs pitcher.
He hasn’t pitched in the major leagues since 2013. But perhaps he still has enough to be capable of pitching a game or two in coming weeks, and probably has dreams that he can throw well-enough during the games to be played in Miami that he can entertain a baseball comeback.
Either that, or he figures March in Miami will be far more pleasant weather-wise than it will be in his home province of British Columbia.
NOW I KNOW some baseball fans mock the concept of the World Baseball Classic, claiming it somehow is phony or perhaps threatens the existence of their favorite ball clubs during the regular season that will begin April 2 with, among other games, the Cubs traveling to St. Louis to play the Cardinals.
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Although I have never bought either concept. If anything, watching some of these games will be more interesting than the prospect of a Minnesota Twins/Tampa Bay Rays game. And as for the threat of an injury to Quintaña during a game, wouldn’t the White Sox be harmed just as much if he got hurt during a spring workout or exhibition game at their training camp in Glendale Heights, Ariz.?
Part of what I enjoy about this tourney is that it provides competitive baseball at a time when the wintry weather would otherwise be depressing – the same reason I followed the Caribbean Series rather than the Super Bowl on Sunday.
Besides, that alludes to the other benefit – the arrival of baseball means spring can’t be that far away. It’s certainly a better signal of good things to come than any silly groundhog in Punxsutawney, Penn. – who for all we know cast his vote last November to swing the Quaker State's Electoral College votes over to Donald Trump before going underground for the winter to hibernate!