By Lenny Ortiz
There was a World Series atmosphere in early March in Jalisco, Mexico where team Italy hosted a hungry Venezuela squad in the WBC Tournament that is being played every four years before the start of another Major League Baseball season. Venezuela coming off a surprising mercy defeat to team Puerto Rico in seven innings looked to save their World Baseball Classic chances by coming up big against a pesky Italian team that scored five straight runs in the bottom of the ninth to upset host team Mexico.
The game was nodded up 8-8 in the top of the 9th, with a man on first and one out, Kansas City Royals’ All-Star Backstop Salvador Perez stepped up to the plate for his national squad. With all of Venezuela watching, the 2015 World Series winner delivered an emphatic two-run home run that soared over the fence in the left-center gap. An eruption sprung out in the stadium, a beautiful moment of heroics that any fan of the game would surely appreciate.
His Venezuelan teammates poured out of their dugout as if it were Game 7 of the World Series. It was truly a beautiful sight.
However, just as they did in their first game, the Italians put a ningh inning rally together and with the tying run on third, winning run at first, two outs and two strikes, Mets’ prospect and former first round pick Gavin Cecchini delivered a single off of former Mets’ closer Francisco Rodriguez to tie the game.
When the cutoff throw from the outfield got away, Royals’ backup catcher Drew Butera ran through third base coach Nick Punto’s stop sign and tried to be a hero for his country. He came up short for his squad and Venezuela quickly threw the ball in to Salvador Perez at the plate.
An awkward slide at home and Butera was tagged out that prompted more drama and questions about injuries to players in the WBC and timing of when this tournament should be played.
The injury at the time looked as if it would be potentially season threatening for Perez. Managers, players, and fans all held their breath at the scene of Perez being helped into the clubhouse. This play led to questions about the international exhibition tournament.
These participants do not get paid for their efforts, nor do their respective MLB organizations receive anything for allowing their million dollar investments to play in the tournament.
However, the game of baseball is beyond the money making business side of things. Yes, it would be devastating for the Kansas City Royals to lose their best player in a freak injury in a game that ultimately does not mean anything to them.
But for Salvador Perez, this game matched up to his World Series experiences in 2014 & 2015.
To represent your country and give your fellow countrymen a sense of pride and excitement is absolutely priceless. For players of international origins, the World Baseball Classic is the greatest level of competition. You are not playing for billionaire owners, you are playing for your family, your friends, and your flag, and there is no greater reason to play the game.
Moments before Perez’s unfortunate injury he unleashed a jaw-dropping, dramatic home run that put a smile on the faces, goosebumps on the skin of millions of Venezuelans across the world. That’s why you play the game.
Injuries aren’t just a part of the game, they are a part of life. Just ask Joba Chamberlain who in 2012 suffered a serious ankle injury that ultimately cost him his entire season while playing with his five- year old son.
Or even Mariano Rivera who in the same season tore his ACL shagging fly balls during pre-game batting practice as he did every day of his career.
Accidents happen and Perez’s injury was unfortunate. The MRI revealed that it was just a sprain in his knee and he should be fine to play Opening Day for the Royals. As for the WBC, it looks like he will have to wait another four years to represent his native Venezuela.
Lenny Ortiz is a journalism intern and contributor for The Bronx Chronicle. Contact Lenny: ORTILJ13@oneonta.edu