Among the many Cardinals players scheduled to compete in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, the levels of pride and excitement are soaring.
Adam Wainwright -- someone whose Twitter profile shows a picture of his face painted in stars and stripes -- can’t wait to tug on his red, white and blue jersey. He calls Cardinals and Team USA teammate Miles Mikolas “the most patriotic person I know.” The friendship between Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado started not when they became Cardinals but back in 2017, when they competed for Team USA and talked hitting daily over breakfast.
Tommy Edman’s appearance for Korea will allow his mother to travel back to her native country for the first time in decades, while Lars Nootbaar found motivation to play for Japan because the mention of it made his mother smile. As for Andre Pallante, he’ll get to tap into a part of his heritage he admittedly knows little about while competing for Italy.
“The intensity of those games is like playoff games, dare I say a World Series type of atmosphere,” said Goldschmidt, who anchored Team USA’s 2017 WBC championship. “Then, when you went back to start your regular season, you were locked in. So, I was basically begging to be on the team again.”
The excitement for the Classic even extends to those who won’t be playing for their counties. With potentially as many as 12 Cardinals missing from Spring Training, there will be extra at-bats and innings for veterans looking to bounce back from poor performance in 2022 or young upstarts hoping to make favorable impressions.
Dylan Carlson, who has added some noticeable muscle and is finally free of the wrist and thumb injuries that hampered him, will hit in the middle of the Cardinals’ order throughout the spring. Paul DeJong -- who has spent the past three months at the club’s complex in Jupiter, Fla., working to rid his swing of a high leg kick -- should see playing time at second base, third and shortstop to get as many at-bats as possible.
As for the youngsters, 20-year-old sensation Jordan Walker is the headliner, and he’ll get every opportunity to play his way onto the Opening Day roster. Pitching prospects Gordon Graceffo, Michael McGreevy and Connor Thomas have already tailored their offseason workouts to be ready to compete for an MLB job this spring.
“With the opportunity for the rest of us presenting itself, I definitely want to take advantage,” said McGreevy, who has been working on a four-seam fastball for 2023. “Going into Spring Training, I’ll eat the crumbs if I have to, because I want as much exposure to the big leagues as I can get.”
Free-agent signee Willson Contreras will get plenty of exposure to his new Cardinals teammates after turning down an invitation from Venezuela for the WBC. Contreras views his transition to St. Louis so important that he is planning to work in Jupiter twice a week starting Monday so that he can drill with Wainwright and Mikolas before they leave for the Classic. Then, Contreras will be with the Cardinals throughout Spring Training.
“For me, it was not an easy decision, but I know my responsibilities,” Contreras said. “I talked to [president of baseball operations John Mozeliak] and said, ‘My priority is to stay here with the team and spend as much time as I can with everyone.’”
Although some might be concerned about the Cardinals’ ability to jell with all the absences from Spring Training, Arenado said there should be no fear whatsoever.
“It was a little concerning when I saw all the guys who are playing, but at the end of the day, we already have great chemistry,” Arenado said. “To be honest, when I played in it in 2017, I feel like it got me more ready for the season than Spring Training. So, there’s a huge positive to it.”