Cards trio pumped to rep Team USA in Classic

February 8th, 2023

The start of play in the World Baseball Classic is still several weeks away, but that hasn’t done anything to stop the trash talk that is already underway, especially between former longtime teammates and new rivals and Yadier Molina.

Wainwright and Molina, the most durable (328 starts) and successful (213 wins) battery in NL/AL history who played together with the Cardinals for 17 seasons, could find themselves on opposite sides in the upcoming WBC. The 41-year-old Wainwright, who plans to retire following this season, is pitching for Team USA, while the recently retired Molina will be managing Puerto Rico’s powerful WBC entry. Already, they have discussed the odd feelings they will experience if they face off with a WBC championship on the line.

“Yadi told me since I was his ‘brother,’ I should be on Team Puerto Rico,” joked Wainwright, who candidly admitted that being snubbed from the 2004 Olympic qualifying team motivated him for years and made him want to compete for Team USA this year. “I told him I couldn’t wait to pitch against Puerto Rico, and he said, ‘Well, I’m going to know every pitch.’”

MLB Network will reveal the 20 WBC rosters on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET/5 p.m. CT. The WBC begins March 8 and ends with the championship game March 21 in Miami.

The Cardinals figure to have one of the largest contingents of MLB players participating in the tournament. Superstars and will join pitcher Miles Mikolas and Wainwright on Team USA. Fellow Cardinals Tommy Edman (South Korea), Lars Nootbaar (Japan), Tyler O'Neill (Canada), Andre Pallante (Italy), Génesis Cabrera (Dominican Republic) and Giovanny Gallegos (Mexico) will also play in the WBC.

Goldschmidt and Arenado, two of the top three finishers in the NL MVP race last season, first formed a tight friendship while helping Team USA win the WBC championship in 2017. Both have acted as unofficial recruiters for this season’s team, and they were delighted to see stars such as Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and Trea Turner sign on to be a part of the 2023 effort.

“Last time, one of the topics was how some of the main guys didn’t play, and because Team USA had never won, a lot of our guys had a chip on our shoulder to be the first to win it and we were able to do that,” Goldschmidt said. “Hopefully that showing motivated more guys to want to play. As I’ve said before, it was one of the greatest baseball experiences I’ve ever had.”

If history is any indicator, Arenado and Goldschmidt could be in for another big season after their work is done leading Team USA. In 2017, when they were key figures on USA’s WBC title team, they carried that momentum over into the season and cranked out monster numbers. Arenado, who hit .309 with 37 home runs, 130 RBIs and an NL-best 43 doubles in 2017 while finishing fourth in MVP voting, feels the intensity of playing for his country. Knowing a world title was on the line readied him for the MLB season in ways Spring Training never could.

“Just the intense games and that intense environment the WBC has, it gets you ready quick because you have no other choice but to get ready fast,” said Arenado, who noted that Nootbaar has been trash-talking him for weeks about a potential USA/Japan showdown. “Every game is so important, and you usually don’t play important games in March. When you play for Team USA, it’s very important to try and win this thing again, and that gets you ready.

“Opening Day in St. Louis is a special day, but in 2017, [MLB Opening Day] didn’t feel that big because we had just got done playing in the WBC and it was such a great environment.”

Wainwright, who reached out to USA manager Mark DeRosa last summer to express his overwhelming interest in playing in the WBC, started his throwing program earlier than ever this offseason. He wants to be ready to potentially help Team USA win gold -- even if it means beating Molina’s Puerto Rico team to do so.

“My body’s moving good, arm’s moving good and I’m making sure I’m at least a week or two ahead of where I’d be normally,” Wainwright said. “I’m old, but if the years have taught me anything, it’s how to prepare for Spring Training and get everything out of my body. More than anything, I’m just excited to play and represent our country.”