For this Classic, Stroman's heart is with Puerto Rico

Defending MVP as Team USA member honors mom by switching sides

February 16th, 2023

MESA, Ariz. -- remembers covering his ears for a moment after taking the field at loanDepot park in Miami. The chanting, horns and drums from the crowd -- full of fans getting ready to get raucous for the Dominican Republic's team -- was unlike anything he had experienced.

"The sound was overwhelming," Stroman said. "And those are the type of things that excite me. I feel like those are the environments, the moments you want to be in and play in. And I'm someone who strives for those moments."

At the time, Stroman was pitching for Team USA in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, and that intimidating atmosphere was merely a first-round matchup with the D.R. in pool play. Stroman went on to help the Americans defeat Puerto Rico in the championship game, picking up the tournament's MVP honor along with his gold medal.

Six years later, Stroman is switching sides. When the Classic arrives in March, the Cubs starter will be suiting up for Puerto Rico to honor his mother, Adlin. Stroman was born in New York, but his mom is Puerto Rican, making him eligible for both teams.

"I'm beyond excited," Stroman said. "My mother is my heart. She's my rock. She's my best friend. She's my blood. So any time I can represent that woman -- I love her more than anything -- anything for Mom."

In the last World Baseball Classic, Stroman made three starts for Team USA, leading the tourney in innings (15 1/3) and logging a 2.35 ERA with nine strikeouts. All four of the runs he allowed came in the first inning of a second-round loss to Puerto Rico, but the USA team still advanced to the championship round.

During that title game, Stroman spun six no-hit innings before allowing a double to Ángel Pagán in the seventh. No harm done. Team USA rolled to a decisive 8-0 victory to pick up its first Classic title. Puerto Rico finished as the runner-up for the second tournament in a row.

Stroman is hoping to help bring gold to the island.

"I can't wait to get around those guys," he said. "We have a pretty dominant team. So we can do some pretty special things with that Puerto Rican team. And I'm just looking to help and add in any way I can."

In particular, Stroman said he is excited to play with shortstops Francisco Lindor and Javier Báez.

"Those are legit my favorite players," Stroman said. "I love how those guys go about the game. I love their intensity, what they bring, their swag. So yeah, I feel like I resonate with those guys, how I dress, my culture. I'm excited to be on the field with them."

Stroman also noted that Blue Jays pitcher José Berríos lives a few houses down from him in Florida.

"Berríos is my homie," Stroman said with a smile.

Stroman is coming off a relatively successful first season with the Cubs, having posted a 3.50 ERA overall and a 2.56 ERA in his final 16 outings. Health issues limited him to 138 2/3 innings, but Stroman said he is prepared for a full workload this year. And he believes the Classic can be beneficial for him, too.

Following the World Baseball Classic experience in 2017, Stroman went on to throw 201 innings for the Blue Jays, and that came after 204 innings the previous year. In that '17 campaign, Stroman had his best ERA+ (145) over a full season, ending with a 3.09 ERA and 164 strikeouts over 33 starts.

"It was the best thing possible. I felt so strong. I felt like I was midseason ready," Stroman said of pitching in the Classic. "When you put your body in a position earlier where it's ready to rock, I feel like you're just stronger, more stable. It just kind of leads into the year."

Besides, Stroman said the way he trains, he would be ready for the tournament at any point in the calendar.

"I would be ready to throw in January," Stroman said with a laugh. "I could throw in the WBC in December."

Puerto Rico is part of Pool D in Miami with the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Israel and Nicaragua, which all open play from March 11-15. If Puerto Rico keeps advancing, the quarterfinals (March 17-18), semifinals (March 19-20) and championship (March 21) will all take place in Miami.

Stroman is looking forward to walking into that same environment, but with the Puerto Rican flag on his uniform this time.

"The WBC experience is the best experience I've had playing baseball. I'll tell everybody that," Stroman said. "I feel like it displays baseball in the best light. I feel like it just puts baseball on a world stage. It shows you the excitement, the instruments, the chants, the culture that it involves. It's incredible.

"I would always encourage anybody to play in the WBC, because it's truly a one-of-one, very unique experience that you don't get even playing in MLB."