Gleyber Torres explains why it meant so much to play for Venezuela in the WBC
TAMPA, Fla. — To baseball fans who don’t “get” the World Baseball Classic and don’t appreciate why it matters so much to players, consider the example of Gleyber Torres, who returned to the Yankees on Tuesday after experiencing the WBC as a member of the Venezuelan team.
Torres’ native country, according to the BBC, “is engulfed in a political and economic crisis,” and is plagued by crime and violence.
Despite what Torres called “many troubles” at home, he and his countrymen proudly wore the Venezuelan uniform in the WBC. Venezuela made it to the quarterfinals before being eliminated by the U.S. on Saturday.
“The situation we have in the country, it’s hard,” Torres said. “But with those games we feel — and we saw — many really good comments that we (brought) the people in Venezuela together. I think that is the best experience we had. I think after the game we lost, for sure it’s sad, but we’re talking about how we impacted our country. Many troubles, but at those games the country was together with us, and I think that is the beautiful thing about baseball.”
Torres called the WBC “amazing. It was, I think, the best moment in my life playing baseball for all my Venezuelan people. It was really great — the atmosphere, the people there. The energy was really amazing.
“I don’t know how the World Series is in New York. I think it’s awesome, too. But the WBC is amazing. It’s another level. Many Latin players. Many Latin people. The crowd, the fans, the energy when you play in those situations is just unreal."
Torres has twice reached the American League Championship Series in his five years with the Yankees, but he has never played in the World Series.
Torres was on the Venezuelan roster with Yankees nemesis Jose Altuve, the Astros’ second baseman, so Torres didn’t get much playing time. He had 10 at-bats and picked up one hit.
Altuve suffered a fractured thumb when he was hit by a pitch in the loss to the U.S. on Saturday. Torres was already in the lineup as the designated hitter.
It may surprise (and annoy) Yankees fans that Torres — who grew a beard during the WBC — enjoyed being on the same team as Altuve.
“We didn’t talk about anything from (Yankees-Astros) games,” Torres said. “We just played for our country. The past is in the past. We turned the page and tried to enjoy everything there. He helped me on little things. I learned many things from every player.”
The Venezuelan roster also included All-Stars such as Salvador Perez, Ronald Acuna Jr., Andres Gimenez and the Mets’ Eduardo Escobar. All will be foes of Torres and the Yankees at some point this season.
But for two weeks in March, on a stage unique to the WBC, the countrymen were teammates.
“When you’ve got that opportunity to play for your country and you know most of the other players from your country, it’s amazing,” Torres said. “The relationships that you make there is another level because during the season, you maybe see the player, you say, ‘Hi.’ But at those moments together, it’s amazing.”
Torres returned to the Yankees' lineup on Tuesday and went 1-for-3 with an RBI in the Yankees' 6-3 win over the Tigers at Steinbrenner Field. Torres had 13 at-bats with four hits in Grapefruit League play before he left to join his WBC squad.
Unless he is traded to help ease the Yankees’ infield glut, Torres will be at second base on Opening Day when the Yankees host the Giants. He will use the last week of spring training to get ready, but he already feels ready because of his WBC experience.
“It’s a little bit different than a normal spring,” he said. “I felt like those kind of games and situations helped me because it’s like World Series (or) playoffs every day.”