By Matt Meyers
February 16, 2006
In the litany of sports columns that have criticized the World Baseball Classic, one of the more common refrains is the absurdity of having American-born players such as Mike Piazza and Mark Mulder on the provisional rosters for Italy and the Netherlands.
This complaint reached a comical level when Athletics righthander Dan Haren was informed that he was listed on the Dutch provisional roster. Haren, who was born in Monterey Park, Calif., insists that his father is 100 percent Irish and his mother 100 percent Mexican. The point is moot in Haren's case, however, because even though he is listed on the United States roster as well, he has decided against playing in the Classic to concentrate on preparing for the upcoming season with Oakland.
The Classic's eligibility requirements are extremely lax. Even if you are not a citizen of a country, you are eligible to play for it as long as you were born there or have a parent who either is a citizen of the country or was born there. Additionally, if a player is qualified for citizenship or to hold a passport under the laws of a nation represented by a team, but has not been granted citizenship or been issued a passport, then the player may be made eligible upon petition by the player or country.
The goal of these lenient requirements appears to be to maximize competitive balance. Italy and the Netherlands (the two countries who benefit the most from these rules) do not have native players to compete with the likes of the United States and Venezuela—there are no Italians in the major leagues—but they might put up a fight with American big leaguers who fulfill the eligibility requirements.
Italian Baseball Federation president Riccardo Fraccari decided his country's team would respect Olympic guidelines requiring citizenship, recognizing that Italy has complicated citizenship laws that nonetheless would widen the pool of players for Italy significantly. Players such as former big league catcher Mike DiFelice, whose parents were both born in Italy, have no problem obtaining Italian citizenship as long as they file the proper paperwork. Other players Italy targeted who qualify for citizenship include Mike Piazza (Padres), Dan Miceli (Devil Rays), David Dellucci (Rangers) and former Cardinals righthander Jason Simontacchi, who pitched for Italy in the 2000 Olympics.
While some might think these "carpetbaggers" undermine the credibility of the Classic, the players involved do not seem to mind.
"If anything it is nice to know that they have an opportunity to play for another country," said Royals outfielder Matt Stairs, a veteran of Canada's 1988 Olympic team who will play for Team Canada in the Classic. "My mom is Scottish, so if there was a Scotland team out there I might have played for them, you never know.
"If (a player) has ties to that nation and that family, so be it and best of luck."
Pirates all-star and Canadian teammate Jason Bay offered a similar sentiment. "It makes those countries stronger and it makes them have a better chance, so I guess it is nice that way," he said.
The problem, however, is that some players have gotten mixed messages about whether they are eligible or not. While the Classic might have one standard, each country is entitled to set its roster by its own standards.
Cubs righthander David Aardsma was originally listed on the Netherlands provisional roster and was eager to play for the country of his great-grandparents, but it turned out he did not meet the eligibility requirements.
"For my part, I was excited to play. My parents were going to buy their ticket to Puerto Rico and then I found out I wasn't eligible," Aardsma said. "My only concern about playing was that this was going to be my first spring training with the Cubs, and it's a new organization for me, and they are not sure what I bring to the Cubs.
"It would have been a little different if it had been Team USA, because that would have really been an honor, to play for the U.S., to be chosen out of so many people. I think the pool of players is a little smaller in Holland."
The pool is so small that the Dutch listed Haren on their provisional roster. Haren told MLB.com, "They said that somehow they went through and my name has some kind of Dutch descent. I immediately called my parents and asked them why I would be included in that. They kind of laughed. They didn’t know, and we still don't know how I was included."
Aardsma is certainly an example of the kind of "carpetbagger" that has been ridiculed in the press as part of what is wrong with the Classic, but there is more than meets the eye in several of these cases.
Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez was born in San Diego and is an American citizen; however, his parents are both Mexican, and he spent most of the first 12 years of his life living in Tijuana. While the No. 1 pick in the 2000 draft maintains dual citizenship, he does not hesitate to say which country he would play for if given the choice.
"I think I would play for Mexico—all my family is in Mexico," he said. "Everything has always revolved around Mexico for us. That is our bloodlines and everything we do about food, the way we party, the way we celebrate birthdays and weddings, everything is Mexican and Mexican-style. We are very proud to be Mexican."
Gonzalez' Mexican teammate, Cubs righthander Sergio Mitre, is in a similar boat. Like Gonzalez, Mitre was born in California but he spent a large portion of his childhood south of the border.
"We grew up in Mexico, we grew up playing in the little leagues of Mexico," Gonzalez said. "I don't think we are outsiders because we learned the game of baseball in Mexico. Since we were 4 years old we played in the little league in Mexico."
If anything, Gonzalez' situation is a reminder that national pride can often go far beyond where you were born, and how national pride should provide fuel for a spirited competition in the World Baseball Classic.
"I am Mexican," Gonzalez said. "I just happen to be born here in San Diego."