AP Sports Writer
MIAMI (AP) – Honking horns, pulsing percussion and chanting crowds will transform Marlins Park into a Caribbean-style carnival this week for the World Baseball Classic.
To major league teams, it sounds dangerous.
WBC games are sure to inspire maximum effort by players eager to win for their country, which is exactly what worries their big league bosses. While spectators in the stands literally beat the drum on behalf of the international tournament, Major League Baseball managers and executives are less than thrilled about their players’ participation.
“You’re risking injury,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said.
“I think most coaches and managers rather not have guys go,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said, “but it has been good for baseball.”
The WBC, which began Monday in South Korea, draws big, noisy crowds, and players rave about the atmosphere. But less than a month into spring training, the tournament has them going all-out with the MLB season still weeks away.
Thus the fear of injury, a concern that has become as much a part of the quadrennial tournament as flag-waving.
“Going full speed, full boar, full game competition, third-deck fans screaming – baseball generally isn’t played that way this time of year for us,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.
Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez needed thumb surgery after getting hurt in the 2013 final, and it’s difficult to gauge the toll participation takes later in the season. Edinson Volquez, Jake Peavy, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Scot Shields were among almost two dozen WBC pitchers hampered by injuries in the months after the 2009 tournament.
Volquez, now with the Marlins, is on the Dominican roster again this year. He acknowledged the WBC changes his preparation for the season.
“It’s not like if you’re pitching in spring training,” he said. “You are competing with another country. You put a lot of effort into that experience.”
Some players, including Blue Jays right-hander Marcus Stroman and Yankees reliever Dellin Betances, said they began working out earlier than usual this winter because they knew their spring training preparation would be brief.
“You don’t have that many games until the WBC,” Betances said, “but I feel like the adrenaline will kick in there and I’ll be ready.”
Of particular concern are players coming off a short offseason, such as reliever Andrew Miller of the American League champion Cleveland Indians. But players seem to value the opportunity more than they fear any injury risk.
The U.S. roster included 18 All-Stars, two MVPs and nine Gold Glove winners, and other teams also attracted plenty of major leaguers.
“It’s an honor for me to be chosen. It’s a rare opportunity for a ballplayer to represent his country,” said Indians catcher Roberto Perez, who will play for Puerto Rico. “Injuries are always going to be there. It’s something you can’t control. It’s a risk, but to have the chance to represent your country is unique.”
WBC rules limiting pitch counts and appearances are designed to protect pitchers. Managers around the majors say they’re confident the U.S. staff will be carefully monitored by manager Jim Leyland and general manager Joe Torre.
Leyland said he feels that responsibility. But when the goal is to win, there’s only so much he can do to keep his pitchers healthy.
“The biggest thing, for me, is that you’re asking them to amp it up a little earlier than they normally would,” Leyland said. “And that can be dangerous.”
Teams worry that even if a player returns to their spring training camp healthy, the effects of taking part in the WBC might show up later.
Measuring that impact can be difficult, even in a sport full of statistics.
“What we don’t know is the cumulative effect of getting ramped up, from a pitching perspective or from a position player perspective, and how that carries over into maybe the third or fourth or fifth month of the season,” Hinch said. “I’m not sure we’re ever going to know.”
Baker said U.S. players might be more susceptible than players from some other countries.
“The Cubans and the teams from Asia are in better shape for this than we are,” Baker said, “because they train, train, train big time all year long for this.”
Marlins manager Don Mattingly tried to look on the bright side, noting the WBC can help players hone their skills because of the intense competition.
And Hinch noted the value of the experience for such youngsters as his infielder, second-year big leaguer Alex Bregman.
“I think we have to separate the managerial anxiety of what could happen from the actual experience,” Hinch said. “Bregman is going to be a kid in a candy store with all these superstars around the game for Team USA. That experience is hard to quantify.”
AP freelance writers Chuck King in West Palm Beach; Mark Didtler in Fort Myers; Maureen Mullen in Kissimmee; and Jose Romero in Scottsdale, Arizona contributed to this report.
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