Sweet emotion: Team USA's getting the hang of fun at World Baseball Classic

They aren’t bleaching their hair platinum blonde, performing no-look tags, or doing jumping jacks at home plate, like Team Puerto Rico.

They aren’t pulling giant plantains out of their pants during introductions, waving it in the dugout to incite rallies, like Team Dominicana.

They don’t pour from the dugout onto the field after every home run, or celebrate a well-executed bunt like a walk-off, like just about every other team in the World Baseball Classic.

Team USA acts differently, a byproduct of their environment, growing up and playing baseball in the United States, where public shows of emotions are frowned upon.

We’re used to handshakes and fist bumps after victories, not cartwheels. We watch hitters drop their bats, lower their heads, and run around the bases without looking around after home runs. We see pitchers strike out the side, and calmly walk toward the dugout, not flailing their arms and waving to the crowd.

Maybe that’s why this World Baseball Classic is so beautiful.

It lets us know that it’s OK to show fiery emotion on the field, in front of frenzied fans banging on drums and blowing horns, as we witnessed in Mexico, Asia and Miami.

We keep hearing all this noise out of New York about wanting to speed up the game, installing clocks and implementing new rules, but there wasn’t a soul at the the five hours it took to play the dramatic Dominican Republic-Colombia game last week who even looked at their watch in a game that took nearly five hours to complete.

If Major League Baseball is so concerned about attracting the millennials, and seizing the attention of our youth, maybe we can take a page out of the WBC handbook, where there are no unwritten rules how to curb your enthusiasm.

“I love it when you see the Dominican and Venezuelan teams, Puerto Rican teams jump all over,’’ Team USA center fielder Adam Jones says. “I love when you show a passion for something that you really enjoy doing. That shows that you care.

“Our style, we're not as flamboyant as that, but we can get that way if you really want us to. We can get that way. But it's just not our style. We get up when we need to get up.

“We are very, very emotional, very passionate. We just exude it in a little different way.’’

Yet, ever so slowly, one week into this two-week international tournament, U.S. players are losing their inhibitions, and expressing themselves like everyone else in the World Baseball Classic.

San Diego hometown hero Adam Jones was throwing his right fist high into the air, hopping across home plate, and skipping to the dugout, Wednesday evening after his game-tying home run in their 4-2 victory over Venezuela.

Eric Hosmer, who hit the game-winning home run three batters later, raised both arms to the sky before reaching home plate, and then yanked his arms away from his chest, as if he were Superman.

The modest crowd of 16,635 at Petco Park went bonkers, loving the emotion.

“I think everybody's saying that Team USA lacks emotion,’’ Jones said. “We just go out there and play a bland type of baseball. But hey, we showed some emotion. Ain't nothing wrong with that.

“I think that people kind of liked that Team USA showed some emotion.’’

No one across the field was upset by USA’s actions. No one in the USA clubhouse had to publicly apologize for showing anyone up. No one accused anyone of being disrespectful.

Simply, it was a glorious showing of emotion, and with Puerto Rico on tap against Team USA on Friday night, and the powerful Dominican Republic awaiting Saturday, you can be assured there will be plenty more in store.

“Hey, this is the tournament for it to happen,’’ Jones says. “If you're going to do it, do it now and do it in winter ball. Some of the stuff I've seen, it's probably not going to happen in the regular season.

“The bat flips that you see in the WBC, that's not going to happen during the season. Unless it's certain people, the big dogs. They can do that kind of stuff because they've earned that right.’’

Then again, after what we’ve witnessing in this WBC, why can’t we see it during the season? Why can’t major league players exhibit sheer joy and exuberance without the possibility of repercussions? Who’s it really harming? You don’t have to be in Little League to have fun, do you?

“I kind of wish it was more like that,’’ says 22-year-old USA infielder Alex Bregman. “Everybody locked in, rooting for their country, and having a blast.

“Hopefully, it will continue to grow, and get more people out watching.’’

The WBC will be ending in less than a week, but once everyone goes home to their major-league teams to open the season, we can only hope this tournament’s passion and emotion will be around to stay.

“It’s such a beautiful thing,’’ Puerto Rican slugger Carlos Beltran says, “isn’t it?”

Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter @Bnightengale and on Facebook.

(© 2017 USA TODAY)


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