MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippine men's baseball team is in the thick of preparations for their first foray in the World Baseball Classic to be held in Taiwan next week.
The World Baseball Classic is considered to be the “World Cup of baseball” and the Philippines will be bringing with them the confidence and experience from being champions in the Southeast Asian Games and the East Asia games.
But now the Philippine team is bolstered for the first time by the best Filipino-American players in the world playing in the US major and minor leagues.
Among the Fil-Ams are Geno Espinelli of the minor league team of San Francisco Giants, Edwin Jimenez and Jonathan Laygo of the Fresno White Sox, Andrez Vasquez of Rutger University, William Ireton of East LA Dodgers, Devon Bryce Ramirez of California State-Dominguez, and Ryan Pineda of Stockton Ports.
There are a total of 11 Fil-Ams, one Fil-Japanese and 16 homegrown Pinoys in the Philippine team.
The team admits that even if they have done well in the region, going up to the world games is an even bigger challenge.
“We're very lucky to have 13 or 14 players from the US join our national team to compete in Taiwan next week… sad to say we lost few top players, I should mention (Tim) Lincecum, which is a star in San Francisco Giants, and Clay Rapada who's gonna get married on game day. But Lincecum was allowed by the Giants, so it's up to him. If we win in Taiwan, then he can join the team in the next round,” said Tom Navasero, head of delegation of the Philippine men's squad.
Even if the Fil-Am reinforcements and the locals have not met, the chemistry is not a major issue in baseball.
“On the field strategy and physical play of the game, chemistry may not be as important, but it still needs a team and thank God we're all Filipino,” said Navasero.
For the veterans, playing alongside the world's best players will be huge break already.
“Noong malamang naming may World Baseball Classic, nag-start ng kami everyday, work hard everyday sa gym… malaking bagay pero mas malaki ‘yung competition. Lalo na 'yung pag-pili ng player, kaya talagang nag-practice lahat,” said pitcher Darwin dela Calzada of the Philippine men's baseball team.
Some of the Fil-Ams are just so proud to be able to represent the country.
“I just graduated in college in the US, I heard that there was an opportunity to play here on the World Baseball Classic… my mother is Filipina, my grandfather played here back when he played for up, just to be standing here where he once played is a great experience for me,” said second baseman Ireton.
In the first round of the qualifiers, the Philippines will face New Zealand, Thailand and host Taiwan. The winner of the group advances to the next round.
The Philippine Amateur Baseball Association is also hoping the attention the World Baseball Classic gets will help uplift the popularity of the sport in the country, considering it was the country's top sport in the pre-war era when the Philippines even hosted the New York Yankees with Babe Ruth and Lou Gherig at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
After conquering Southeast Asia, the Philippine men's baseball team is now setting their sights on the biggest stage in the World Baseball Classic.
Its goal is not only to win games or the title but also the hearts of Pinoys for a game that millions loved decades ago.