Heath Bell called it the highest honor an athlete can have in his respective sport: representing his country.
Bell is one of seven Arizona Diamondbacks who will do just that in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.
“I didn’t think I was going to be asked just for the simple fact I had a bad year last year,” he said. “(Team USA manager) Joe Torre called me up and said, ‘I like your enthusiasm. I like the way you go right after guys and I’d like you to be a part of this team.’ It’s a huge honor to represent your country. It’s basically like the Olympics since baseball is no longer in the Olympics. I was pretty excited.”
Willie Bloomquist also received a call from Torre and will join Bell on the U.S. team, which will hold its first official workout at Salt River Fields on March 4.
“The fact that you get to represent your country, I don’t know if it gets a whole lot better than that,” Bloomquist said. “It’s an honor for me. I’m excited to be a part of it and hopefully help out in some way, shape or form.”
The other Diamondbacks playing in the WBC are David Hernandez (Mexico), Nelson Figueroa (Puerto Rico), Miguel Montero, Gerardo Parra and Martin Prado (together on Venezuela).
Hernandez said he could have played for Team USA but chose to play for Mexico — even though he doesn’t speak Spanish, because of his family.
“It means a lot just because knowing what my grandparents have been through,” he said. “It means a lot to them so it means even that much more to me.”
The decision for Hernandez and the others, however, wasn’t without some concern.
The club’s primary setup man “wanted to make sure it was okay” with the team.
“I didn’t want to rub the wrong people the wrong way. If they didn’t want me to play I totally would’ve understood,” he said. “But I felt like it’s something that I’ve wanted to do, at least once, being able to play for your country. I’m just happy to have the opportunity.”
Added Bloomquist, “For me, at this stage of my career, it was a no-brainer as long as I got (Kirk Gibson’s) and (Kevin Towers’) blessing to do it, which they were all for me doing it. First and foremost, you’ve got to make sure your organization is okay with you doing it and they were.
“It’s something that I’ve always kind of wanted to do,” he continued. “I played for a USA team in college but didn’t really quite understand what it meant to wear the colors of your country at that time. For me, this go around, it’s a little bit more special. It’s an honor to put your colors of your country on. Hopefully, we can make some noise in this thing and represent well.”