TEMPE, Ariz. — It is with great national pride that Erick Aybar will leave Angels camp late next week to join the Dominican Republic team for the World Baseball Classic.
"I feel good because I'll be representing my country," said Aybar, who is expected to share time at shortstop with Toronto's Jose Reyes. "That means everything to me."
Commissioner Bud Selig, perhaps the biggest proponent of the WBC, can only wish more players from the U.S. shared Aybar's sentiments.
American players, for many reasons, have not embraced the tournament like those from Latin America and the Pacific Rim, and most managers and general managers are relieved when their players, especially starting pitchers, decline invitations.
The timing of the tournament isn't great — most players aren't geared up to play competitive games in the first week of March. There's too big of an injury risk. The season is long enough, with teams reaching the postseason playing for seven to eight months.
"It's not like you're going to go out there and go through the motions in the WBC — everybody is a competitor and wants to win," Angels ace Jered Weaver said. "But it's hard to get ready to go out there and turn it on so quick, especially for guys who throw 220 innings a year. Those guys want that rest."
Don't mistake Weaver's reluctance for ambivalence. The right-hander, who played for Team USA in the 2002 Pan American Games, said he would love to pitch in the WBC and would have accepted an invitation this winter had he not ended last season with a sore shoulder.
"If they could figure out a better time, maybe do it after the season when you don't have to gear up, that would help," Weaver said. "I don't think anybody doesn't want to play in it. They just take more pride in playing for their organization. To wear the red, white and blue would be amazing. I got a chance to do it in 2002, and it was one of the best memories in my life."
Angels outfielder Mike Trout, the 2012 American League rookie of the year, would have been a huge coup for the U.S. team, but he declined a WBC invitation in January.
"The best decision for me was to come to spring training and get ready for the long season," Trout said. "But I would love to play in the WBC at least once."
Former Angels pitcher Chuck Finley, sense of humor firmly intact, began a stint as guest instructor Thursday. After working with several young pitchers on the lower fields, the left-hander, now 50, quipped, "Was down there killing some careers." … Manager Mike Scioscia said first baseman Albert Pujols, who had minor right knee surgery after last season, probably won't play in exhibition games until mid-March. … Reliever Ryan Madson, slowed by soreness in his surgically repaired elbow, is on an every-other-day throwing program this week but hopes to progress to throwing every day next week.