In Canada, the hockey mentality — the I'm just happy to be here and I'll do anything they ask me parroted by every peach-fuzzed 19-year-old trying out for the national junior team each December — is applied to any other team privileged to wear the Maple Leaf.
Were that it were so simple. Each major team sport is unique. Recent news coverage involving Canadian basketball icon Steve Nash and Major League Baseball catcher Russell Martin, who's withdrawn from the World Baseball Classic since the Pittsburgh Pirates did not approve of his notion of playing shortstop, spells out that it's more complicated. They should do their duty and play for their country, but the expectations have to be reasonable. That goes double when players' availability can be compromised by the priorities and whims of their teams' front offices, who aren't full of Canadians like in the NHL.
Martin's rationale, as related by Bob Elliott — “I know I’ll be criticized, I’ve been booed before obviously... I guess I don’t carry that sense of national pride” — probably won't whip up much sympathy.
One cannot help but flash back to how Nash was pilloried in the media after retiring from the Canadian national team. It seemed rather reasonable that a 30-something point guard with a bad back would need rest time after another long season of hitting the floor after taking hard fouls from much bigger men in the NBA. He had already gone through the Olympic cycle a few times, plus there was a loyalty to the former (and now rehired) coach, Jay Triano.
Nevertheless, there were headlines such as, "Thanks for nothing, Nash!" It was if everything else the two-time NBA MVP had done to show the world Canadians can play hoops at a high level was null and void.
You know the rest of the story. Nash, while still playing in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers, has helped revitalize Canada Basketball by working as an executive. He cared, but as someone paid millions to play point guard and stay healthy through an 82-game NBA season and playoffs, it was out of the question.
Now, Martin does not necessarily deserve the same consideration, but some should be given. The World Baseball Classic concept is a winner with fans, but it's a logistical nightmare. The tournament is in March, when ballplayers are supposed to be at spring training in Arizona and Florida under azure skies, building their stamina for a 162-game season. Catchers and pitchers need time to get in game shape. Other players may not want to risk injury during a contract year.
A unique search for "bows out" + "world baseball classic" will show a lot of major leaguers are as eager to get away from it as they are from picking up a dinner cheque.
In Martin's case, he just signed with a new team in the National League after two seasons in the American with the New York Yankees. It's understandable the Pirates would only want him taking time out from working with a new group of pitchers on the condition that he plays his regular position.
Martin's mistake? Not accepting those terms and not bothering to explain them. It comes off as petulant, when really, it's just the realism of the situation.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Sports & Recreation
- Steve Nash
- Russell Martin