Big League Stew contributor Nick Friedell was in Tampa on Tuesday to watch Team USA play the Yankees in a World Baseball Classic warmup at Steinbrenner Field. Since the exhibition marked the first time Derek Jeter had ever played against the Yankees, the matchup was something of a curiosity in the baseball. Here's what Nick took away from the day:
1) It was weird seeing Derek Jeter play against the Yankees: Despite his status as the reigning All-American baseball hero, the red Team USA hat just didn't look right on Derek Jeter's head. As he walked up to to the plate for the first time in the United States' 6-5 victory, a fan sitting behind me stared in awe at what he was watching unfold in front of him. "I wish I had a camera," the fan said. "Because this will never happen again."
The scene seemed so strange that I kept thinking that Jeter would pull a Clark Kent routine at some point during today's game. To the cheers of the Steinbrenner Field crowd, he'd find a phone booth and switch back into the familiar navy blue uniform with the interlocking NY on it.
But it never happened. The only person who seemed unaffected by the presence of the Yankee captain outside of pinstripes, was Jeter himself.
"It just felt like an intrasquad game," he said of his facing his teammates, not seeing what the fuss was all about.
When all was said and done, the Yankees finally got a chance to see how the other 29 MLB teams live. Jeter went 2-for-4 on the day and hit a two-run single in the third inning.
2) Everybody likes having the Captain on their team: Jeter's new teammates didn't mind having the Yankee on their team for the day — or the next few weeks. Almost everyone who I spoke with, including manager Davey Johnson, mentioned how much they were looking forward to having the future Hall of Famer on their side.
"I thought it was good," USA third baseman David Wright said of playing with his usual crosstown rival. "[Derek] is one of the guys I really wanted to see go about his business, over the course of this three weeks, see how he prepares, kind of get in his mind a little bit, and try to learn a little something. It was good to look over and see him to my left and I'm going to try to soak in as much I can when it comes to seeing how he prepares and studies the game."
3) Not all US players can be fully supported by Yankees fans: Like everyone else, Curtis Granderson had to get used to the idea of playing with Jeter in his home ballpark, but it was what happened when his new Boston teammates were announced, that stuck with the Team USA outfielder the most.
"They played [Jeter's] music when he came up to bat, which I thought was interesting," Granderson said. "Then all of a sudden you've got (Kevin) Youkilis and (Dustin) Pedroia, before and after him, and the crowd is booing those two guys ... Yankee fans are Yankee fans through and through. It doesn't matter if you're wearing the USA logo and representing the country, you're still a Red Sock in their opinion."
4) Is this the best the United States can do?: The 2009 USA WBC team already reminds me a lot of the 2004 USA basketball team that won the bronze medal in Athens. The basketball team had several future Hall of Famers on it, but the team was also made up of a lot of last minute replacements. This WBC team looks constructed the same way. As I watched Matt Thornton get rocked for four hits and three runs in an inning of work today, I got the same feeling that I had when I watched Stephon Marbury run the point. Both men are solid players, but there had to have been a better option out there somewhere.
5) The WBC still has a lot of growing up to do: I really liked the idea of having a World Baseball Classic when it first began. The best players from all over the world competing against each other sounded like a great idea on paper. But the more I'm seeing or hearing, the harder I think it may be for the WBC to succeed long term. Maybe it's just because the fans around Tampa didn't seem to be too excited about this game. Most American fans I've spoken with are far more interested in filling out their NCAA tournament brackets than watching a US team that is comprised of several players that even the casual fan may not have heard of.