SAN DIEGO – Just before first pitch between the United States and the Dominican Republic in the second round of the World Baseball Classic, we spoke with Hall of Famer Dave Winfield. Winfield retired as one of only 19 members of the 3,000-hit club (3,110) after 22 years in the majors, mostly with the Padres and Yankees. He was a 12-time All-Star, seven-time Gold Glove winner, and was elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.
Winfield, standing only a few feet from home plate with a game ball in hand, took a few minutes to give us his thoughts on the Classic. For those that prefer, the audio transcript of our chat is available here.
Gabriel Fidler: Things have changed a lot since you were playing here in San Diego and back in your time there were no events on this scale. What are your thoughts about how baseball changed to create the World Baseball Classic?
Dave Winfield: Well, I think it’s a great thing. Most of the players do, too. In sports, you have to be competitive, and bringing baseball to a world stage, there’s a lot of, how do you say…pride….there’s a lot of pride exhibited by teams from all of these countries. Even though they play in America and that is where their bread is buttered, so to speak, they are playing for pride and dignity for their country. Give us some respect and you see how they go all out. The season hasn’t started, but these guys are playing with a fervour and an energy that is great for the sport. I would do it. I’ll say this, if I were playing today, I would do it as well. I would play.
GF: I had a feeling you would say exactly that. I know how passionate you are about things like this.
DW: Uh huh!
GF: How do you think the response in the U.S. has changed since the Classic has been developed?
DW: Well, where I’ve been able to see it from my vantage point, I think one of the last times I was working for the Padres and the finals were here, and so [interrupts to hug Eric Hosmer, coming in from batting practice]—Good to see you man, keep it up, keep up the great work! (I had to say hello to Eric Hosmer, a good young player from Kansas City!)—so I’ve seen that high energy exhibited by all the teams and their fans that came through town. I wasn’t in Miami this year, where it was sold out, they sold more tickets than anywhere, and then when we go up to Los Angeles, where I live, it’s going to be sold out, it’s going to be packed. I just think it’s a good thing. It’s doing a good job.
GF: Final question for you: I don’t expect you to know a huge amount about British baseball, but it’s growing back home and we have a lot kids playing—it’s really growing at the youth level—what advice do you have for these young kids who haven’t seen a lot of baseball if they want to someday represent Great Britain in a World Baseball Classic?
DW: Well, in some way, shape, or fashion, I hope their federation invites current and former players over there for clinics, and talks, and seminars, and videos, and just hands-on kind of instruction. It can take the kids a long way. I hope that Britain does establish a good baseball foundation, and perhaps they can compete in these games in the near future.
GF: I really appreciate it, thank you very much.
DW: My pleasure.
Winfield stepped to the mound to the rapturous applause of the fans in Petco Park, throwing a strike. Team USA went on to win, 6-3 (game story here), advancing to the Final Round, where it would finally capture its first WBC title. For more on Winfield’s suggestion, we spoke with Jim Kaat, second all-time in gold gloves (16) and a 283-game winner, about spending the winter teaching baseball to children in New Zealand. Our extended conversation will be available soon.