Bowa talks about Team USA in Classic
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Team USA has a manager and coaching staff, and the first two players committed to its roster for next year's World Baseball Classic were announced on Monday: Twins catcher Joe Mauer and Mets third baseman David Wright.The others to comprise the 28-man list are to come in rapid succession before the Americans open camp in Phoenix around March 1. The U.S. is part of Pool D in the first round, with games taking place at Chase Field and Salt River Fields at Talking Stick from March 7-10. Its opponents are Canada, Italy and Mexico. If Team USA survives, it's on to Miami and then perhaps the semifinals and finals in San Francisco. Japan won the first two Classics, and the U.S. has yet to even make it to the final game. Larry Bowa was named the team's bench coach, handpicked by manager Joe Torre to help him through the tournament gauntlet. Torre, now Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball operations, managed the Yankees to four World Series titles and six pennants. He also led the Dodgers to the National League Championship Series twice before retiring after the 2010 season. Bowa was Torre's third-base coach in his waning years with the Yankees and for three years in Los Angeles. Bowa made it plain in a lengthy interview with MLB.com what kind of Team USA his group would like to put together: young, eager and energetic. "Two guys who would bring instant energy to this team are Mike Trout and Bryce Harper," Bowa said. "I hope they will play for us. That's the kind of people, the kind of stuff that we need. Those are the kind of players we're looking for: high-energy guys who get it. They respect the game. They understand what happened before they got here. It could be a lot of fun to be around those guys and just watch them play." Torre and Joe Garagiola Jr., MLB's senior vice president of baseball operations and the general manager, are putting together a list of hopefuls and checking it twice. In the meantime, Bowa -- a former manager, shortstop and third-base coach in town to add his perspective on the Winter Meetings for MLB Network -- told us what he expects from this team: to win. MLB.com: Torre said he was going to bring back some familiar names. How did you joining the team come about? Bowa: Since I was with him in New York and L.A., I've had a good relationship with Joe. He's good to work for and he asked me if I would be interested and I said, "Yeah." Without a doubt, you get tired watching other countries playing on the last day of that thing. I know it's a different situation with the U.S. These other nations really start playing in November, December and January. Hopefully, we'll get some guys who are relatively young. Once they realize who's going, they'll start working out. MLB.com: You've been out of uniform since Torre retired. How does it feel to get back into it for even a couple of weeks? Bowa: To me, it's an honor to be representing the United States. I try to put myself in the position of a player. When I was playing, if somebody asked me, I would have jumped at playing in this thing. I'm not just going there to hit fungoes. I want to win. We had a meeting in Las Vegas with all the coaches. They're all going with the goal of winning. If the players adopt that feeling and want to win as much as we do, maybe mentally and physically they'll empathize and that will happen. MLB.com: What about the possibility of injuries? Bowa: The bottom line is, if I was a GM, I would be concerned about somebody getting hurt. There's no question about that. But if you do it the right way and a player knows that he's going and starts preparing a month earlier, I don't see any reason why that should happen. I mean, a guy could get hurt working out. He could throw his back out. A guy could get hurt throwing long toss. You have to just hope these guys are ready to go. Spring Training starts early, around Feb. 22-23. So these guys are going to have played in some games before they come to us. If I was a GM, I'd be more concerned about my pitchers than my everyday players. MLB.com: What do you think you bring to the table as a bench coach? Bowa: I'm just basically there to remind Joe about situations and who's going to be coming up for the other team, what pitchers we have available. Hopefully, we'll have some athletes there who can hit-and-run and steal and not just wait for someone to hit it out of the ballpark. That was part of what we talked about when we went to Vegas. To have some guys we can do some things with, to have some flexibility. It's nice to have some guys who can hit home runs. But, to me, the players who play have to want it bad. If they say, "Yes," it's not a courtesy yes. That's the beauty of picking the team. We're trying to get guys we know really want to play in this thing. MLB.com: This is not going to be a "Dream Team" concept? Bowa: No, let's face it. When you bring two shortstops or third basemen who play every day, they're going to want to play. If they don't play every day when they go back to their ballclubs, they're not going to be ready to play. We want it to be like Spring Training as far as getting their work in. That's the biggest concern. General managers feel that their players are going to go backwards. Well, they're not going to go backwards, I can tell you that. When they come in there they're going to be working. It's not a matter of getting 28 superstars. We want backup guys who can play a lot of positions. MLB.com: Having covered the first two Classics, the Japanese and Koreans outprepared the U.S. Those guys start training in January. Bowa: That's what I'm saying. It's an attitude. And as far as starting up in January, if we pick a lot of young guys, why couldn't they start with the intensity program earlier and work out a little bit harder once they know they're selected? And since the games are staring early, they'll have five or six games before they come to us. They'll have some at-bats against live pitching. The pitchers will be able to start stretching their arms out. We'll then play three or four games against teams out in the valley there. I think, game-wise, they're going to be ready to play. Then pride should kick in. It's a very delicate balance. MLB.com: Do you view Japan and Korea again as the prime opponents? Bowa: Yeah, no question. They're the teams, as you said, that are always ready to go. And they take this thing personally. If I'm an American player right now, I've got to get a little bit tired of watching this. It's the American game and we're not even close to dominating it, let alone winning the tournament. You've got to hope that the guys we pick really want to be there and want to represent the country. MLB.com: For you personally, are you done with being a coach or manager or do you want to piggyback into a full-time job after this? Bowa: If the situation presents itself, I would like to be a bench coach. I still think I have a lot to offer. I did a couple of interviews this winter just to see what the feeling is out there. I just wanted know more about sabermetrics, to see the direction some of the young general managers are going in. One of them was in Houston, and I was really impressed by Jeff Luhnow. I like him. I liked him a lot. I don't think it's all sabermetrics with him. Anytime you can get information that can give you an edge or let you look through the crystal ball, that's good. But the human element is so important. You can't measure it. The other was in Miami, and I only did that because (owner Jeffrey) Loria wanted to talk to me. But I think I'd be good at helping the manager out as a bench coach.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.