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02/21/09 1:37 PM EST
Gallardo decides to skip Classic
Right-hander's health key to a Brewers run in '09
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
PHOENIX -- Brewers right-hander Yovani Gallardo gathered reporters at his locker on Saturday morning for an announcement that everyone could see coming. "No Classic for me," he said. After weeks of deliberation, Milwaukee's ace in the making decided not to play for Mexico in next month's World Baseball Classic. The choice essentially hinged on his health; Gallardo underwent two knee surgeries last year that limited him to four regular-season starts and two appearances in the playoffs. Today, he's fully rehabilitated from those injuries. He wants to stay that way. "I just think it's a good decision for me with the fact I was hurt last year and that threw things off a little bit," Gallardo said. "Of course, I would have loved to go, and hopefully the opportunity will be there the next time it comes around. "But after thinking about it, things didn't go the way I wanted them to last year, and I really want to focus on what's best for me and what's best for the [Brewers]." Even a few days ago, Gallardo was leaning toward participating. But he came to the opposite decision on Friday and informed Mexican legend Vinny Castilla, who is managing Team Mexico this year. Castilla was disappointed by the news, Gallardo said. Gallardo also informed Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash. "We're just glad there is a conclusion," Ash said. "We've taken the approach all along that the decision is up to the player. Closure is a good thing." Gallardo had been seeking that closure for some time and with difficulty. He was born in the Mexican state of Michoacan in 1986 and moved with his family to the U.S. when he was 4 years old. Gallardo grew up around Fort Worth, Texas, and still lives there. But he still has grandparents in Mexico and visits annually, though he's never stepped on a baseball field in his homeland. The tournament would have offered that chance; Mexico is in Pool B with Australia, Cuba and South Africa and plays first-round games in Mexico City beginning March 8. "That's what made it really tough," he said. Brewers manager Ken Macha could sympathize, especially since he played winter ball in Venezuela and Puerto Rico during his career and understands the passion for the game south of the U.S. border. "I remember the last time the Classic was on, I was watching a game from Puerto Rico and the fans were really into it," Macha said. "So yeah, I think these guys understand that representing their country is important. "For [the team], we were prepared either way. If he would have decided the other way, we would have adjusted." Gallardo said he was not pressured throughout the course of his decision-making process, either by Mexican officials, who would have liked to see him accept, or by Brewers officials, who have been careful to say they support the Classic, but given their druthers, would obviously prefer to keep him in camp. Ash did point out on occasion that insurance could be an issue. World Baseball Classic rules dictate that participating nations secure insurance policies for certain players coming off injuries, and they can be difficult to obtain. Gallardo was not aware of any such impediment. "That wasn't an issue," Gallardo said. "The decision was up to me." Other big league starters on Mexico's provisional roster include Oliver Perez, Matt Garza, Jorge Campillo, Rodrigo Lopez and former Brewer Jorge De La Rosa, though Gallardo spoke with De La Rosa and believes he will pass. Another one-time Brewer, Mexican veteran Francisco Campos, is also on the preliminary roster. Final rosters must be set by Tuesday. Gallardo's decision means that only three members of big league camp will leave on March 1 to participate in the tournament. Ryan Braun will play for the United States, and pitcher Mark DiFelice and catcher Vinny Rottino will play for Italy. Minor Leaguers David Welch (Australia) and Adam Stern (Canada) will also play, though Canadian catching prospect Brett Lawrie's status remained up in the air as of Wednesday. Eric Gagne, Alex Periard and R.J. Swindle passed on a chance to pitch for Team Canada (Periard because of shoulder tightness and Gagne and Swindle because they need to win a Brewers roster spot), and Jorge Julio declined Venezuela's invitation to pitch. Bill Castro, who served as the pitching coach for the Dominican Republic in the inaugural Classic in 2006, also passed this time because the Brewers elevated him from bullpen coach to pitching coach for the coming season. For most of those men, saying no to their homelands was difficult. "It's very disappointing for me," Gallardo said. "I would have loved to go. The chance to represent your country, that's something I'm sure everybody would like to do at some point in [his] career. I told Vinny this too, that I'm disappointed things didn't go good for me last year. That's what happens in baseball. "Hopefully, for that next opportunity, everything goes the way it's supposed to be and I'll get that opportunity to go." Beginning with this year's installment, the Classic will be staged every four years. Gallardo turns 23 on Feb. 27, so he will be just 27 when the next opportunity comes around. "I'm pretty comfortable [with my decision]," Gallardo said.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.