3/3/2013 1:12 P.M. ET
For Victorino, representing USA too tough to pass up
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The way Shane Victorino put it, leaving his new team, the Boston Red Sox, to represent Team USA in the World Baseball Classic was "tough." But for the outfielder, declining the invitation to represent his country would have been even tougher.
This is no small honor for Victorino, a proud native of Hawaii -- the 50th state to become part of the United States.
Just like when he played for Team USA in the 2009 Classic, Victorino will proudly wear No. 50 as he plays for his country.
"I never thought, growing up in Hawaii, that I'd ever put on a USA jersey, let alone put the No. 50 on to represent my state," Victorino said. "I'm going to wear 50 again this year. I'm pumped. I'm very excited."
And Victorino's roots are another key part of what drew him to the international format.
"It's America's pastime, but watching other countries and how they played it was great as a kid," Victorino said. "I watched the Japanese teams come and train in Hawaii, Korea, and I used to say to my dad, 'Is this something I've got to do later in life if this is something I want to pursue in baseball?' He goes, 'Son, it's played differently in different countries. They train differently. Some of the ways they train, those Japan teams, aren't the way we train here.'
"But at the end of the day, it's the game of baseball -- not taking anything away about the way they play the game or the way we play the game or how we train and prepare. It's baseball."
Victorino hopped on a plane Sunday morning to join his USA teammates in Arizona, but he had already sunk his teeth into the start of the tournament.
"And [Saturday] night, watching the game late at night after I got done with our game, I went home and watched that game," Victorino said. "Taiwan and Australia. You get caught up in just the whole excitement. You look at all of the countries. That's the thing that makes it -- it's an international game."
Every time Victorino mentions his departure from camp, he mentions that he'll have 11 days at the back end to re-integrate with his new Red Sox teammates. In other words, Victorino plans on Team USA making a deep run, and perhaps dethroning two-time champion Japan.
"I'm expecting us to go deep," Victorino said. "I plan on going the whole way. ... Hey, I might be back sooner, but my goal is not to be back anytime sooner."
Victorino sensed the same enthusiasm from his temporary teammates.
"Speaking with Joe Mauer before [Saturday's] game, he was excited,," Victorino said. "That's the kind of stuff I want to hear. Speaking with Adam Jones the other night when we were there, we're all excited to represent our country. It's something you dream of as a child, to put a USA jersey on."
Not to minimize the national loyalty of some the other players, but there's something unique about growing up in Hawaii.
"As we all say, growing up in Hawaii, it's one of those things. We have so much pride," Victorino said. "I'm not saying others don't have pride back where they come from, but I just think Hawaii is one of those states where it's all about family, it's all about the pride. Again, there's not that many of us that get the opportunity to be successful and be professional athletes [out of Hawaii]."
This isn't to say the decision to leave Boston's camp was a no-brainer for Victorino. He would only go if he got assurances from USA manager Joe Torre that he would have enough at-bats to be fine-tuned for the season.
"Joe promised us that we'll get our at-bats," Victorino said. "I'm going off that. I think we'll get our playing time. Being versatile and playing all the outfield positions is going to help myself get at-bats when guys are going to need rest."
And as he got ready to head out of Fort Myers, Victorino admitted to his mixed feelings.
"I'm going to miss these guys. I'm going to miss the camaraderie that's in this clubhouse," Victorino said. "But at the end of the day, I'm going to have 11 days [back], and I'm going to try to focus on that and keep that in the back of my mind, that I'm going to have some time when I get back to work and bear down and get prepared for April 1."
With Victorino's outward personality, gaining familiarity with a new team is probably quicker to him than others.
The key concern the Red Sox had was that Victorino would get enough time to gain comfort with the man he will play next to in the outfield -- center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.
"Oh, I don't think anyone has a problem with rapport with Shane," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "He's going to have a lot of conversation. Like any early Spring Training, he's working to get his timing down [at the plate]. The one thing we found in the short term is that game situations, and the game itself, he's willing to talk about. In a good way and in a light-hearted way at times. We're really looking forward to when he comes back into camp, for sure."
One thing that helped Victorino's peace of mind was the encouragement of one of his most influential new teammates with the Red Sox.
"Dustin [Pedroia] texted me when I told them I was going to play [for Team USA] and he said, 'Hey, good luck, go get 'em,' and he said the same thing [Saturday], so that's the kind of stuff that's important to me," Victorino said. "I look at the back-end time that I will have when I get back, to prepare myself with this team, and that for me is the ultimate time for us to get ready -- those last few weeks when we all get together as a team and get ready to go."