GLENDALE, Ariz. – A crowded Chicago White Sox clubhouse will feel a little less cramped in a few weeks when a handful of players leave to join their World Baseball Classic teams.
Alex Rios (Puerto Rico), Jesse Crain (Canada) and Andre Rienzo (Brazil) all will be stepping away for a team and won’t return until their teams are eliminated from the world-wide tournament that pits 16 baseball-playing countries against each other.
A fourth White Sox player, infielder Andy Gonzalez, will also play for Puerto Rico, but he isn’t in big league camp.
“It’s something every ball player looks forward to, playing for your country and play in front of your crowd,” Rios said. “I think everybody should be proud. I am proud. I will be proud if I play. But it’s something that’s fun do to.”
This spring will be the third time the WBC has been held with Rios and Crain playing for their countries al three times.
“I don’t think it affects me very much,” Crain said. “For a bullpen guy, it’s a lot easier. I’ll throw an inning at a time. I won’t throw two days in a row. I’ll get three games in before I go so it’s not going to be too much different. Whenever I go out there, whether it’s spring training or in a regular game, I go out with the same intensity no matter what.”
Rios has reported in camp early to get a jumpstart on preparation before leaving.
“I wanted to do work before spring training started,” said Rios, who married his longtime girlfriend this winter. “It’s always good to come in a little early to get used to the schedule and all the things you have throughout spring training. You can still get your work done over there. The schedule is almost the same as the schedule we have here.”
Rienzo, a promising young right-hander, who saw action at Single-A, Double-A and eventually Triple-A last year, will get a chance to show the major league coaching staff what he can do before leaving camp to join his teammates with Brazil.
He will be available out of the bullpen for the Cactus League opener Feb. 23 and is tentatively scheduled to start the Feb. 26 Cactus League game against the Texas Rangers at Surprise.
Rienzo has the toughest schedule of any of the White Sox WBC participants. After appearing in the Feb. 26 game, he then has to fly to the Far East for Brazil’s opener March 2 against Japan in Fukuoka. Puerto Rico’s first game will be March 8 at San Juan against Spain.
Crain has the easiest schedule. Canada’s first game is March 8 against Italy, with that contest taking place at Scottsdale’s Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.
The United States will play its first WBC game on March 8 against Mexico at Chase Field in Phoenix. Canada and the United States are in the same opening-round bracket.