Why enjoying second base in WBC is ‘pure’ for Mookie Betts

Team USA’s beginning second baseman Thursday took his place for some work a couple of hours earlier than the primary pitch in opposition to the Angels and appeared the half.

He fielded groundballs with fluidity. He snapped throws from numerous arm angles. He shifted up the center, over to the shortstop facet of the bag, and again to shallow proper area, all spots he may discover himself in through the World Baseball Classic.

Mookie Betts appeared at house as a result of second base was as soon as house.

“It’s in my roots,” Betts, 30, stated Thursday. “It’s what I grew up doing and it’s hard to kind of get rid of that.”

The Boston Red Sox chosen Betts within the fifth spherical of the 2011 draft out of highschool as a second baseman. He performed there, with occasional innings at shortstop, his first two full minor-league seasons. Then, in 2014, the Red Sox, with Dustin Pedroia entrenched at second base, transformed Betts to the outfield within the minors.

He’s been on a Hall of Fame observe with no consideration fielder since, accumulating six All-Star Game appearances, six Gold Glove awards, two World Series titles, an MVP award and one of many richest contracts in skilled sports activities historical past alongside the best way.

But Betts’ time as a second baseman by no means ended. He’s moonlighted on the place within the majors — he began 11 video games and logged 100 innings in his first three seasons with the Dodgers — and his time there figures to develop in 2023.

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Team USA supervisor Mark DeRosa confirmed Betts will sometimes play second base through the match to spell starter Jeff McNeil. Betts can also be anticipated to play extra second base for the Dodgers this season after shortstop Gavin Lux’s season-ending knee damage harm the membership’s center infield depth.

“My brain’s in it more,” Betts stated, evaluating second base to proper area, the place he began for the U.S. in opposition to the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday. “There are certain intricacies that make you a good right fielder. You’re just not in every play and whatnot like you are in the middle of the infield.

“But I definitely enjoy playing right. I don’t want to make it seem like I don’t enjoy it. I love going out there and playing and trying to be the best that I can be.”

In preparation for his twin position, Betts participated in outfield and infield drills throughout Team USA’s first exercise Tuesday. DeRosa had heard about Betts’ infield prowess. Seeing it was one other story.

“I’m blown away by his preparation, to be honest with you,” DeRosa stated. “Watching him in the first couple of workouts, he can certainly handle it.”

Team USA shortstop Trea Turner and third base coach Dino Ebel already knew that. Turner watched Betts work at second base earlier than almost each sport over the past season and a half as Dodgers teammates. He rapidly observed Betts — a celebrity proper fielder, proficient basketball participant, {and professional} bowler — was a talented infielder.

“I’m not surprised because he’s good at everything,” Turner stated. “He’s a freak.”

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Ebel, the Dodgers’ third base and infield coach, has led a lot of the work with Betts in his three years as a Dodger, hitting him fungos and placing him via drills on his knees. He is satisfied Betts would win a Gold Glove if he targeted solely on second base. For now, he believes Betts is greater than adequate to deal with the place so he pushed Team USA officers to have him play there within the WBC.

“He’s got the hand-eye coordination,” Ebel stated. “He moves his feet well. He reads the spin of the ball. He just has all the baseball instincts and he’s a tremendous athlete that adjusts well.”

Betts was instantly examined within the first inning Thursday; he turned a 5-4-3 double play with out a hitch. That got here moments after he singled as Team USA’s No. 2 hitter. He singled once more within the third inning earlier than he was pulled. He went three for 3 with two walks in Team USA’s exhibition video games.

“He looked natural over there,” Team USA middle fielder Mike Trout stated. “He can play anywhere on the field — maybe not catcher.”

The expertise will probably be on show on the nascent WBC stage, one of many few unchecked containers remaining in Betts’ profession, for the primary time beginning Saturday in opposition to Great Britain.

In a manner, the match will probably be a return to life earlier than stardom. A return to second base. A return to No. 3, his highschool basketball quantity, as a result of veteran pitcher Adam Wainwright known as dibs on No. 50.

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A return to his roots.