Lakeland, Fla. — Javier Báez had the weekend to decompress after his Team Puerto Rico got bounced out of the World Baseball Classic by Team Mexico and he looked pretty fresh in the clubhouse Monday.
“It had to end at some point,” he said with a shrug. “It was pretty fun, to be honest. Nothing negative about it. We played well. The other team played better.”
Báez had three hits and knocked in two runs in the final game. He hit .368 for the tournament. He was locked in, which he said was exactly how he felt when he left Tigers’ camp two weeks ago.
“I was working on what I was working on here,” he said. “Just trying to be on time, seeing the ball and having that trust. That’s what happened in the tournament. I was seeing the ball good. I’ve been seeing it pretty well.”
Coming back to the relative solitude of spring camp after playing in front of 35,817 delirious fans in a win-or-go-home game, well, it can be tough to fire yourself up. But Báez has been here before.
“I had it pretty clear in 2017,” Baez said, referencing Puerto Rico’s loss to Team USA in the WBC championship game. “I gave everything I had and then for the season I was pretty tired. But this time, I knew it was going to end at some point and everybody was going to have to be focused on the regular season with their teams.
“We did play with a lot of excitement and we played for our island and it was great. But now it’s time to get into our season here.”
Báez was overwhelmed by the support the team received throughout the tournament, whether it was in Fort Myers or Miami.
“Seeing how many people flew out to Miami, it was incredible,” he said. “We had so much family there, too. As a team, woof, we probably had more than 200 family members and friends there. It was really fun.
“Even the younger kids on the team who didn’t play that much, they were like, ‘Bro, I can play anywhere now. The regular season will be nothing for us. We saw everything here.’”
Team Puerto Rico’s run was a bit star-crossed, though. All-Star closer Edwin Diaz injured his knee during the celebration of their upset win over the Dominican Republic. Báez said the team went into their quarterfinal game against Mexico not knowing the extent of his injury.
“Seeing him so calm about the situation is the thing that calmed everybody down,” Báez said. “Everybody was sitting at their locker before the (Mexico) game. It was hard, just dealing with his situation and dealing with his brother, who thought he did it. Their family was looking for him. It was just out of control.”
Alexis Diaz, also a pitcher on Team Puerto Rico, was nearest to Edwin when he collapsed. Alexis also gave up three runs in the loss to Mexico.
“But Edwin wanted to walk into the clubhouse and speak to everybody,” Baez said. “And he did. Everybody was just fine. He talked to the team before he got the X-ray.”
The X-ray showed a full tear of Diaz’s patella tendon.
“We just pray for him now that he can get back as quick as possible,” Baez said.
The impact of this WBC, Baez hopes, will go beyond the results of the games for his island.
“The way our island supports us, you know, the way the stuff in the streets stop to watch us, we just feel big for our island,” he said. “But this was bigger when there were more people on the island. Now there are a lot of people living in the United States and other places. But I was there as a fan in 2006 when they played in Puerto Rico and it was bigger then, in my opinion.
“And that’s our goal. Other than winning, it’s about sending the message to the future that this really matters for us. We want to bring the sport back in Puerto Rico.”