- Jesse joined ESPN Chicago in September 2009 and covers MLB for ESPN.com.
PHOENIX — Playing for Team USA again in the WBC was never a question for third baseman Nolan Arenado. After helping the U.S. win the tournament in 2017, he desperately wanted a chance to defend that title.
He’s off to a good start.
Arenado, 31, had three hits and several highlight-reel defensive plays in the team’s opening-round win, a 6-2 victory over Great Britain on Saturday night. He set the tone after the U.S. got down 1-0.
“The intensity with which he works pregame is honestly — I’m not sugarcoating it — like nothing I’ve ever seen,” Team USA manager Mark DeRosa said after the game. “He’s intense in ground balls. He’s intense in his cage work.”
Arenado’s pregame routine was actually thrown off due to the length of the previous contest on Saturday, between Colombia and Mexico. It’s one of the things he learned while playing in the tournament in 2017. You have to be able to adjust on the fly.
“We were taking ground balls in the outfield today,” Arenado said. “I haven’t taken ground balls in the outfield since I was in Little League. While I was doing it, I made sure to focus and do it the right way. It prepared me. I was ready to go.”
The same can be said of Arenado at the plate, after the team wasn’t able to take batting practice on the field. He adjusted his routine again, then a couple of hours later, doubled home the tying run in the second inning before scoring the go-ahead run a few moments later.
He added another double and a single and also made several on-the-run throws across his body to first base.
“I’ve played with some great fielders,” said Adam Wainwright, Arenado’s Cardinals teammate and Saturday’s starter. “I don’t know if I’ve ever played with somebody behind me like that. I’ve played with the best defensive catcher of all time and I had Scott Rolen at third base. Not a shot at him, but Nolan Arenado is just a special, special player that I don’t know if you can compare him.”
Even with Arenado’s heroics, it was a tight game until Kyle Schwarber launched a ball into the right-field stands for a three-run home run in the fourth inning. It ignited a pro U.S. crowd as Schwarber gave them a salute while rounding the bases.
“That’s going to be our little celebration for us this year,” Schwarber said. “Get back to a little salute to our men and women, too.”
DeRosa admitted his players needed to settle in a little with many playing in their first WBC game. They quickly found their footing, proving they’re the favorites to come out of the preliminary round games in Arizona.
The U.S. takes on Mexico on Sunday after it was upset by Colombia.
“Just a great first day,” DeRosa said. “I just think for a lot of us, and the coaches included, was a chance for us to — I don’t want to say knock the cobwebs off — but a chance for us to kind of experience it (the intensity) ourselves.”
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