SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It was an enticing offer, one that still makes Gregor Blanco smile and shake his head when recounting the story.
Fresh off the best season of his career, Blanco was approached by Venezuela's staff and asked if he would be interested in hitting leadoff and playing center field in the World Baseball Classic. Marco Scutaro would likely be hitting behind him, followed by some combination of Triple Crown-winner Miguel Cabrera, teammate Pablo Sandoval and Colorado Rockies slugger Carlos Gonzalez.
"Marco was saying 'Let's go! Let's go!'" Blanco said. "But I wanted to stay here with the Giants. Bad things happened the last time I played (in the WBC)."
Blanco loves his country and the event, but he also knows that he likely never will have the security of many other major-league players who choose to participate. He learned that lesson in 2009, when he left Atlanta Braves camp to participate in the WBC and ended up losing his job to a rookie.
Even with Blanco staying in Scottsdale this time around, the Giants will have eight representatives in the WBC. The number was originally 11, but Javier Lopez pulled out early in camp and Andres Torres (oblique strain) and Jose Mijares (left elbow impingement) pulled out Thursday.
The eight departures is not as many as the Brewers, who reached the WBC cap by losing 14 players to provisional rosters, but still is a significantly greater hit than most clubs are feeling. The
"It's an advantage to us, no doubt, not to have any players in the WBC," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "That said, it's a big deal for players to wear their country's colors, and we wouldn't ever want to stand in the way of that."
Giants manager Bruce Bochy felt the same way, leaving the decisions up to his players, even in the case of Pablo Sandoval. While the Giants have concerns about Sandoval's weight and conditioning, the third-baseman's desire to wear Venezuela's colors actually ended up helping the cause. Sandoval wanted to start every early spring game to get enough at-bats to prepare for the WBC, but Bochy held playing time as a reward, demanding that Sandoval hit a certain number on the scale in order to get starts.
"To his credit, he did," Bochy said, smiling. "Although to be honest, I'm not sure how."
While some teams -- like the Cincinnati Reds with pitcher Johnny Cueto -- blocked participation, the Giants opted to take a proactive approach and make sure their players would be ready to play without incident. Ryan Vogelsong, who will start the second game for Team USA, threw an extended bullpen session on the first day of spring workouts and started the Cactus League opener as part of the plan to get him prepared for the rare experience of playing intense games in March.
Most participants will leave camp this weekend, but Vogelsong is scheduled to stick around until Monday to make one last tune-up start before taking the ball against Italy on March 9. Vogelsong's spring schedule had him throwing three innings on Wednesday, the same day Barry Zito made his spring debut, and Bochy said Vogelsong will be ready to go when the Giants send him off.
The organization's decision to embrace the WBC goes beyond the clubhouse. The Giants will host the semifinals and finals on March 17-19 in a move that CEO and president Larry Baer said was a perfect fit.
"San Francisco is a great international city and has also become a baseball mecca," he said. "This puts the two together. We think it's just going to be a magical environment."
That's exactly what MLB was hoping for when the event was first played in 2006, in part as a reaction to the removal of baseball from the Olympics. Both tournaments have been won by Japan and the United States hasn't finished higher than fourth, contributing to a general lack of awareness about the event. And unlike in many of the Latin countries, the top American stars generally tend to pass on playing.
Buster Posey was among the group of American stars to stick with his MLB team, saying he wanted an uninterrupted camp. Matt Cain also was approached by Team USA, but wanted to take a break after a long championship season.
"You've got to ramp up a little earlier," he said of the WBC. "I thought it would be a benefit just to go through a normal spring training."
Blanco felt the same way, even though his hold on a roster spot is significantly tighter than in 2009, in part because of an odd bit of karma. The player who took Blanco's spot while he was playing for Venezuela was Jordan Schafer. Three years later as a Houston Astro, Schafer hit a deep fly ball during Cain's perfect game that Blanco seemingly had no shot of catching.