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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Infielder who ‘wants the moment’ thrives for US team

Tim Anderson did a little bit of everything in helping his team crush Canada at the World Baseball Classic. All in a day’s work for a certified baseball dude.

By Tyler Kepner

In baseball parlance, a quality major league player is known as a guy. A superstar, though, is more than a guy. He’s a dude.

Most of the pitchers for the United States in this World Baseball Classic are guys. The hitters are dudes, and that is why Tim Anderson was unfazed by losing badly to Mexico on Sunday night.

“Really, the vibe is still the same,” Anderson, the shortstop for the Chicago White Sox, said after leaving the U.S. clubhouse in Phoenix. “I mean, you look around and you see who’s in the locker room, there’s really nothing to complain about. You’ve got a bunch of dudes in there.”

The dudes showed up Monday with the cool assurance that they would not be embarrassed again. They blitzed Team Canada with a nine-run first inning, winning by mercy rule in seven innings, 12-1, for their second victory in three games. After a day off, the U.S. team was to face Colombia on Wednesday night in hopes of advancing to the quarterfinals in Miami.

Lance Lynn stifled Canada for five innings Monday, but it was Anderson, Lynn’s Chicago teammate, who may have shone brightest. In 10 seasons as a professional, Anderson has played 1,091 games in the field, always at shortstop. On Monday, for the very first time, he played second base.

“Everybody tells him that he can’t do something, he’s going to prove you wrong and do everything that he can to win, no matter where he is, whatever situation you put him in,” Lynn said. “And that’s who he is. He’s going to win at all costs.”

The U.S. team could have used a different batting champion at second base Monday, the New York Mets’ Jeff McNeil, a left-handed hitter. But Canada was starting a left-hander, and manager Mark DeRosa took no chances. He wanted the right-handed Anderson, who has hit .318 across the past four seasons but seems to have something to prove.

“When you play in the WBC, it’s a feeling-out process at first,” DeRosa said. “I think he wanted to let some people know how good he was — in that dugout, in that clubhouse, the coaching staff, on down the line. He has really caught a lot of people’s eyes on this team.”

Anderson walked in the first against Mitch Bratt, 19, who pitched last season for the Class A Down East Wood Ducks in Kinston, North Carolina, and managed only nine strikes in 25 pitches. Anderson later added a triple, a single and a stolen base, while fielding flawlessly at second.

“It’s really not the first time I’ve played on the other side of the bag; when the shift was on, I stayed on that side,” Anderson said. “It’s a matter of just getting comfortable, and I got comfortable as the game went on and I was able to complete the task.”

With infield shifting still allowed in the WBC, Anderson actually made one of his four assists on the shortstop side of second base. Both of his hits went to right field, the same direction as his game-ending homer at the Field of Dreams in Iowa in 2021.

That was a rare spotlight moment for Anderson, whose White Sox have made two rather forgettable playoff appearances in his seven-year career. The first, in 2020, was part of an expanded field with no fans in attendance. The other, in 2021, was a division series loss to Houston that was mostly hidden, with three of four games held on weekday afternoons.

Still, DeRosa said, Anderson is a player who “wants the moment” — and, indeed, he is 16 for 33 (.485) in those rare postseason games, and 4 for 7 with four runs batted in at this WBC.

“He’s been raking,” said Trea Turner of the Philadelphia Phillies, who started for the U.S. team at shortstop. “He can really, really hit.”

And that is Anderson’s objective: Confident in his ability to smack the ball hard to all fields, he never wants to take a hittable pitch. In 2019, when he won the American League batting title, Anderson walked only 15 times in 518 plate appearances.

“I ain’t in there to wait around,” Anderson said the next spring, and the numbers support his mantra.

He has 900 hits and 117 walks, the fewest among the 24 major leaguers with that many hits in the past seven seasons — and nobody wants him to change.

“He reminds me of my old teammate, Michael Young, who is on the coaching staff,” DeRosa said. “I’m telling Mikey all the time, ‘Mikey, he’s you, man. He plays with an edge, lightning bat speed, takes his knocks the other way.’”

Young used that approach to win a batting title and make seven All-Star teams while amassing the most hits in Texas Rangers history. Anderson, 29, has a long way to go to catch Luke Appling on the White Sox list — Appling, a Hall of Famer, had 2,749 hits — but his reputation is taking hold across the game.

“To actually be on the same field with him and watch him play, he’s an incredible player — just so dynamic, he can do so many things,” said U.S. catcher J.T. Realmuto, who has played just one series against the White Sox in four years with the Philadelphia Phillies.

“That’s another part of the intrigue of an event like this. I’ve got to play with guys — I think I’ve played Trout one time my whole career. So being in the same clubhouse with him, with Anderson, and watching them on a daily basis, it’s a lot of fun.”

Mike Trout, the three-time winner of the AL’s Most Valuable Player Award for the Los Angeles Angels, is the headliner here; he homered Monday and made the team celebration gesture — a military-style salute — on his trip around the bases. But Trout was happy to share the stage at the postgame news conference.

“He’s a star,” Trout said, with Anderson just to his right. “There’s no way else to put it.”

There is one other way. Anderson, like the rest of the hitters in the decorated U.S. lineup, is a dude.

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