By Rob Rains
JUPITER, Fla. – The Cardinals’ players heading to the World Baseball Classic began their exodus from the team’s spring training camp on Monday.
Tommy Edman was the first to depart, heading out on a flight to Atlanta to connect with his 15 ½ flight to South Korea, where the Korean team will train for several days before heading to Tokyo for the first round of the tournament.
Lars Nootbaar will be leaving on Tuesday, flying to Los Angeles first on his way to Tokyo, where he will join the team representing Japan.
Also leaving later this week will be Andre Pallante, part of the team from Italy, which will play its first-round games in Taiwan.
A total of 13 players off the major-league roster or in camp on a non-roster invitation will be competing in the tournament. Four additional minor-leaguers also are on the roster for Panama, Great Britain and Israel.
The players who will be joining Team USA for the first round in Phoenix – Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas, Paul Goldshmidt and Nolan Arenado – are scheduled to leave camp on March 6. That’s also when Tyler O’Neill will be leaving to join the Canadian team.
Also leaving will be Genesis Cabrera (Dominican Republic), Giovanny Gallegos and JoJo Romero (Mexico) and Oscar Mercado and Guillermo Zuniga (Colombia).
The minor-leaguers heading to the WBC are Wilfredo Pereira (Panama), Joseph King and Matt Koperniak (Great Britain) and Noah Mendlinger (Israel).
The first games of the tournament are scheduled for March 8 and how long players will be gone will be determined by how long their team stays alive. The final game is scheduled for March 21 in Miami.
For both Edman and Nootbaar, what they are looking forward to the most is being able to experience a different culture. Edman said he had never been to Korea before, and his only trip to Japan was when he was about 10 years old.
Nootbaar also traveled to Japan when he was a young boy, visiting family, but he was too young to remember much about that trip.
“I’m just excited to see how each different culture embraces and approaches the game of baseball,” Edman said. “I think the environment, just from watching on TV, seems to be much different than the U.S. and the style of play is different as well. To be able to experience that on the other side of the world will be great.”
Edman will be the only non-Korean citizen on his team, but he will see a couple of familiar faces – former Cardinal Kwang Hyun Kim is one of Korea’s pitcher, and Eugene Koo, who used to work for the Cardinals, will be Edman’s interpreter.
He hopes to take advantage of an off day in the tournament to do a little sight-seeing in Japan, and believes he will have time to do the same in Korea while the team is practicing.
Edman and Nootbaar actually will be staying in the same hotel in Japan.
“What’s nice about this team (the Cardinals) is that I have Drew (Ver Hagen) who is my roommate and Miles who have played over there and kind of got their take on it,” Nootbaar said. “Drew actually played for the manager I will be playing for. It’s going to be a little different in the WBC than the regular-season over there but I’m excited.
“I think it’s a good group of players over there, a passionate fan base so I am looking forward to it. I think the energy, being in a new culture, in a new country, playing in front of family that I’ve never gotten to play in front of before is a cool personal note for me.”
Nootbaar knows Japan should be one of the favorites in the tournament, which could set up a contest against teammates Goldschmidt and Arenado, who share a corner of the spring training clubhouse.
“I’ve been looking forward to that,” Nootbaar said. “I’ve already been talking a little trash. I think we’re good enough to make it there and compete to win it. I think we’ve got a legitimate shot.”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo of Tommy Edman by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports