Mike Trout will play baseball Friday. The Angels host a spring training game against the Padres in Tempe, Arizona. First pitch is 1 p.m. local time, so Trout should have more than enough time to settle in front of a TV by 4 p.m. to watch Team USA open its World Baseball Classic against Colombia. Trout will have a chance to watch some of the best players the United States has to offer. Of course, one cannot say flat-out "the best" without Trout.
"They're going to be good for sure," Trout told MLB.com two weeks ago. "I'm definitely going to watch it. Certainly some time in my career, I'm going to do it."
Talk is cheap, Mike. And you already have a contract that will pay you $19.25 million in 2017 and $33.25 million each year from 2018-2020. Why is "some time" not when you are 25, coming off five straight seasons in the top two of AL MVP voting, with millions of dollars locked into the bank?
Trout is far from the only U.S. star passing on the World Baseball Classic. Among 2016 leaders in wins above replacement (WAR), the top seven Americans are all staying in spring training this month. (Trout was No. 1.) The eighth, Nolan Arenado, is suiting up in red, white and blue.
Three international players in the top 10 of WAR -- Jose Altuve, Robinson Cano and Manny Machado -- are all playing for their respective Latin American nations.
The American sluggers and aces believe they are protecting themselves by staying out of extra competition. But in turn, they are exacerbating baseball's publicity problem and depriving themselves of chances to connect with more fans.
Noah Syndergaard gave a telling answer last week on the stigma of the World Baseball Classic among MLB players, specifically Americans.
"Because I'm a Met," he reasoned for not playing for the U.S. "And ain't nobody made it to the Hall of Fame or win the World Series playing in the WBC."
True, Noah. But the World Baseball Classic also started in 2006. Ken Griffey Jr., Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones, Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens played on that team. That's not to mention Barry Larkin, Mark McGwire and Nomar Garciaparra played on Olympic teams.
Even more important than Syndergaard's Hall of Fame comment is the part about the Mets. Syndergaard is indeed a Met and he will start on Opening Day against at Citi Field. He'll be asked to headline baseball's best young rotation in 2017. And the 7 Line Army will be in his corner the whole way.
It has become easy for MLB players to feel complacent in their respective markets. Last July, Forbes determined 22 MLB teams ranked No. 1 in primetime cable TV programming on nights they played. Meanwhile, national regular-season baseball broadcasts are spiraling in the wrong direction. Last year's MLB All-Star Game dropped 20 percent in viewership from the previous year. On nights of ESPN MLB broadcasts, only two cities -- Kansas City and Cleveland -- gave the channel a top ten ranking among all TV programming. The Cubs gave playoff TV ratings a boost, but that story is over.
The World Baseball Classic gives stars the extra opportunity to perform at a national level, and a rare case to perform at an international level. Nothing is guaranteed. World No. 41 Israel upset No. 3 South Korea, No. 4 Chinese Taipei and No. 9 Netherlands, knocking the first two out of the tournament.
Having stars play in the WBC doesn't guarantee a Hollywood script. But there is a potential for a story that carries the same weight in New York as it does in LA. Bryce Harper could have put on a show for fans watching in Texas, Venezuela and Japan. Instead, his cuts will be constricted to Washington D.C. daytime TV and West Palm Beach spring breakers.
MLB made sure to organize the World Baseball Classic during spring training, when players have to play exhibitions anyway. In terms of injuries, whether a player gets hurt in the WBC or at spring training, they would be playing baseball, regardless. The WBC also adjusted its structure to allow pitchers to join the team in later rounds. If the U.S. reached the semifinals and finals at Dodger Stadium, look out for a Clayton Kershaw addition.
MLB players should look at the NBA as a template. Of the 23 American All-Stars this season, 17 played on an Olympic and/or FIBA World Cup team. Some of the others were cut from U.S. training camps.
The NBA has become a global entity and the players are recognized around the world. Look at Stephen Curry in Guangzhou last summer:
Or look at Kobe Bryant's 2015 Asia Tour:
— NBA (@NBA) August 3, 2015
Paul George suffered a compound fracture in a World Cup scrimmage in 2014. Yet, he made it a goal to come back and play in the 2016 Olympics, where he was Team USA's third-leading scorer. George then appeared on the cover of NBA 2K17 and Nike unveiled his first signature shoe. George's current Twitter profile picture features him holding his Rio gold medal. Don't think this all doesn't add up for a guy who would just be relying on the Indianapolis market without his international endeavors.
MLB was the driving force behind the creation of the World Baseball Classic in 2005 and it has been the main player sustaining the tournament in the ensuing decade. MLB wants the tournament. It adds another dimension to the league, assuming the players play. And MLB has done so much to cater to the American players' needs, starting the tournament after spring training is underway and keeping most North American and Caribbean teams in the Western Hemisphere.
If MLB players want to be divas about it, they are not only hurting the sport and the league, but they are hurting their own image. A 2015 ESPN poll showed of young Americans' 30 favorite sports figures, zero baseball players were on the list. The average ESPN audience for MLB is age 53. The average for the NBA is 37.
Times are changing and the World Baseball Classic is an extension of MLB. It's a chance to connect with younger viewers who are fine with players skipping a few spring training games to wear their nation's flag. It's a chance to connect with international viewers watching the game on their domestic TV channels.
But that opportunity is being wasted.
"Some time" may never come for Mike Trout. And he, and his fellow superstars, only have themselves to blame for that.