Craig Kimbrel: Proud to Be Representing Team USA at the World Baseball Classic

Ron JuckettContributor IIIJanuary 25, 2013

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 29:  Pitcher Craig Kimbrel #46 of the Atlanta Braves throws a pitch during the game against the New York Mets at Turner Field on September 29, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

No one had to convince Craig Kimbrel to pitch for Team USA in the upcoming 2013 World Baseball Classic.

In a phone interview with Bleacher Report Thursday from New York City, the Atlanta Braves closer said this was something he began thinking about at the end of last season:

"It wasn’t a difficult decision at all. It was something I wanted to do before they even asked me if I wanted to play. Toward the end of the season, I saw that the WBC was coming around and, you know, it caught my eye as something I wanted to do."

When asked about what it means for him to represent Team USA, he replied:

"I definitely want to represent my country and, you know, it’s an honor. As a ballplayer, there is no Olympics in baseball and so playing your sport, there is no other chance to represent your country other than playing in the World Baseball Classic. And, I’m more than honored and happy to be able to do it."

This will be the third playing of the World Baseball Classic.

Sixteen teams are competing for the honors this time. The teams are broken into four groups and pool play begins March 2 in both Tokyo and, for the first time, Taiwan.

Japan has won the other two WBCs that have been contested.

After the first two groups complete their round-robin play, the last two will compete in Puerto Rico and in the Phoenix area.

Kimbrel and the rest of Team USA will play all three group games at Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Their first game will be against Mexico at 7 p.m. Mountain Time on March 8.

Then they play Italy as the road team the next afternoon before being the visiting team against Canada the night of March 10 to wrap up pool play.

Every game of the WBC will be seen on MLB Network starting from the Australia-Chinese Taipei opener on March 2 through the final at San Francisco’s AT&T Park on March 19. ESPN Radio will also provide coverage and Spanish language broadcasts through ESPN Deportes.

For Kimbrel, playing meaningful baseball before the season is exciting and different for him:

"No, I’ve never done that before. I’m looking forward to it. I think having fans in the stands…you get that adrenaline that you wouldn’t get during spring training. And, it’s definitely something I’m looking forward to and, you know, will make me more ready to go at the start of the season."

Kimbrel tells B/R that Team USA manager Joe Torre and pitching coach Greg Maddux have not told him exactly what his role will be out of the bullpen coming up, but he was meeting with them later Thursday afternoon to talk about that.

When asked who he was most looking forward to having as a teammate, he answered an old college buddy—Texas Rangers starting pitcher Derek Holland.

"You know, it’s not the first time I’ve played with him, but Derek Holland. I went to college with him. We both went to Lone Star Community College at the same time. I haven’t got to play on the same team with him since we both left school. I think it should be interesting and a lot of fun to do."

Kimbrel is definitely excited about representing his country for the first time in any international competition.

As far as his expectations for the WBC go, they are two-fold.

First, he expects the team to play to win:

"You know, obviously, I hope our entire team is hoping to win the thing."

More importantly for Kimbrel, he hopes to learn from his peers:

"Just the experience to interact with All-Star players, you know, for multiple weeks and maybe learn something from them to make my game better. It’s definitely something that comes around now and then and I’m glad I’m able to play."

Here is the complete interview where he also talks about the Justin Upton trade, life after Chipper Jones and the upcoming season along with the WBC: