Chris Perez honored to pitch for Team USA in World Baseball Classic

The call came, but Chris Perez missed it.

The Holmes Beach native, IMG alum and Cleveland Indians closer was busy moving the day his cell phone rang and Joe Torre was waiting on the other end.

"I hope it's good news," Perez remembered thinking.

The owner of four World Series rings, Torre, as it turns out, isn't above leaving a voice mail.

And once Perez returned it, his fears melted away.

Torre, who will manage Team USA during next month's World Baseball Classic, was calling Perez to tell him he was on the team.

And unlike a large of swath of superstars, Perez didn't turn down the invitation.

He was the one he wanted it to begin with, as soon as the player's association began taking a preliminary head count toward the end of last season.

"I was like, 'Yes, I'd love to play,'" Perez said. "It's a great game, and we invented it."

It's understandable why some of the sport's biggest names have waved away Torre's request to play for Team USA, which will come together in early March at the Colorado Rockies' spring training complex in Salt River Flats, Ariz.

Spring training is all about easing into a routine; the World Baseball Classic is all about playing to win in mid-March. And while teams aren't permitted to prevent a player from participating in the WBC, it isn't always the easiest thing to go against the guy who signs your paycheck, especially when said paycheck could easily put a few dozen twins through college.

Perez, however, never thought twice about playing.

He wants to represent

his country, which hasn't made it past the semifinals during the first two WBCs.

"It's kind of a black eye," Perez said of Team USA's previous performances. "Also, it's an honor to be selected. It's what you've worked your whole life for. When I played in college, I wanted to be one of the best in college. When I played in the minors, I wanted to be one of the best in the minors. And now that I'm a major leaguer, I want to be one of the best in the majors. And this kind of validates that."

In preparation for playing competitive games rather than easy-as-Sunday-morning Cactus League contests, Perez began throwing a couple of weeks early in attempt to round into the guy who has produced 98 saves and two All-Star team selections during the past three years.

"I wanted to make sure I'm closer to midseason form, and I feel stronger because of it," Perez said. "I'm not concerned about wearing down later in the year. I hope I don't. But right now, I'm feeling fine."

He's ready to wear USA across his chest, ready to play for a manager likely to land in the hall of fame and ready to help the United States take back ownership of the game we proudly call our own.

It's big-time baseball in the middle of spring.

Perez is ecstatic to be a part of it.

Given how some of baseball's other guys have reacted to the WBC, that's good news, too.

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