PHOENIX – Hoisting the World Baseball Classic trophy six years ago, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado basked in the glory of victory while donning the Stars and Stripes.
Back then, the duo were members of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies, respectively and had even faced each other in a 2017 National League Wild Card game at Chase Field.
Now, as members of the St. Louis Cardinals, the pair are looking to raise the championship trophy once again as the only returning members of the 2017 Team USA title team.
Although it’s been six years, the feeling of representing the United States never faltered for either Goldschmidt or Arenado.
“The environment is very similar to the playoff environments that I’ve been in,” Arenado said. “But I think winning the gold medal – we can’t play in the Olympics. (The WBC) really is up there for me. Winning that was amazing.
“Being able to be part of a team that won – I actually didn’t perform well in 2017, either – so just being part of a group of people that picked each other up was an amazing feeling. For me, it’s way up there because wearing USA and having fans chanting that, it just hits a little bit different.”
Goldschmidt was a fan-favorite at Chase Field for eight seasons with the Diamondbacks, who drafted him in 2009 and the 2022 NL MVP played some of his best baseball during his time in Arizona shortly after that 2017 WBC tournament.
After winning the gold medal in 2017, Goldschmidt tore the NL West apart over the next six months, tying a career-high in homers with 36 along, driving in 120 runs and finishing third in MVP voting that season.
“I do think this prepares you,” he said of the WBC. “You’re kind of closer to midseason form, and all of a sudden Opening Day rolls around. You’re like, ‘I’ve already been doing this!’ The intensity is not anywhere close to these games until you get to the playoffs. And so I think it has the potential to help. It’s not a guarantee. But looking back, I think it can get you in a better spot.”
So, of course, he wanted more.
“I’ve said it, it’s one of the best baseball experiences in my life – the one in 2017 – because of how positive that I was,” he said. “I begged to be on this team. I would have done anything, I had so much fun. It’s way up there.”
Goldschmidt, a seven-time All-Star, has never advanced past a NL Championship Series during his career, but he believes winning the WBC championship might rank up there with a World Series in some ways.
“But it’s different (than winning a World Series) when you’re representing your country and you’re playing with different players,” he said. “So both those things are success as a team. They’re a little different, but they’re both ranked way up there.
Despite his self-described struggles in the 2017 WBC, Arenado had a season for the Rockies that rivaled the one Goldschmidt had that year.
Arenado slugged 37 homers, drove in 130 runs and finished one spot behind Goldy in the NL MVP race. Arenado agrees that the WBC helps players prepare for the marathon that is an MLB season. He expressed his love for the event, adding that if he could give any advice to younger players, it would be to play in this tournament.
Despite winning it all in 2017, both players would prefer to have better individual performances this time around. Arenado went five-for-31 at the plate Goldschmidt one-of-13 in 2017, and current TEAM USA manager Mark DeRosa attributed their slumps back then to a lack of maturity as players.
“I think maybe for both of them, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth,” DeRosa said. “ Paul didn’t start that final game, Eric Hosmer did. For him (Goldschmidt) to stand up the first day after I addressed the team and kind of reiterate that point, I think they’ve matured as professionals, as superstars in the game. They’re going to be major contributors to what we do if we’re going to win this thing.”
The now-veterans are off to a great start. In Saturday night’s matchup against Great Britain, Arenado went 3-5 with two RBIs while Goldschmidt couldn’t stay off the base paths, accounting for three runs and reaching first base three times during the game.
As leaders of this year’s team, the two pass on the wisdom they took from their 2017 experience to those who are participating in their first World Baseball Classic. Goldschmidt mentioned that sharing his experiences with teammates about how a player can’t rely on their normal regular-season routine during the tournament has helped ease the nerves of some of his teammates on the international stage.
“You don’t have the guy who normally throws BP, and your hitting coach and teammates and all that stuff,” Goldschmidt said. “ They’re playoff-type games, World Series-type atmosphere. So, giving a little insight. To me that’s been the biggest thing, is just to share what we went through. And guys did that for us, too, and to pass that forward.”
Chase Field was sold out for Team USA’s Sunday night loss to Mexico and there were 39,650 fans on hand for the U.S. victory over Great Britain to begin defense of that 2017 gold medal, underscoring Goldschmidt’s point about the playoff-like atmosphere.
“Everyone wants to get that big hit and win the game and win this thing,” he said. “So I think it’s about more, at least I think from an offensive side, kind of controlling your emotions and not getting too amped up where you’re chasing pitches out of the zone and stuff like that.
“I think you try to use that energy for focus and not necessarily like to take your intensity up. Intensity is already there. Just kind of use, not just the crowd, but the players around us to just make sure your focus is tough.”