Cubs Spring Training Notebook: Seiya Suzuki on Japan’s win and his injury, plus Roenis Elías’ unique WBC
MESA, Ariz. —Seiya Suzuki saw team Japan celebrating in Miami after they won the World Baseball Classic over team USA with a sense of drive.
“Right after the injury obviously it was kind of hard to grasp the reality that [I] won’t be able to be out there with everyone, but just seeing everyone grind out there when they played through the qualifiers and went into the final round as well, it kind of motivated [me] to get through this rehabilitation process,” Suzuki said through interpreter Toy Matsushita. “They were kinda one of the motivators to just keep on going and keeping [my] head up throughout the whole process.”
Suzuki wanted to represent Japan and try to help the team win its first title since 2009. But the team carried his spirit with them, hanging his jersey with his number “51” in their dugout before each game and then holding it up amidst the celebrations after they won.
“Even though I wasn’t on the team, I wasn’t able to do much for the team, just how they did that for me, holding up my uniform, not just in that situation, but every game, they have my uniform in the dugout meant a lot for me,” Suzuki said.
Suzuki has been progressing well in his return from a left oblique strain he suffered last month. Wednesday, he played catch on the agility field at Sloan Park, ran the bases and hit off a live arm in the batting cage.
“I feel really good,” Suzuki said. “A lot more activities than before and I feel like intensity-wise, I’m kinda ramping it up.”
Suzuki will start the season on the injured list and continue his rehab in Arizona as the team heads back to Chicago for the start of the season next week.
“The plan right now is to have him stay here, get live at-bats and then work his way through a minor league progression,” manager David Ross said. “Try to probably send him to some warm spots before we bring him to Chicago or Iowa.”
That was slightly tongue in cheek — Suzuki joked earlier in camp about adjusting to the colder temperatures.
Has Seiya Suzuki adjusted to the cold weather of Chicago?— Andy Martínez (@amartinez_11) February 21, 2023
"He said he’s gonna wear a Moncler down jacket in the at-bat during the season," Suzuki said with a smile through his interpreter Toy Matsushita. #Cubs
“I would have loved to have played in that cold obviously, but I feel like I’m gonna be a little late to that. So, a little sad,” Suzuki said with a smile. “I just wanna talk to Ross and do what’s best for me in terms of weather as well.”
As Roenis Elías took the field in Taiwan for the national anthems ahead of Cuba’s second game of the World Baseball Classic, he took a moment to soak it all in.
“It meant a lot. It was a dream come true,” Elías said Wednesday morning. “It was something that I was playing for my parents, my mom and dad and to play for the four letters on my chest was one of the things that I really wanted to do in my career, so I’m glad I was able to accomplish that.”
It was a historic WBC for Elías and some other major leaguers who represented Cuba for the first time on the international stage. And the Cuban team made the most of it, making a run to the semifinals for the first time since the inaugural WBC in 2006. Elías made the start for Cuba against a loaded team USA.
“I think the biggest moment for me was actually pitching against that great United States team,” Elías, who allowed 3 runs on 4 hits with a strikeout in 2 innings, said. “It didn’t quite go as well as I planned, but it was still a great experience.”
The environment was only matched by the World Series. Elías was on the Nationals in 2019 when they won the World Series — he was on the NLCS roster, but left off the roster in the other playoff rounds.
But it was a complicated environment, too.
Miami, the U.S. city with the highest Cuban population, was the host for that semifinal. While there were plenty of Cuban flags and fans, the support for the Cuban team was mixed. Many Cubans see the baseball team, which has a strong connection to the government, as an extension of the communist regime that has caused many to flee the island.
That sentiment spilled into the stands.
“It was really complicated,” Elías said. “There was lots of Cuban fans and half of them were cheering for us, the other half were protesting against us. Just some ugliness with some of the fans throwing things at our families in the stands. But we’re here to play baseball, we’re not here to politicize anything. I took it a point of just separating the politics from baseball.”
At the end of the day, for Elías, he still cherished the opportunity to represent Cuba.
“It was an incredible experience,” he said. “It was really beautiful. Just a dream come true to be playing for my country and everything went well.”
Lefty Drew Smyly pitched in a minor league game at Sloan Park on Wednesday afternoon. He allowed 2 hits, 3 walks and struck out 7 in 5 shutout innings. Smyly threw 80 pitches in the outing against the Diamondbacks.
The Cubs host the Diamondbacks at Sloan Park Thursday afternoon at 3:05 p.m. Hayden Wesneski will start for the Cubs.