By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Oct. 2 (Yonhap) -- Born to a Korean mother and an American father, Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Mitch White would love to play for the South Korean national team someday in the future.
However, he won't do that at the 2023 World Baseball Classic (WBC).
In an interview with Yonhap News Agency on Friday, White said he had decided not to commit to the early- to mid-March tournament because he wants to focus on preparing for the new season as a full-time starting pitcher.
"Unfortunately, I just don't think it's the right time in my career," White said in a Zoom session from Rogers Centre in Toronto. "It'd be an awesome experience. But it's just there's too much opportunity for me next year and I think I just have to make sure I get the best leadup to the season as I can."
White is among a few U.S.-born Major League Baseball (MLB) players of Korean descent whom the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) has approached about the WBC. The tournament has a loose set of eligibility rules that allows players to compete for countries of their parents' birth, even if the players themselves weren't born there. White's Toronto teammate, shortstop Bo Bichette, played for Brazil in the 2017 WBC qualifiers because the mother of the Florida native was born in Brazil. Many members of the Israel team at the 2017 WBC were American citizens of Jewish heritage.
But as White tries to establish himself as a major league starter entering his age-28 season, offseason work and spring training will take precedence over the WBC. The Blue Jays will also be playing in the postseason this year, which means a shorter offseason for White depending on his role in October.
The WBC was first held in 2006 as the spring tournament, and White isn't the first player to skip the event to focus on preparing for a new season. He certainly won't be the last.
"It's just hard as a starting pitcher to build up so much quicker. You get less rest, especially with the playoffs, and then you got the regular season after that. And then everything just keeps adding on," White said. "It'd be an awesome experience. And I was definitely honored to be given the offer. It's definitely something that, hopefully down the road if I get a chance to do, I'd love to. But for now, this year, I don't think it's going to happen."
White joined the Blue Jays in an August trade from the Los Angeles Dodgers. He'd been 1-2 with a 3.70 ERA in 15 appearances for the Dodgers, including 10 starts. He is still looking for his first win as a Blue Jay, after going 0-4 with a 7.38 ERA in nine games, including eight starts, though he has flashed some high-velocity stuff.
The Blue Jays acquired him with the intention of using him as a starter, instead of a swingman that he'd been as a Dodger. White said he had long known about the possibility that he could play for South Korea at the WBC. But once he arrived in Toronto and realized he would have a chance to become a starter full time, he had "a clear reason" not to don the Korean colors this time. He is under team control through 2027.
On Sept. 22, the KBO sent Youm Kyoung-youb, technical director for the national team, to the U.S. for meetings or talks with big leaguers of Korean descent about their WBC availability.
This is the first time the KBO is opening the national team doors for foreign-born players of Korean descent. Both Youm and KBO Commissioner Heo Koo-youn have said they believe such players would make the national team more competitive and it was imperative for South Korea to do well at next year's WBC to get more people interested in the domestic league.
Tommy Edman of the St. Louis Cardinals, the 2021 National League Gold Glove winner at second base who has a Korean mother, is also among the candidates for South Korea. Boston Red Sox outfielder Rob Refsnyder, born in Korea but adopted by an American family as a baby, recently told the Boston Globe that the KBO delegation asked him about being placed on the preliminary 50-man roster.
Texas Rangers right-hander Dane Dunning, born to a Korean mother and an American father, previously told Yonhap News Agency that he'd love to play for South Korea, but he recently underwent season-ending hip surgery. His uncertain status for spring training effectively rules him out for the WBC.
South Korea finished third at the inaugural WBC in 2006 and then finished second in 2009.
But the country was knocked out of the opening round at the 2013 and 2017 WBCs.
For the 2023 tournament, South Korea will take on Japan, Australia, China and a qualifier in Pool B. The top two teams from each of the four groups will reach the quarterfinals.
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