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Team Spain doesn’t look very Spanish, but they still might make noise at the World Baseball Classic

Despite only having two Spanish-born players on the roster, Team Spain will still bring the Spanish connection to the World Baseball Classic

Just one win away from reaching the World Baseball Classic in March, Team Caribbean B–sorry, Team Spain–is on the verge of qualifying for the world’s biggest baseball tournament for the second time. And while its players represent La Madre Patria, most of them aren’t doing it for pride, citizenship, or national celebration. 

You might even be surprised to hear that virtually no one on the Spanish team is Spanish. Well, maybe not that surprised. 

Of the 28 players on Spain’s active roster, only two were actually born in Spain. Eleven were born in Venezuela, seven were born in the Dominican Republic, five were born in Cuba, two were born in the United States, and one even hails from Nicaragua. 

As it has been for a while, Team Spain doesn’t look all that Spanish. And since they’re good enough to make some noise in the big tournament, they’ll likely have a lot of fans wondering what their deal is. What is the point of a Team Spain that is almost entirely Latin American? And what is the point of the WBC if most of the teams just feature reshuffled Caribbean players? 

Not the first time Spain has ransacked the Caribbean

For international soccer fans, it would seem ridiculous that a team can represent a country with a vast majority of its players born elsewhere, but that’s not the case in baseball. As the marquee international baseball event, the WBC has allowed concessions to field enough teams to make a robust tournament, and it has led to some pretty wild roster constructions over the years.

The Netherlands might as well be Team Caribbean C with players mostly hailing from Aruba and Curaçao, both sovereign states in the Dutch kingdom. This year’s Team Caribbean D Great Britain features quite a few players from the Bahamas and the British Virgin Islands. Team France features a dozen Caribbean players on their roster, and since none are from Haiti or the French West Indies I’m not even sure how that’s possible. 

But Spain takes it to another level. Players from Aruba, Curaçao, The Bahamas, and the Virgin Islands represent the mother country because there is no better competitive option. But most players on the Spanish team have the eligibility requirements to represent their home nations, all of which are much stronger baseball countries, but don’t because they’re not good enough to make their national teams. Representing Spain gives them a path to compete at a high level and expose themselves to major league scouts.

But if no one on the team is Spanish, can it actually be called Spanish baseball?

The Spanish connection is still there

Though only two of its players and one coach were born in Spain, it’s not accurate to call the Spanish national team a collection of mercenaries with no connection to the homeland. Many of these players are Spanish citizens who play on various clubs in the European circuit. Five alone come from the Tenerife Marlins, a club juggernaut and one of nine teams in the country’s top baseball league

And though most of team Spain’s players come from outside of Spain, the star of the qualifying round so far has been a player born in Barcelona. Justin Connell, an outfielder in the Washington Nationals system, went six-for-eight with a double and a home run in Spain’s wins over South Africa and the Czech Republic. He’s emerged as a legitimate power threat, and though he grew up in the United States, he can claim the most Spanish blood of anyone on the roster. 

But he may not even be the best available pickup for Team Spain. If Spain qualifies for the big tournament in March, it’s possible that major-leaguer Luis Guillorme, who played for Spain in the 2013 qualifiers, will reprise his role on the infield (if his native Venezuela doesn’t pick him up first). If Guillorme’s Mets teammate Pete Alonso hadn’t already announced his intention to play for Team USA, he would also be eligible to occupy first base for Team Spain. These players wouldn’t necessarily make Spain competitive, but they would make them an interesting team.

But just by making the Classic at all, Team Spain would represent one of the most interesting sides in the tournament.

Team Spain still not a WBC contender

Nothing is set in stone, yet. After blowing a lead and eventually losing to Great Britain in the qualifying game, Spain only has one more shot to qualify against a German team that they’ve yet to play. But they’ve been here before.

Spain qualified for only one other WBC in 2013, where they stayed competitive but lost three games to Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic. If they qualify for the 2023 WBC, there is a 75% chance that they will be placed in a pool with a former colony waiting for them. 

The players may not think of it this way, but there’s a delicious justice in Latin American countries having an opportunity to beat up on the colonizer. It’s even more poetic that Spain needs to field a team with Latin American players just to have the chance to get beaten up by their former colonies, even if there’s no ill will amongst these players. 

But even though Team Spain may not look all that Spanish, they have what it takes to represent Spain. The ancestry, the club connection, the willingness to compete in a game that most of their citizens don’t know very well–it all makes them a team to keep an eye on at the Classic. Just don’t bet on them to get out of their pool.