Sport & Culture

Johnny Damon to ‘Suit Up’ for Thailand

SE Asia teams have been searching for talent for the World Baseball Classic. One former All-Star could help.

There is no chance baseball star Johnny Damon will be playing for Team USA in the next World Baseball Classic, as the MLB All-Star will be suiting up with Thailand for the World Baseball Classic qualifiers that start November 15th. Damon played for Team USA in the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006.

Johnny Damon’s mother hails from Thailand and the World Baseball Classic maintains lax eligibility policies. For example, Americans who are even direct descendants of the citizens of another country may be eligible to play for that country in the World Baseball Classic.

Major League Baseball has hoped that such liberal rules would ensure that talented MLB and minor league players would end up sprinkled across the national rosters of even longshot teams like Thailand and the Philippines. Yet, some Major Leaguers have declined to represent their home country in next week’s qualification round. Notably New York Yankees pitcher Clay Rapada said he will not play for Philippines and the Filipino squad’s efforts to get San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Tim Lincecum to join them for the tournament were rebuffed by Lincecum, who stated that it was his American father who raised him for much of his childhood, not his Filipino mother.

Joe Cook, the founder of the Cambodian national Baseball Team, told The Diplomat that Johnny Damon’s move was a positive one: “With Johnny now playing for Team Thailand, this will expose baseball to more people here in Southeast Asia. This is not only good for Thailand but, for all of us. Johnny Damon can help encourage people in Southeast Asia to play more baseball and better understand the game.” 

Johnny Damon, 38, has been a free-agent since being released by the Indians on August 9th. He has been practicing with the Thai team since Tuesday and was previously involved in efforts to promote baseball in Thailand. As part of Group 4 of the World Baseball Classic qualification round in Taiwan, Thailand will face the Philippines, New Zealand and Taiwan. Only one team from this qualifying group will advance to the 2013 World Baseball Classic in March. 

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Joseph Hammond is a freelance writer and former correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.