GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Infielder Nick Punto returned to the Dodgers on Friday from his World Baseball Classic adventure with underdog Team Italy, encouraging Major League Baseball to take the tournament to an even higher level.
"I hope we can get owners to buy in, so we can put the best team out there," said Punto, who also participated in the two previous Classics. "It's a pride thing for our country, like you want to be an Olympic gold medalist. I'm speaking from an emotional standpoint. We need to get the Verlanders and Kershaws and the horses out there."
The timing of the tournament still places a limitation on the pitchers that are available. Punto said he spoke to Michael Weiner, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, about the possibility of having pitchers report to Spring Training by mid-January or early February to enable their participation, "because it means that much."
Italy pulled off upsets of Mexico and Canada to advance into the second round before being eliminated with one-run losses to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
"We didn't feel like we were underdogs," said Punto. "Obviously, on paper, match us up and we can't compete. I get it. But it's baseball, so you throw strikes and make the plays and any team can beat any team."
Manager Don Mattingly even predicted that Punto would be the first of his players to return to Spring Training.
"The skipper was wrong," Punto said.
"This is definitely an experience I would recommend to anybody who gets the opportunity. It's great for this time of year, to get in real game action with an intensity you don't get in Spring Training exhibitions. I believe it really helps prepare for the regular season."
Punto said the improvements from previous Classics are noticeable.
"Everything from the crowds to the fan experience to the organization," he said. "It keeps getting better. All the little things that come with baseball were on point."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less