EXTRA BAGGS: Belt rings into spring with a new attitude

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EXTRA BAGGS: Belt rings into spring with a new attitude

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Brandon Belt didnt receive a World Series ring last season when his Giants teammates were awarded their baby blue boxes from Tiffany. But hes assembling quite a jewelry collection. And now its going international.Belt played six weeks for Escogido in the Dominican Republic earlier this winter. The club went on to win the Caribbean Series on Feb. 6. And Belt will get his piece of the prize.Its nothing new. Belt has more rings than Sonic the Hedgehog.He picked up an Arizona Fall League ring and a Cape Cod League ring. Even his wooden-bat showcase club in the Texas-Oklahoma collegiate league won its circuit. And lets not forget his ring from the 2010 San Jose Giants, who won the Cal League title.(Belt jokes that he never gets to wear any of them because his father ends up taking them and showing them off.)

Belt believes he picked up much more than a trinket in the Dominican. The Giants hoped playing in that frenzied environment would help their sometimes awkward Baby Giraffe play with a little more poise. Although Belt resisted the teams request at first, he came to realize it was a good opportunity and he ended up throwing himself into it.He said he felt more confident about his approach after competing well against some quality pitching. He stopped being pull conscious and let the ball travel a little deeper, where hes able to square it up and split the outfielders in either gap. He believes he is ready to carry that approach over into this season, too.As the Giants begin the spring, Buster Posey is the most important player in the clubhouse. He will be the most scrutinized of anyone in camp.But Belt is a key figure, too. No player could change his fortunes or impact how the roster is constituted more than he can. If he convinces the Giants that he is ready to be an impact performer, they could be forced to shuffle a lot of pieces (Aubrey Huff in left field? Melky Cabrera from left to right? Nate Schierholtz on the bench?) to carve out a regular spot for Belt at first base.Manager Bruce Bochy is certainly leaving the door open, mentioning that Belt, Huff and Brett Pill will see time at first base and left field."It's going to be competitive -- moreso than in earlier years," he said.To a large extent, the situation is out of Belts control. For example, suppose Poseys ankle doesnt respond well and he has to play more first base as a result. Not only would that take away opportunities for Belt at first base, but it also might necessitate a third catcher and the need for an additional roster spot.Ive covered enough spring training baseball to know: teams almost always act to protect their inventory when they decide who stays and who goes to Triple-A Fresno. So even a terrific spring might not win Belt a job if Huff has an equally impressive camp. If the choice for a roster spot comes down to Belt and Emmanuel Burriss, only Belt has minor league options remaining.But heres the key: Belt understands all this now. He doesnt plan to let his self esteem ebb and flow with every clue or every roster decision, as it did last year. He mentioned a conversation in the Dominincan with scouting director John Barr, who gave him a simple message: We believe in you. We know the kind of player you are and who you will be. He said those words made an impact.And listening to him speak in casual conversation, Belt did strike me as having a different edge in his voice and look in his eye. He spoke of feeling a sense of belonging, and if he starts to go into a tailspin at the plate, he knows its a matter of mechanics and not mentality.Like everything in life, its easier said than done. Those little blue boxes from Tiffany dont come easy, either.--Yes, Angel Villalona has a locker in the major league clubhouse. The former top prospect, who hasnt played in two years while facing a murder charge in the Dominican Republic, is due to report with position players. Major League Baseball removed Villalona from its restricted list after charges were dropped late last year.--In other locker news, Tim Lincecum took over the corner space that Barry Zito had inhabited since 2008. Zito held that spot ever since Barry Bonds left the scene, but said he felt too trapped in there.--The Bod Pod is no more.The training room device, which measures body fat percentage, made for some classic moments last spring. Jeremy Affeldt, who had bragged he could beat Brian Wilson in a race up Camelback Mountain, was forced to backtrack twice as fast. When he donned his shower cap and skivvies and jumped in the bubble-like contraption, his body fat percentage ended up higher than manager Bruce Bochys measurement.Yeah, I beat out a few guys, said a grinning Bochy, remembering he did better than Mark DeRosa, too.But the Bod Pod did not make a return this spring. Maybe Affeldt paid to make it disappear."--It was a pretty typical reporting day for pitchers and catchers, who simply have to check in with staff and schedule a physical. There were a fair amount of position players here, too. Belt, Brandon Crawford and Nate Schierholtz were hitting in the cage before 8 a.m. Emmanuel Burriss is here, too. He spent all offseason working out in San Francisco -- hopefully on his flexibility, as hell probably be asked to play five or six positions this spring.

Team USA dominates Puerto Rico to win 2017 World Baseball Classic

Team USA dominates Puerto Rico to win 2017 World Baseball Classic

LOS ANGELES -- Marcus Stroman tossed six hitless innings, Ian Kinsler slugged a two-run homer and the United States routed Puerto Rico 8-0 on Wednesday night to win its first World Baseball Classic in four tries.

Stroman dominated the tournament's highest-scoring team. Puerto Rico lost for the first time in eight games after outscoring the opposition 55-26. The U.S. territory finished runner-up for the second time, having lost to the Dominican Republic in the 2013 final.

Stroman, who was named the tournament's MVP, avenged his shakiness in the Americans' 6-5 loss to Puerto Rico during pool play. The right-hander from the Toronto Blue Jays retired the side on three grounders to open the game. In all, he gave up one hit, struck out three and walked one on 73 pitches.

He allowed just three balls past the infield until Angel Pagan's double in the left-field corner leading off the seventh, when Stroman departed to a standing ovation, having staked the Americans to a 7-0 lead.

Stroman walked Carlos Beltran leading off the second, but the defense helped him out. Yadier Molina hit the ball to shortstop Brandon Crawford, who started a double play before Stroman struck out Javier Baez to end the inning.

The U.S. pounded out 13 hits and finished with a 6-2 record while making the final for the first time in front of 51,565 at Dodger Stadium.

Kinsler homered off an 0-1 pitch from Seth Lugo into left-center field in the third, scoring Jonathan Lucroy, who singled leading off.

Lugo of the New York Mets allowed four runs and five hits, struck out seven and walked four in four innings. The right-hander won his first two starts of the tournament, including in the second round against Stroman and the U.S.

In that game, Stroman gave up six consecutive singles in a four-run first inning and took the loss against Puerto Rico last Friday in San Diego.

The Americans made it 4-0 in the fifth on RBI singles by Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen.

Fans wore flags of both countries as capes and decorated their faces in team colors. Puerto Rico boosters pounded cowbells, tooted horns and blew whistles early on before their team fell behind 4-0.

Fans were on their feet chanting "U-S-A" when the Americans loaded the bases in the seventh with two outs. They were rewarded with Crawford's two-run single that chased J.C. Romero, extending the lead to 6-0.

The U.S. tacked on another run on Giancarlo Stanton's RBI single off Hiram Burgos past diving shortstop Francisco Lindor.

Burgos' wild pitch moved runners to second and third before he walked Lucroy to load the bases a second time. Kinsler flied out to end the inning.

The Americans led 8-0 in the eighth on McCutchen's RBI single with two outs.

The U.S. defeated two-time champion Japan, while Puerto Rico beat the Netherlands to reach the final.

The three games at Dodger Stadium drew 109,892.

Puerto Rico in scarce supply of hair dye amid World Baseball Classic fever

Puerto Rico in scarce supply of hair dye amid World Baseball Classic fever

AN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Pharmacies and beauty stores across Puerto Rico are running out of hair dye with even a top economist joining men going blond in support of the island's baseball players who bleached their hair ahead of the World Baseball Classic.

What began as a joke among team members playing in California has spread across the island in a trend that spiked Tuesday just hours after Puerto Rico beat the Netherlands in 11 innings to reach the championship game undefeated in the tournament, which is held every four years. Puerto Rico will play Wednesday night in the final against the United States, which defeated Japan.

"Ever since they began winning, this has not stopped," said Myrna Rios, a manager at a Sally Beauty Supply store in the capital of San Juan. "We have run out of the product in most of our stores."

Copper blond, platinum blond, golden blond - all shades of blond (even burnt orange) are turning heads in a U.S. territory where the majority of men have thick, dark hair. Bald men dyed their beards or goatees in a nod to Puerto Rico coach Carlos Delgado.

"We have been able to unite our country with our blond hair," said star Carlos Correa, who hit a two-run homer and scored the winning run against the Netherlands. "That's what we want as players to unite our country, our people, and give them the best."

Men ranging from news anchors to university students to professionals have embraced a trend that has sparked the rallying cry of "Team Rubio!" or "Team Blond" in Spanish.

Among them is civil engineer Christian Rodriguez, who dyed his beard Saturday after visiting four different pharmacies to find the product he needed. At first, he didn't dye his hair as well because he thought it would be too much at church on Sunday. But he noticed six male churchgoers had dyed their hair blond and decided to take the plunge, calling a hair stylist friend to help him go platinum.

Rodriguez complained of an intense burning sensation during the two-hour process and sent pictures to his wife, who responded with the emoticon of a monkey with its eyes covered.

"Anything for my island!" he said as he lifted his arm to cheer the team.

Rodriguez then sent a picture of his dyed hair to his mechanic, who responded with a selfie taken underneath a car of him smiling with a bleached beard.

Puerto Rico's undefeated run to the championship has boosted the spirit of an island mired in a decade-long recession that faces a rocky recovery amid looming austerity measures for its government. Even young students have been sporting blond do's, prompting public schools to suspend them until the island's education secretary stepped in and said in a letter made public Tuesday that they should be allowed to dye their hair during the tournament.

"We wanted to do this to unite the team, and then the people of Puerto Rico, they started dying their hair, too," pitcher Edwin Diaz said. "I saw that there were some students that were suspended from school. I think they shouldn't be doing that because it just means that we have united our nation."

Even the prominent Puerto Rico-based economist Sergio Marxuach joined the trend, sporting yellow hair as he walked into a seminar in Puerto Rico on Wednesday, drawing laughs.

"My youngest son asked me, 'Why did you paint your hair like Donald Trump?'" he recalled with a laugh. "If this team can give us hope, we're going to need it given what's coming down the pipe."