DeRosa anonymous but critical for US

DeRosa anonymous but critical for US

TAMPA, Fla. -- One by one, stars from Team USA trotted toward the visitors' dugout at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Tuesday, grabbing their batting gloves and bats for their batting-practice session before an afternoon exhibition against the Yankees. In an instant, fans flocked toward the lower deck down the third-base line, reaching out their hands and screaming for autographs.

Then came a guy named Mark DeRosa.

"People are looking in their programs to find out who I am," DeRosa said.

That's life as the super-utility man on a loaded U.S. roster for the upcoming World Baseball Classic -- little known, and all too important.

DeRosa, an 11-year veteran currently with the Indians, doesn't have the MVP trophies, All-Star appearances, Silver Slugger Awards or World Series rings of some of his spring teammates.

But he does have something very few have -- versatility.

Of the 13 position players on Team USA, a case could be made for DeRosa being the most indispensable because he's the most flexible. While most of the others are established All-Stars who have their positions set, DeRosa learned a long time ago that he needed to invest in multiple gloves if he wanted to stay in the Major Leagues.

Now, it's gotten him on a prestigious team.

"Of course I was surprised," said DeRosa of receiving the call to join Team USA. "I remember three years ago [in the inaugural Classic], it was just superstar after superstar. Obviously, they have their stars this year, too, but they also have their role guys.

"I think it sets up more for guys knowing their roles, being ready, having a high-energy bench -- things I take pride in."

Taking pride in things like that, however, may cause somebody to be overlooked on a star-studded squad like Team USA.

"Not to me," Team USA general manager Bob Watson said.

Going into the 2009 Classic, Watson wanted to make sure he didn't just put together a collection of stars and expect them to come together to win the title. Watson wanted role players, versatile athletes and clubhouse guys.

DeRosa covers all of that in a chiseled 6-foot-1 frame.

"I call him my 'trump card,'" said Watson. "He gives [manager] Davey [Johnson] all kinds of flexibility in playing him in the infield and the outfield, and plus he can hit.

"He's more valuable than anybody on the team."

The 34-year-old DeRosa played his first seven years with the Braves before spending two seasons with the Rangers and then finally breaking out with the Cubs in 2007 and '08. In each of his past two seasons, DeRosa played in a career-high 149 games, and last year, he hit .285 with a career-high 21 home runs and 87 RBIs before being traded from Chicago to Cleveland for three Minor League pitchers.

But more important for Team USA and its attempt to win the Classic championship after coming up short in 2006 is this: DeRosa has registered more than 100 Major League games at four positions -- third base, second base, shortstop and right field.

"I'll be ready," DeRosa said. "I always try to be [ready] on every team I've gone to. Versatility is something that's kept me around the game. I owe it all to Rafael Furcal for showing up on the scene at Atlanta [in 2000] and being the starting shortstop and forcing me to move around.

"I'm a guy who likes to keep everybody loose, but at the same time understanding that when it's time to play, strap it on and go."

Alden Gonzalez is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.