I've often felt that the highest honor in any sporting arena is to represent your country. It's why Six Nations Rugby is one of the most entertaining and visceral sporting experiences you can imagine; it's why people cry when they're standing on the podium at the Olympics; it's the feeling that stirs inside people around the globe when their team advances to the next stage of the World Cup.
Sometimes it's not about the money. Sometimes, it can be about pride. And apparently that's something Justin Morneau has in spades.
"I’m not saying playing for your country is the same, but if you sign a multiyear deal you owe it to the city where you play to made a charitable donation — it’s something you are supposed to do," said Morneau. "Well, playing for your country is something you are supposed to do.
"You are obligated. It is a privilege to represent your country."
With the 2013 World Baseball Classic looming, new Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Russell Martin has decided to drop out of the competition. The reason? He doesn't want to catch - he wants to play shortstop. The last time he played shortstop professionally was in his first minor league season with the Dodgers. He played one game at shortstop, just 19 years old in the summer of 2002.
"I understand guys trying to make teams not playing, or guys trying to get contracts," said Morneau, "but I have a hard time understanding why a guy who is healthy is not."
While the timing of his decision is certainly suspect and puts his team in a lurch, the real issue behind Morneau's frustration is Martin's reasoning. He didn't drop out because he's trying to vie for a roster spot, or because he wants to get to know his new battery mates better in Pittsburgh - Martin dropped out because he wanted to play shortstop instead of catcher.
Unfortunately for Martin, this doesn't make any sense. If he's in camp with the Pirates, he's catching anyway. Refusing to play for Team Canada because they're going to make him catch and then going into spring training to catch regardless? In his own words:
''I didn't want to put my body in a position where I'm going to have to catch however many innings of baseball during the tournament,'' Martin, who spent the last two seasons with the Yankees, told The Associated Press. ''I didn't want to put my body through the taxing experience.''
"It's kind of hard for me to understand," Morneau said. "Obviously, if you want to learn your pitching staff, new team, it's important as a catcher to learn those guys and he signed [in Pittsburgh] for two years.
"If that was the case, I think we'd all be fine with it. But the desire to play a new position is kind of what has everybody wondering what the decision-making process was behind that. When we get there, we'll be there with everybody who wants to be there and with somebody who's capable of playing shortstop."
I tend to agree with Morneau, from top to bottom. The situation is a bit baffling in terms of scope and reason, and for a guy like Justin who clearly takes very seriously the opportunity to play for his country you can understand why he chose to be so outspoken.
This is just one of the many things I love about Justin Morneau. He has a passion for the game that's contagious. If I were in his position I would feel the exact same way.