World Baseball Classic brings together 16 nations

3412.jpg

For most, around this time of year, “March Madness” is all about college basketball and that’s totally cool. Really, college ball is for real. No doubt. Lots of props there.

But for others like myself this year’s “March madness” is all about our country’s greatest pastime game, good old American-made baseball. And this time I mean it, on a global scale.

So are you ready for some baseball? I know I am.

Check it out. For baseball junkies like myself, another type of “madness” is about to set-off as the world prepares to tune into one of the greatest tournaments on the planet. Six-teen participating national teams spanning six continents will converge this month and compete in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Hallelujah!

You feel me?

The tournament will feature 480 of the world’s best baseball players and begin in Tokyo March 5 and conclude at Dodger Stadium on March 23. The entire opening round of the tournament will be hosted outside the U.S. Pool A (China, Chinese Taipei, Japan and Korea) will compete at the Tokyo Dome in Japan; Pool B (Australia, Cuba, Mexico and South Africa) at the Foro Sol Stadium in Mexico City; Pool C (Canada, Italy, United States and Venezuela) at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Canada; and Pool D (Dominican Republic, Netherlands, Panama and Puerto Rico) at the Hiram Bithorn Stadium in san Juan, Puerto Rico.

San Diego’s PETCO Park, the site of the Baseball’s Classic 2006 games, will feature the four advancing teams from Pools A and B from March 15-19. Dolphin Stadium, home of the Florida Marlins, will host the four advancing from Pools C and D from March 14-18. This year’s Classic will finish off with semifinals and finals March 21-23 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, home to the organization that integrated baseball with the signing of Jackie Robinson back during the Brooklyn era.

“We are humbled and honored to be hosting the Championships of the 2009 World Baseball Classic,” said Dodger owner Frank McCourt to www.mlb.com reporters. “It’s a way to bring the world together to enjoy the game,” he added. “We’ve always been participants in bringing the game of baseball to other parts of the world, and now we get to host the world at Dodger Stadium. It’s kind of cool.”

Three years ago, Japan beat Cuba, 10-6 in the final championship game. The U.S. finished 3-3 and was eliminated in the second round by Mexico in a 2-1 loss. Some favorites this year expected to advance include ball clubs from the Dominican Republic, Japan, Cuba, Venezuela, Mexico and the U.S.

“I think the United States is the team to beat,” said Team USA manager Davey Johnson to sports reporters with Major League Baseball. “I think the attitude is that they have a big challenge in front, and they know it’s not going to be just a cakewalk,” said Johnson of his players.

In ’06 Johnson said Team USA was not prepared causing back to back loses, not allowing the U.S. to advance to the semifinal.

“They’re all fired up to represent the U.S. and they want to have a good showing,” said Johnson who feels having early practice games before the Classic begins is a great step in the right direction.

“I think this club has a little more balance. We’re not right-handed or left-handed. We’ve got a good balance there. We’re not just home-run hitters. We have a lot of line-drive hitters and quality contact hitters,” said Johnson. “They saw what happened a couple of years ago, and they don’t want that to happen again. Nobody wants to go back early.” Some major league players on the U.S. roster include Derek Jeter, Ryan Braun, Jimmy Rollins, Roy Oswalt, Jake Peavy, Curtis Granderson, Dustin Pedroia, Mark DeRosa and Kevin Youkilis.

“We didn’t play that well the last time around,” said Yankee’s All-Star third baseman Jeter to the New York Times. “You always want to improve. There’s a lot of good teams there,” he said.

Jeter added that when comparing teams there are subtle differences. Whereas the Latin American teams play with a lot of energy and Japan pays a lot more attention to fundamentals, he said. “But it’s still the same game.”

Jeter added that he is proud to represent the U.S. again.

“No question, you definitely have a sense of pride when you’re wearing the uniform of your country,” said Jeter. “It’s something I wish everyone got the chance to experience.” For more info go to www.worldbaseballclassic.com.