Team USA prepares for World Baseball Classic

By Mark Brown

PHOENIX – The attention may not be as large as soccer’s World Cup but the upcoming international baseball tournament remains highly significant.

Players from various countries have broken from the major league training camps, don national colors and now play for pride and gratification. Already underway, the World Baseball Classic, now conducted over four international sites, is expected to draw considerable attention and result in a heightened emotional level.

The tournament is divided into four sections, Pool A, Pool, B, Pool C and Pool D.

In Pool A, which includes Chinese Taipei, the Netherlands, Cuba, Italy and Panama, that bracket began competition on March 7. That’s when the Netherlands defeated Cuba and Panama took down Chinese Taipei.

In Pool B, which will play in the Tokyo Dome, these teams include Japan, Korea, Australia, China and the Czech Republic. Pool C teams, which compete at Chase Field in Phoenix, include the United States, Mexico, Colombia, Canada and Great Britain. Pool D, which will have its competition in loanDepot Park, home of the Marlins in Miami includes Puerto Rico, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Israel and Nicaragua.

While several players opted out of the tournament, such as right-hander Zac Gallen of Arizona, most jumped at the opportunity to represent their country.

“As far as the competition goes, I can argue you can not get any better competition,” said pitcher Merrill Kelly, who joins the Team USA pitching staff. “Seriously, the World Series is what it is, but when you take the best players from every country and put them in one team and on open field, this will be pretty special. Walking into that locker room, I will have a pretty hard time not being awe-struck by these players.”

Coming off the WBC championship in 2017 defeating Puerto Rico, the United States is out to prove the best players in the world reside within its borders. Because of the pandemic, the 2021 tournament was cancelled and now, players recognize a sense of urgency.

“That’s the whole reason I signed up, trying to win this thing. There is nothing else,” outfielder Mike Trout told the New York Times.” Anything else is a failure.”

With the best players sprinkled throughout the tournament, the competitive level is placed to be high. For Team USA, expect to see Paul Goldschmidt, the reigning 2022 National League MVP, his teammate with the Cardinals Nolan Arenado, Mets slugger Pete Alonso, catcher J. T. Realmuto, Trea Turner, his new teammate at Philadelphia, and Trout.

Other teams are equally talented.

If the United States is one favorite the Dominican Republic and Venezuela are also in the mix. The DR team features Juan Soto, Manny Machado, Rafael Devers, Ketal Marte and Sandy Alcantara, who captured the 2022 National League Cy Young award.

Equally competitive, Team Venezuela features Jose Altuve, Miguel Cabrera, Ronald Acuna, Jr, and catcher Salvador Perez.

“I did not play on any team USA growing up and had a different path to where I am now,” Kelly added. “Most of the guys in that clubhouse are all-stars and possible future Hall of Famers. Again, pretty special playing on a team like this one.”

Japan is the only team to have won this tournament twice, and that was accomplished in 2006 and 2009. With Shohei Ohtani and Yu Darvish at the top rotation, Japan is considered another favorite in this tournament,

The schedule … Team USA opens competition this Saturday in Chase Field against Great Britain. They continue play on Sunday against Mexico, Monday against Canada and Wednesday against Columbia. All games start at 7 p.m. local time. For Saturday’s game, that’s 9, Eastern and with Daylight Savings Time beginning Sunday at 2 a. m, the remaining games begin at 10 p.m. Eastern time.  … Cardinals’ righthander Adam Wainwright is scheduled to start the opener on Saturday. By rule, pitchers are limited to 60 and 65 pitches and that depends upon conditions.

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