Olympic squad handcuffed

BOB ELLIOTT -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:10 AM ET

You might think that since 2008 is baseball's final shot at the Olympics for a few years, organizers would want the best countries with the best players to compete.

That won't be the case.

The International Baseball Amateur Federation will stage the final Olympic qualifier March 7-15 in Taiwan. Eight teams will compete for three berths at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

When it comes to loaning players, the second week of minor-league camp couldn't be worse for countries such as Canada, Australia and Mexico. Unless of course it was last summer's world championships in Cuba which overlapped the Sept. 1 callup date.

Canada, Australia and Mexico -- three countries with 90% of their rosters to be composed of minor-leaguers -- had asked that the qualifier begin in April. By then camps are over, the rosters of major-league and minor-league teams are set.

"Australia wrote the IABF a letter three weeks ago saying 'Don't you dare pick these dates,'" said Greg Hamilton, director of Canada's national team program. "You're trying to get the best teams with their best players. Why not allow everyone to bring their best?"

A reason baseball was voted out of the 2012 London Games roster was that countries did not send their best players.

What likely will happen -- if the past runs true to form -- is Major League Baseball will say players can play for their country. Yet, individual clubs will turn down the players' requests individually. It has been that way with the exception of the World Baseball Classic in 2006.

With the first pitch in March, teams will be asked to allow players to go at a time when the clubs are assessing players and assigning rosters, not to mention pitchers building up arm strength.

"This is really, really disappointing, devastating," Baseball Canada president Ray Carter said from Vancouver. "It's not good for Canada, not good for the game. We can't get our best players on the field at this time."

What upsets Carter is that he spoke with new IABF president Harvey Schiller, of the United States, before his election. The subject was having suitable tournament dates, when all countries could bring their best.

"This was the new president's first choice to show the powers that be that baseball belongs in the Olympics," Carter said. "It was a chance to start making things right and convince people who vote on baseball in Olympics we are making it right. He failed first time out of the chute."

The Asian qualifier in December will see an Olympic berth go to one country, likely Japan, while Korea and Taiwan will head to this qualifier in Taiwan.

South Africa, England, Spain, Canada, Australia, Mexico, and the two Asian qualifiers will make up the eight-country field.

WEAKER TEAMS

The way it is now, Australia, which won silver in Athens in 2004, and Canada, losers of the semi-final, will be mere shadows of teams they could field.

Meanwhile, Team Canada's entry to the World Cup is headed to Australia before the championships in Taiwan Nov. 6-16.

This after not being allowed to play six games in the Arizona Fall League while China's Olympic team was given a green light. It's almost like the Americans remember who won the Team USA-Team Canada matchup in 2006.

Coached by Terry Puhl, Canada will be led by Ontario minor leaguers Nick Weglarz of Stevensville (Indians); London's Jamie Romak (Pirates); Mississauga's Jamie Richmond (Braves); Chris Robinson of Dorchester (Cubs); Chatham's David Corrente (Jays); Ottawa's T. J. Burton (Indians); Ottawa's Sebastien Boucher (Orioles); as well as Gatineau, Quebec's Phillippe Aumont (Mariners), a first-rounder in June. Also on the roster will be ex-pros Jeremy Ware of Guelph and Toronto's Jonathan Lockwood and Ottawa's Mike Kusiewicz.


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