Baseball set to take world stage

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 6:59 AM ET

DALLAS -- Slowly but surely, the concept that both hockey and soccer grasped years ago is taking shape for baseball.

No fewer than 177 players have consented to play in the first 16-team World Baseball Classic.

From Derek Jeter and Ken Griffey to Barry Bonds and Dontrelle Willis for the U.S.

From Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz to Vladimir Guerrero and Albert Pujols for the Dominican Republic.

From Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado to Ivan Rodriguez and Bernie Williams for Puerto Rico.

And for the local nine ...

"I've never worn a uniform that read Canada, that would be kind of cool," said Blue Jays third baseman Corey Koskie, who is 98% sure he'll be playing.

"We'll see how organized it all is," Koskie said from Medina, Minn., yesterday. "I like the thought, Canadians playing with Canadians. We'll have to see how it all comes together and how the fans receive it."

Every player announced yesterday won't be there to answer the bell when the competition begins. For one thing, whether it is major-league baseball or international competition, injuries remain a factor. Closer Eric Gagne of the Los Angeles Dodgers is in that group.

"Eric says he wants to play," said Gene Orza of the MLB Players' Association. "Initially he was critical of the idea, but he has come full circle."

Team Canada will have Baltimore Orioles lefty Erik Bedard and Colorado Rockies lefty Jeff Francis to start. But Oakland A's right-hander Rich Harden won't play. He has an injured left shoulder and the A's want to keep him on their own rehab schedule.

Canada opens the Classic -- also known by general managers as the PDGH (Please Don't Get Hurt) Classic -- on March 7 against South Africa at the Scottsdale Stadium.

Canada will play the U.S. the next day and Mexico the day after that in a game which likely will decide which two of the four teams advance.

Team Canada will play the Blue Jays on March 3 in Dunedin.

EACH COUNTRY'S BEST

Chicago Cubs closer Ryan Dempster has not replied to the players' association. Unlike the Olympics, this format will feature the best from each country -- such as Venezuela's Johan Santana of the Minnesota Twins and Japan's Hideki Matsui of the New York Yankees.

Team Canada manager Ernie Whitt, who hails from the Windsor suburb of Clinton Township, Mich., will have plenty of talent from which to select.

Meantime, as expected, Buck Martinez will manage Team USA.

"It will be a special opportunity to go up against Ernie, my old platoon mate with the Blue Jays," Martinez said. "Ernie has a good team and he has been involved with the Canadian team for some time.

"I'm sure everyone north of the border will be looking forward to that game, as I will be."

B.J. Ryan and Vernon Wells of the Jays will play for the U.S., while Frank Catalanotto and Frank Menechino will play for Italy.

"Someone said if you once ate pizza you were eligible to play for Italy -- I can say that because I'm Italian, you can't say that," Orza said, explaining the eligibility rule for passports.


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