Baseball was invented in the United States, but the World Baseball Classic has been dominated by Japan.
U.S. manager Joe Torre has taken a different approach in the WBCs third edition this year. Rather than stock his entire roster with high-profile stars, hes got a basic starting nine with utility players, three catchers and 15 pitchers filling out the 28-man group.
I think its advantageous. I think you need role players, said Milwaukee outfielder Ryan Braun, who was part of the 2009 team that made it to the semifinals. You look at regular teams throughout the course of the season, those role players are instrumental in teams finding a way to win games. Its certainly important to have versatility.
The Americans went through their only pre-tournament workout Monday, a light, two-hour session at Salt River Fields, the spring training home of Arizona and Colorado.
They have exhibition against the Chicago White Sox and Rockies before their opener Friday against Mexico at Chase Field, which could draw an enthusiastic and not necessarily pro-U.S. crowd.
Although the team includes Braun, New York Mets third baseman David Wright and New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, Torre chose only one player at each infield position.
Philadelphias Jimmy Rollins is at shortstop, and Cincinnatis Brandon Phillips will play second. Their backups are Arizonas Willie Bloomquist and Tampa Bays Ben Zobrist with Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer expected to fill in some at first base as well as a designated hitter. The outfielders are Braun, Baltimores Adam Jones and Miamis Giancarlo Stanton of Miami, with Bostons Shane Victorino another option.
The other catchers are Milwaukees Jonathan Lucroy and Torontos J.P. Arencibia, who gets to catch knuckleballer R.A. Dickey his new teammate on the Blue Jays in Friday nights opener.
Under pitch-count rules, starters cant throw more than 65 pitches in opening round games.
The Americans group also includes Canada and Italy. After round-robin play concludes with the Canada-U.S. game Sunday, the top two nations advance to the second round in Florida. The semifinals and finals will be held the next week in San Francisco.
Texiera called the competition an exhibition.
While we want to win, the important thing is to put on a great tournament for everyone to enjoy it, for the fans to enjoy it, he said. It doesnt mean we dont want to win it.
Japan won the first two WBC titles. While American fans may not be watching intensely, Braun said players should expect heated competition.
Its certainly challenging, he said. I know the last time I played just the atmosphere, the environment, felt like the intensity of a playoff game.
Torre, an MLB executive vice president, wouldnt announce starting pitchers other than Dickey, although he pointed out Texas Derek Holland is starting Tuesdays exhibition against the White Sox. That puts Holland in line to start Sunday.
Wright said that players went through their offseason preparation with the knowledge they would need to be in shape for the WBC.
The four or five games Ive been in, Ive tried to play into the sixth or seventh inning each time, he said. Just kind of speeding up the process, playing a few more innings earlier in the spring than I normally would, and obviously getting those extra at-bats is important to get ready.
Several players mentioned their motivation is to become the first U.S. squad to gain the title.
Were all here to win it, and we all have gotten ourselves to the point where we can go out there as if its Game 7 of the World Series, Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel said. Were out there to win. Were going to put it all on the line. Thats what were here to do. Were not here to show up and just play and say we played for Team USA. Were here to say We played for Team USA and we won. I had that feeling in the clubhouse that thats what were all here to do.