U.S. Readies For Play In World Baseball Classic

With baseball gone from the Olympics, the World Baseball Classic is the only international professional baseball tournament. Former Yankees and Dodgers manager Joe Torre said he put on a uniform again to manage the U.S. team because it's a privilege.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In baseball Spring Training has begun. And there's already a world championship this month. And here's something even fans don't know - many of them - the World Baseball Classic is underway. It's now played every four years. This time - the third classic - has teams from 16 countries. Team USA had its first workout yesterday in Scottsdale, Arizona and NPR's Ted Robbins was there.

TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Thousands of fans came to Salt River Fields in Scottsdale to see the Arizona Diamondbacks play the Cincinnati Reds in a spring training game. A very few fans knew that some of baseball's best players were working out on a couple of fields behind the stadium.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORKOUT)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Man on first, heads up back there.

ROBBINS: The Toronto Blue Jays R.A. Dickey, the Milwaukee Brewers Ryan Braun, the New York Yankees Mark Teixeira, to name just three of the 28 players on Team USA. In a news conference, Former Yankees and Dodgers manager Joe Torre said he put on a uniform again to manage this team because it's a privilege.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)

JOE TORRE: Because when you, you know, wear the USA across your chest, that's, you know, all of a sudden that takes baseball to another level for me.

ROBBINS: With baseball gone from the Olympics, the World Baseball Classic is the only international professional baseball tournament. It's in three rounds. The first round is at stadiums in Japan, Taiwan, Puerto Rico, and Phoenix. The second round's in Tokyo and Miami and the final is in San Francisco in two weeks.

The U.S., which invented baseball, has never won the World Baseball Classic. The first two were won by Japan. Tokyo Broadcasting System reporter Satoshi Yoshimura asked Torre how he felt about that.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)

TORRE: You had to bring that up, right?

(LAUGHTER)

TORRE: It's very disappointing. Somebody else did a better job than we did.

ROBBINS: Yoshimura said he actually hopes the U.S. team does well so fans here get as interested in the WBC as they are in Japan, where he says everyone follows it.

SATOSHI YOSHIMURA: Very crazy about, you know, this tournament, WBC. People talk about WBC every, you know, every day, every time. It's just like a World Series in Japan right now.

ROBBINS: The Japanese team has been working out for weeks now while the U.S. team is just getting started. There are some terrific U.S. players not playing in the classic, mainly because they're not ready to play yet after the off-season. But those who are playing, say they began getting in shape early this year. Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles says the team is cohesive and motivated to win.

ADAM JONES: Honestly, that's what we want to do. That's our goal. We want to be the first team, the first USA team, to win it all.

ROBBINS: The World Baseball Classic has a couple of rules the major leagues don't; the number of pitches a pitcher can throw is limited to prevent injury. There's a mercy rule in early rounds; if one team is up by 15 runs or more after five innings the game is over.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORKOUT)

ROBBINS: Countries like China, Brazil, and Spain aren't expected to do well in the World Baseball Classic. The Japanese were actually ranked third coming in this year. The U. S. is ranked second. The top-ranked team? Cuba.

(SOUNDBITE OF CRACK OF THE BAT)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Breaking ball is hammered. Left field, deep, gone. Grand slam.

ROBBINS: The Cubans have...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Jose Abreau.

ROBBINS: One of the best baseball players in Cuba's history. In this game televised on the Major League Baseball Network Monday, Cuba beat China 12 to nothing. The teams playing in Asia have already begun competition. The four teams in Phoenix - the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Italy, begin play on Thursday. The U.S. plays Mexico Friday. Ted Robbins, NPR News.

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MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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