Rogers Centre

World Baseball Classic in Toronto

The World Baseball Classic, the biggest sporting event of the year spring in commissioner of baseball Bud Selig's mind takes to the fake turf this weekend right here in Toronto, giving Team Canada the chance to play in front of their fellow countrymen. The Rogers Centre will play host to Teams Canada, USA, Venezuela and Italy starting Saturday afternoon, with the final game of round one set to play out Wednesday evening. But something tells me the Canadians won't have quite the home field advantage the hockey juniors did several weeks ago.

As somebody who grew up in Chicago, not Toronto, my first sporting love was and always will be baseball. I have come to terms with the minority position that puts me in here in Toronto. So while Jason Bay & co. may not go deaf from cheering fans, I was happy (and unsurprised) that it was easy for me to get tickets.

And despite the fairly low appeal of the tournament in North America, some great players and potentially some very good games are coming to town.

It all kicks off 2pm on Saturday with the marquee matchup USA vs. Canada. It's been hard to pick out the compelling storyline, though. The latest is the return of Corey Koskie to competition after 31 months out of baseball. Earlier, Toronto fans were looking forward to seeing Blue Jay Vernon Wells on Team USA facing off against Canuck Ryan Dempster or Rich Harden. But thanks to injury or excessive precaution, none of those guys are on the rosters. In fact, of the 28 guys on the Team Canada roster, a mere 10 are in the big leagues, although of those some impressive offensive contributors should give opposing pitching a few headaches. It's the pitching, or lack thereof, that will force the Canadians to grab some bench by Round 2.

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By comparison, every American player on their roster is in the big leagues, although tournament organizers and promoters must be disappointed about all the big names who chose not to play. Still, seeing Derek Jeter suit up in something other than Yankee pinstripes will be nice (even though he'll make 10 appearances here this summer anyway), and there's enough talent overall that the team could put on a very good show. There's no doubt they're favoured to win - or at worst take second in - the group.

Venezuela is a pretty well stacked team and should dispatch with Italy Saturday night without too much trouble. Sadly, even if Italy should somehow prevail, nobody on College, St. Clair or up in Woodbridge will notice.

So I'll predict that the US and Venezuela win their first games meaning they'll face off on Monday. I think Venezuela wins that one, forcing the Americans to beat the Canadians a second time (since they'll have beaten Italy), and then the Americans will overcome Venezuela the second time around, winning the group.

Beyond the tournament, though, this is spring training for most of the guys, some of whom have something to prove to their major league clubs. That means some of these guys will be playing for a full time job this summer by competing in Toronto, and that might just mean some darn good baseball for those of us in the stands.

Photo by sjgardiner, member of the blogTO flickr pool. Bracket by Major League Baseball.


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