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WBC organizers happy with event’s progress

by Jason Coskrey

There’s talk of revenge ahead of the 2009 World Baseball Classic and it’s music to the organizers’ ears.

With the campaign to get baseball back into the Olympic program serving as a backdrop, organizers have been pleased with the level of excitement in the buildup to the 2009 edition.

“The first thing you heard out of the Cuban team after the Olympics (where Cuba lost to South Korea in the final) was ‘We’re going to get you at the WBC,’ ” WBC Asian representative Jim Small said at a press conference on Dec. 15. “It’s really become a significant international event.”

The tournament has gotten a large amount of press in Japan, with the media speculating on who will manage and play for the Japanese team.

“You see the same type of things written in the U.S.,” Small said. ” ‘Who’s going to play on the WBC team, who’s going to be the manager of the WBC team?’ “

Organizers also have to be pleased that this time around more players have voiced their support for the tournament early on. The inaugural WBC was met with some initial skepticism when the event was still largely unknown.

“I’m glad to see Jeter here,” Dominican Republic manager Felipe Alou told MLB.com during a press conference on Dec. 14, referring to Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter’s participation in a recent press conference for the U.S. team.

“What Alex Rodriguez did the other day when he announced he was going to play, Albert Pujols, (Daisuke) Matsuzaka, Alex Rios for Puerto Rico, I’m naming different guys for different countries.

“They have been coming out and expressing their assurances that they will be participating. I believe that will cause more enthusiasm. It’s going to make for a better tournament.”

Also helping matters for the event’s organizers is the level of urgency shown by MLB players on the U.S. team.

“They took it seriously last time,” Small said. “I think they were a little surprised by the level of play, especially from Cuba and Japan.”

This time the Americans have taken it upon themselves to report to camp earlier.

“Any time you can get going a little bit earlier, I think it’s only going to help,” Jeter told MLB.com on Dec. 10. “I think it’s a great thing that you can get going and organized a little bit earlier.”

Small said the players requested an earlier camp in order to get into “game shape” as opposed to just being in good physical condition.

He also said the U.S. team would likely participate in spring training games before heading to the U.S. camp.

“This wasn’t our idea,” Small said. “This was something where the players came to us and said, ‘Hey we need this.’ “

Easy choice: Naming Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka as one of the players on his early list of WBC candidates was likely the easiest decision WBC manager Tatsunori Hara will make.

Matsuzaka, who was the MVP of the first WBC, went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA for the Red Sox this past season.

“We’d been opponents and I regarded him as an object of envy,” Hara said during a press conference on Dec. 15. “We’d never talked to each other, but yesterday, he gave me a phone call and I told him, ‘I want you to fight as the core part of the team and pitching squad, and let’s challenge the world.’

“Obviously, I’m expecting him as one of the centerpieces in the starting rotation.”

Hara, however, did express disappointment that he wasn’t able to consider Yankees outfielder and former Yomiuri Giants star Hideki Matsui due to injuries.

“I’ve talked with Matsui, whom I’ve been on the same team with, on more than one occasion,” Hara said. “But he’s got a problem in his condition. Obviously, I, and fans also, were expecting him to compete.”