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Archive for Saturday, March 4, 2006

U.S. begins workouts for World Classic

March 4, 2006

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— America might be taking a blase attitude toward the inaugural World Baseball Classic. The players on the star-studded U.S. team certainly aren't.

Team USA was focused on patriotism, pride and performance in its first workout Friday at Chase Field, formerly known as Bank One Ballpark.

In their squeaky-clean white uniforms, with "USA" on their chest and an American flag on their caps, the players posed for a team picture, then talked about the competition that will begin Tuesday with a game against Mexico.

"To me, I got a little bumps and chills when I saw my uniform, No. 13, Rodriguez," Alex Rodriguez said, "and I saw the USA, the red, white and blue, as corny as that sounds."

The players initially gathered Thursday night and were shown a video of the emotional, gold-medal triumph of the U.S. baseball team under Tommy Lasorda at the 2002 Sydney Olympics. Baseball is to be eliminated from the Olympics after the 2008 Beijing Games, and the World Baseball Classic is sort of a substitute.

"This is an enormous deal," Rodriguez said. "I have a brother who has 30 years in the U.S. Air Force and is a very high-ranking officer and has been in two wars. When you wear this uniform, you have the opportunity to represent 400 or 500 million Americans."

Rodriguez and his New York Yankees teammates Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon said team owner George Steinbrenner, an outspoken opponent of the tournament, never tried to dissuade them from volunteering for the team.

Rodriguez initially was a reluctant participant, acknowledging concern about disturbing his cherished spring routine, and bringing his family from Florida to the West for what should be a three-week stay. He also considered playing for the Dominican Republic, but once he got to the Phoenix ballpark, he knew he had made the right choice.

"I'm changing my tune a little bit," Rodriguez said. "Winning a world championship with the New York Yankees is the number-one priority in my life, but once you get here and you realize what's going on, the commitment that everybody made here, wearing this uniform - it feels like you're back in college. Nobody's here for money. You're here for pride, and to represent the U.S., and I like that part of it."

For 43-year-old Roger Clemens, it is the first chance to represent his country in an athletic competition.

"When I was given the opportunity a month or so ago, it was not only very exciting for me, but a challenge," he said. "I think that's why I waited so long to give Buck my word that I'd be here. I wanted to see how my body was."

Manager Buck Martinez said Clemens will start Sunday's exhibition game against the San Francisco Giants in Scottsdale. San Diego's Jake Peavy will start against Mexico. Next Wednesday, left-hander Dontrelle Willis of the Florida Marlins will go against a Canada team dominated by left-handed hitters.

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