FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Phil Brassington isn't supposed to be here. He's supposed to be back home selling real estate and playing the drums in his band. Instead, the knuckleballer will face the Venezuelan national team in the second game of the World Baseball Classic on Thursday. Brassington, 35, a fifth-round draft choice of the Kansas City Royals as an infielder in 1993 whose career was plagued by injuries, including a torn rotator cuff, had been out of baseball for two years when his phone rang.
"The president of the local club called up and said, 'Look, we're struggling for numbers,'" Brassington said. "It's a very basic league over there, and he just rang and said, 'Can you help us out?'" Brassington decided to give it a shot, and the self-taught knuckleballer soon found himself on the receiving end of another call, this time from Jon Deeble, the manager of the Australian World Baseball Classic team. "I just rang him one day out of the blue," Deeble said. "We don't know what we're going to get with the knuckleball. He could be great or... "But he threw a no-hitter in January, 2005, in the Claxton Shield." Brassington began experimenting with the knuckler when he was about 15. "I figured if it came down to later in my career and if there was an opportunity to stay in the game into an older age (the knuckleball) was probably going to be something that might help," Brassington said. "And sure enough, here I am." Brassington, who is hoping to talk with Tim Wakefield, the Red Sox's knuckeball pitcher, while they are both in Fort Myers, knows his team will be underdogs against the Venezuelans. "I like that," he said. "Because people get behind you when you're the underdog and when you show that you've got the heart to battle against the best in the world. If you can come up and win at the end of the day, then all the better. I'm really looking forward to it." And at the end of the Classic? "It's back to work," he said. "Our season at home finishes next week and I'll be back to selling houses and playing drums. Who knows? But that's what I'm expecting, just to get back to my real life." STARTING TIME: In addition to Brassington in Game 2, right-hander John Stephens will open the tournament, vs. Italy; and lefty Damian Moss will pitch Game 3, vs. the Dominican Republic. Moss will also pitch Sunday. vs. the Red Sox. Later, mates: Four members of the team -- pitchers Adrian Burnside (Toronto) and Stephens (Baltimore), and infielders Trent Durrington (Boston) and Glenn Williams (Minnesota) -- have been allowed by Deeble to remain with their Major League Baseball organizations until the team departs for Orlando Monday morning. Durrington is expected to play for the Australians against the Red Sox in the teams' exhibition game Sunday night. Silver returnees: Fourteen members, including manager Deeble, of the team that won the silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics are on the Classic team. They are pitchers Craig Anderson, Burnside, Stephens, Phil Stockman, Richard Thompson; infielders Gavin Fingleson, Brendan Kingman, David Nilsson, Rob Van Buizen, Williams; and outfielders Tom Brice, Trent Oeltjen, Brett Roneberg. Injured pitcher: Seattle Mariners' minor-league pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith will return to the organization to have his sore left (pitching) elbow examined by the team. He is expected to be replaced on the roster by either lefty Tim Cox (Boston), or righties Josh Hill (Minnesota) or Glenn Richards (Atlanta). Club guys: Upwey Ferntree Gully, a suburb approximately 50 kilometers (31 miles) southeast of Melbourne, has produced first baseman Justin Huber, 23, and shortstop Brad Harman, 20, two of the team's top MLB prospects. Upwey was also the club of Michael Nakamura, who pitched for the Minnesota Twins in 2003, and the Toronto Blue Jays in 2004, compiling a record of 0-3, 7.51 ERA in 31 games.