MLB Network will televise 16 World Baseball Classic games, along with a nightly studio show dedicated to the tournament. ESPN will televise 23 games of the Classic in the U.S., including the semifinal and final games, across ESPN and ESPN2 and on its Spanish-language platform, ESPN Deportes.
Once again, this unmatched international event is dazzling in its marquee attraction. It has the pride and it has the players, which means it has the public interest.
Baseball fans who revel in the globalization of America's pastime and couldn't help but be amazed by the last Classic -- with the Ichiro- and Daisuke Matsuzaka-led Japanese team outlasting the vaunted American, Dominican, Venezuelan and Cuban teams en route to the seminal title -- will find this year's rosters loaded with star power.
So scour the rosters and project pitching staffs, batting lineups and all-world matchups of national clubs, which also include Korea, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Panama, Chinese Taipei, Italy, China and South Africa; the intrigue and possibility seems endless.
But before you start playing international GM some 45 days before showtime, here are some facts to get you started:
The final rosters of 28 players -- including a mandatory 13 pitchers -- must be set by Feb. 24.
Tickets can be bought online through MLB.com.
The first round opens in Tokyo, with defending champion Japan facing China. Mexico City, Toronto and San Juan, Puerto Rico, host the other three first-round brackets, as follows:
Tokyo (March 5-9): Japan, China, Chinese Taipei, Korea
Toronto (March 7-11): USA, Canada, Venezuela, Italy
San Juan, P.R. (March 7-11): Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Netherlands, Panama
Mexico City (March 8-12): Mexico, Cuba, South Africa, Australia
This time, the tournament will be run in a double-elimination format in the first two rounds, with the winners from Toronto meeting the winners from Puerto Rico in the second round at Miami's Dolphin Stadium. The winners from Tokyo will meet the winners from Mexico City in San Diego's PETCO Park.
The semifinals and final will be played March 21 and 23 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
So who's got the inside line for '09? Here are five things to look for:
They shall return: You probably don't remember the leading batter from the 2006 World Baseball Classic -- it was current free agent outfielder Adam Stern, who went 6-for-9 in three games for Canada -- but he's back. The leading home run hitter (five) and RBI man (10, tied with Ken Griffey Jr.) in the 2006 Classic, Korea's Seung-Yeop Lee, is back, too.
So is most of the core of the Cuban national team, which has made the final of the last 38 international tournaments it has played in. Even though the Cubans will be without their best pitcher from the 2006 Classic, Yadel Marti, and outfielder Yasser Gomez, who both left for Mexico in search of future Major League employment, Cuba will be tough to beat as it tries to avenge its championship game loss to Japan three years ago.
Meanwhile, the man many consider the best baseball player alive, Rodriguez, will return to the tournament looking for his first World Baseball Classic home run, but this time he'll suit up for the Dominican Republic and not the United States. When you factor in other returning Dominican big league stars such as Adrian Beltre, Jose Reyes, Alfonso Soriano and Francisco Liriano, the addition of A-Rod might just push this team over the top.
On the American side, say hello again to shortstop Jeter, infielders Derrek Lee and Jones, pitchers Jake Peavy, Joe Nathan, Brian Fuentes, Scot Shields and more.
"Playing in the [inaugural] Classic was one of the greatest thrills of my career," said Shields, the Angels' durable setup man. "I remember looking around the [clubhouse] at all those great players and thinking, `Man, what am I doing in here?' It was amazing to see all those guys, and then to go out and play with them.
"I'd love to have that experience of representing my country again. The only thing we'd like to do different this time is win it."
New kids in the brackets: The U.S. went out surprisingly early in 2006, eliminated when it lost to Mexico, 2-1, in the second round. This year, however, they've gotten noticeably younger and more powerful through the lineup.
They've added the destructive Boston Red Sox duo of 2008, American League Most Valuable Player Pedroia and All-Star first baseman Youkilis, two members of the World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies -- shortstop Jimmy Rollins and outfielder Shane Victorino -- plus two key cogs in the Tampa Bay Rays' march to the World Series as AL champs in third baseman Longoria and starter Scott Kazmir.
Other up-and-coming stars who have the chance to make their first World Baseball Classic team are Wright, Braun, Curtis Granderson and Sizemore.
Elsewhere in new arrivals, and looming quite boldly for the Dominican Republic, is Vladimir Guerrero of the Angels, who made the roster of the D.R. last time, but didn't appear in a game because of a family tragedy.
Other new arrivals include a group of talent that figures to improve the Canadian team significantly. Joining that club for the first time are Major League starters Joey Votto, Mark Teahen and Russell Martin, who will provide big-time pop alongside returning sluggers Justin Morneau, Jason Bay and Matt Stairs.
Already potent Venezuela adds firepower with Classic newcomers Hernandez, Jose Lopez, Melvin Mora and Dioner Navarro, joining a contender that already includes Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez, Bobby Abreu, Carlos Guillen, Francisco Rodriguez and Juan Rivera.
And as if the Dominican team needed more help, it could get it in the form of first-time Classic participants Ramirez, Jhonny Peralta, Robinson Cano, Carlos Pena, Ubaldo Jimenez, Tony Pena and others.
Teammate vs. Teammate: The media figures to have a field day with A-Rod vs. Jeter, the Tale of Two Yankees, if the United States and Dominican Republic meet up in a pivotal Classic showdown, but there will be plenty of cases of Major League teammates playing against each other in this unique tournament.
The Seattle Mariners, for example, have Ichiro and Kenji Johjima on the Japanese team, Lopez, Hernandez, Carlos Silva and Cesar Jimenez playing for Venezuela, Ryan Rowland-Smith pitching for Australia and Beltre manning the hot corner for the Dominican.
The Atlanta Braves, meanwhile, practically span the whole globe, with the following nations represented: The Netherlands (Jair Jurrjens), Puerto Rico (Javier Vazquez), Mexico (Jorge Campillo), Venezuela (Gregor Blanco) and the U.S. (Jones, Brian McCann).
The Colorado Rockies also have a nice mix of global talent on provisional rosters, with Manny Corpas (Panama), Chris Iannetta and Brad Hawpe (U.S.), Jorge De La Rosa and Omar Quintanilla (Mexico), Ubaldo Jimenez (Dominican Republic), Jeff Francis (Canada) and Jason Grilli (Italy) all selected.
The favorites: Once again, it'll be tough to leave out Japan, who came together and won it all last year, though one of its top pitchers from 2006, Koji Uehara, is not on the provisional roster after just signing with the Baltimore Orioles. The Dominican Republic team is stacked from top to bottom once again, the United States should be improved, Venezuela is always tough and Cuba can't be denied, even after losing the gold-medal game at last year's Beijing Olympics in a major upset.
The dark horses: And that's where we get to Korea, which beat Cuba at the Summer Games and brings roughly the same team that also finished a surprising third in the inaugural Classic. Meanwhile, don't forget Puerto Rico, which brings back Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Alex Rios, Yadier Molina and veteran Bernie Williams and adds Mike Lowell, Bengie Molina and Geovany Soto.
Mexico is coming to play, too, with veterans Oliver Perez, Elmer Dessens and Rodrigo Lopez making up the beginnings of a solid starting staff that turns into a potentially dominant one when you add newcomers Matt Garza and Campillo along with bullpen stud Joakim Soria. Offensively, Mexico should benefit greatly from the presence of Adrian Gonzalez, Jorge Cantu and Rod Barajas.