Canada favored, but competition stiff in Regensburg

Canada favored, but competition stiff in Regensburg

Canada favored, but competition stiff in Regensburg
REGENSBURG, Germany -- The European trio of Germany, Czech Republic and Great Britain is hoping to make its own bit of history and upset Canada at the World Baseball Classic qualifiers, thus keeping the North American power out of the 2013 Classic.

Canada arrived in Regensburg as the clear favorite for the spot in next spring's tournament. But Canada manager Ernie Whitt believes his team has the experience to deal with the pressure.

"We have a lot of players who are veteran guys who have played international ball. Most of the guys here were with me at the World Cup last year," said Whitt, who guided Canada to bronze medal finishes at the 2009 and 2011 World Cups.

"They know that on any given night if you don't come out ready to play, the other team can beat you."

Baseball fans around the world can watch the games in Regensburg live and for free on a live stream at

Whitt knows his players are aware that they are also playing for their MLB compatriots who would likely make up much of the Canada team next spring. The leaders of the team in Germany will be former Blue Jays pitcher and outfielder Adam Loewen, second baseman Skyler Stromsmoe (SF, Triple-A), left-handed pitcher RJ Swindle (STL, Triple-A), third baseman Shawn Bowman (MIA, Double-A), and outfielder Tyson Gilles (PHI, Double-A) among others.

"If we don't qualify then there's going to be 30 Major Leaguers and a couple of MVPs (Joey Votto and Justin Mourneau) that will not be playing in the World Baseball Classic, and that's sad," said Whitt.

Canada shouldn't expect any of the other teams here to just roll over because of the name on the front of their jerseys. Just the opposite is the case. The British, Germans and Czechs all would love nothing more than to play in baseball's biggest national team event.

Canada's first opponents Great Britain received a big boost in their team with a number of players arriving late with manager Sam Dempster's squad since the European Championship.

"We got some good pitching for sure, some strong lefties and some good righties. We're excited about that aspect," said Dempster.

"We also got some power hitters. I'm looking forward to seeing them on the field. We have seen them in batting practice but sometimes that doesn't translate."

One of Britain's top players will be Antoan Richardson, a Double-A outfielder in the Orioles organization, as well as Yankees Triple-A catcher Ryan Baker and Dodgers Double-A lefty Chris Reed.

The host Germany takes the diamond for the first time Friday night against the Czech Republic, which lost to the Germans in extra innings in the recent European Championship in the Netherlands.

Skipper Greg Frady's Germans would love to advance to the Classic and give baseball another push in a country so dominated by soccer.

"We played great baseball [in finishing fourth at the European Championship]. We won a lot of close games. Some of the games were decided late in the game. We made great plays. We situationally hit. And I think the team really has grown to the part where when the game gets close we're pretty calm under pressure and we find a way to win those games now whereas in the past maybe we lost some of those," said Frady, who has an ever increasing number of Minor League players available.

Germany's top two players are stars in the making in Max Kepler, an outfielder in the Twins organization, and Reds Double-A first baseman-outfield slugger Donald Lutz. But Frady also can count on lefty Alex Burgos in the Detroit system and righty Daniel Thieben in the Mariners' organization. Other position players include Mets Minor League catcher Kai Gronauer, Minnesota Triple-A middle infielder Toby Gardenhire and outfielder Jake Schaffer in the St. Louis system.

The Czechs will be coming into the World Baseball Classic qualifiers on a high after beating Holland at the European Championship. The Dutch, of course, made international headlines for twice beating the Dominican Republic in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

"After beating Holland, the confidence in the team really started to skyrocket because they started to realize that they could play at that level. We're coming in here feeling good about our own confidence," said Czech manger Andy Berglund, whose team lost three games in extra innings at the European Championship.

Berglund kept his European Championship team together and added two strong U.S. prospects with Czech heritage in Astros Double-A lefty Alex Sogard and Miami Triple-A first basemen Mike Cervenak.

"We are from a small baseball country and this is a really big chance for us to show that we can play at the top of the baseball world when we have our game going," said Berglund.

The Canadians may be the favorites in Regensburg, but there are three smaller baseball countries hoping to take advantage of the new extended format and book a spot at the 2013 World Baseball Classic -- and add another forgettable chapter to Canada's World Baseball Classic history.

David Hein is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.