Each team could have selected up to 28 players, meaning that a maximum of 448 is eligible to play in the tournament, the only one internationally in which players on the 25-man rosters of each Major League team are sanctioned to participate. More than 200 of them have some affiliation with a Major League team or a big league pedigree.
This second running of the tournament, which opened to wild acclaim in 2006, is replete with new venues and a gala final game at Dodger Stadium. It will begin in a nation or commonwealth near you on March 5 and end in Los Angeles on March 23.
All 39 games are slated to be televised this year by ESPN and MLB Network -- 16 on the Network, which also adds a nightly half-hour wrapup show of the day's events.
First-round games are slated for Tokyo Dome from March 5-8; Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico, from March 7-11; and Toronto's Rogers Centre and Foro Sol Stadium in Mexico City from March 8-12.
The second round is at San Diego's PETCO Park and Miami's Dolphin Stadium, with the games being played in those venues from March 14-19.
Dodger Stadium will host the semifinals and finals from March 21-23. PETCO was home to the semis and finals in 2006, when Japan defeated Cuba to take home the first Classic championship.
Japan opens its 2006 title defense against China in Tokyo on March 5, and Team USA tries to avenge its second-round elimination when it opens against Canada in Toronto two days later.
Not only do the Japanese have Matsuzaka, the '06 tournament MVP, back with them again, but he'll be joined by 22-year-old Yu Darvish, the right-hander from the Nippon Ham Fighters who is considered the top pitcher in Japan.
"In my mind you have to go through the champions," said Texas infielder Michael Young, who was a member of the Team USA in '06 but is not on the roster this time around. "Japan is the team to beat."
The 16-team field is the same as '06, though an expansion of the field to 24 countries and territories with qualifying rounds as a preface to reach the main competition is under consideration for 2013, the next time the tournament is slated to take place. The expectation is that the Classic will be in a four-year rotation from here on in.
The field includes Australia, Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Italy, the Netherlands, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, South Africa, the U.S. and Venezuela.
Among the other notable players in the tournament are Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who is playing for the Dominican this time as opposed to the U.S., for which he played three years ago. And career Yankee Bernie Williams is making a comeback with Team Puerto Rico after sitting out the past two seasons. Ivan Rodriguez, still a free agent, is auditioning for a job this season while playing on the Puerto Rican squad as is Pedro Martinez with the Dominicans.
The U.S. also has pitchers Roy Oswalt of Houston and Brad Zeigler of Oakland, plus Mets third baseman David Wright, Atlanta third sacker Chipper Jones and Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins on its 26-man roster.
Jeter, Jones and Peavy are all veterans of the '06 U.S. team, which this time is going to be managed by Davey Johnson rather than Buck Martinez. Johnson managed the team that won a bronze medal last summer at the Olympics in Beijing as well as the 1986 World Series-winning Mets. For Wright and the three others, it's their first Classic appearances.
"I can't wait," Wright said. "When you put that USA across your chest, to me, there's really no bigger honor as a baseball player to go represent your country."
The rosters of at least two teams -- the Dominican and U.S. -- are completely filled with Major League players, although the Dominicans, this time managed by the ageless Felipe Alou, are missing two of their biggest boppers: Albert Pujols, who's recovering from offseason elbow surgery, and Manny Ramirez, an unsigned free agent.
"I hope the people understand [Albert's] decision," said Ortiz, who batted .150 with three homers and five RBIs three years ago. "The guy is a true Dominican. He wanted to come, but he's not going to be able to for a whole bunch of different reasons."
Even Italy, Australia and South Africa have players with Major League backgrounds.
Italy has Kansas City pitcher Lenny DiNardo, Rockies pitcher Jason Grilli and Oakland outfielder Chris Denorfia. Australia boasts pitcher Richard Thompson of the Los Angeles Angels and outfielder Justin Huber, who's bounced around the Majors. And South Africa has six players with MLB affiliations.
China, which hosted last summer's Olympics and is playing for the second time in the Classic, has five MLB-affiliated players on the roster. Korea has Cleveland outfielder Shin-Soo Choo on a roster chocked with Korean Baseball Organization players.
Cuba returns with its highly regarded national team, which has been to the finals in international tournaments 38 times in a row but lost the first Classic title to Japan and the gold medal in Beijing to Korea.
It's a formidable field that the young and sleek U.S. team must face.
"This time they were looking for high-character guys," said Barry Larkin, a MLB Network analyst and a coach on the team. "The problem they had in '06 was taking on this perception that they were an All-Star team. In an All-Star Game, guys get their three or four at-bats and then sit on the bench. It was a sixth-place finish, and obviously, nobody was happy with that."