Team USA is in the Arizona bracket with Canada, Mexico and Italy and opens against the Mexicans at Chase Field on March 8. The other three first-round brackets are in Japan; Taichung, Taiwan; and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
"Being on the other side internationally, the tournament is humongous," said Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin, who was a coach under Davey Johnson on Team USA in 2009 and is managing Brazil this year. "For Team USA, over here it's bad timing, they're just ramping up for the season, but internationally this is awesome. There is a tremendous amount of interest and excitement. I think it's more exciting because of the opportunity it gives the players who are not in the states."
For Brazil, which ousted Panama in a qualifying round late this past year, it's the country's first trip to the Sweet 16. Japan won in 2006 and '09 with right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka named tournament Most Valuable Player on both occasions. The Japanese will enter this year's Classic without a Major League player on their roster.
The U.S. has never gotten as far as the finals, losing in the second round in '06 and in the semifinals to Japan at Dodger Stadium in '09. Only three players are expected back from the 2009 team: Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, Red Sox right fielder Shane Victorino and Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun.
This time, at least making it the final game at AT&T Park is the goal, if not winning it all.
"Without a doubt, you get tired watching other countries playing on the last day of this thing," said Larry Bowa, another former big league shortstop who is the bench coach under Torre this year for the U.S. "When I was playing, if somebody asked me, I would have jumped at playing in this thing. I'm not just going there to hit fungoes. I want to win."
Around the diamond, the U.S. is expected to have a starting eight of Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, Rollins, Mets third baseman David Wright, Twins catcher Joe Mauer, Braun, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones and Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton. Blue Jays right-hander R.A. Dickey, Giants right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, and Rangers left-hander Derek Holland are expected to anchor the starting rotation with Braves closer Craig Kimbrel in the same role. Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte is a probable.
But the situation will continue to remain fluid, Torre warned. The provisional rosters were due Wednesday and the final rosters of 28 players must be filed by Feb. 20.
"We want to make sure that in putting a team together that it doesn't necessarily have to be full of superstars," he said. "It has to be a team that's going to be able to function. It's nice to get all the big-name guys, but they can't all play. That's probably the most sensitive area about putting this team together."
The final game in 2009 was an epic with Korea tying Japan, 3-3, in the bottom of the ninth off a young pitcher named Yu Darvish. Korea pitched to Ichiro Suzuki in the top of the 10th with first base open, runners on second and third and two out. He won it with a two-run single. Darvish and Ichiro both declined to play again on this year's team.
Teams traditionally have sought permission to talk to more than 600 players about ultimately filling a maximum of 448 spots on the final 16 rosters. This is the only international tournament in which players on the 25-man rosters of each Major League team can participate. And this was the first time that eight more teams were added and had to win one of four qualifying rounds against the eight teams that didn't make it out of the first round four years ago.
Spain, Brazil, Chinese Taipei and Canada qualified. Spain and Brazil are the newcomers.
The Canadian roster includes 12 players who played for Major League teams in 2012, including Justin Morneau of the Twins, newly signed Russell Martin of the Pirates, John Axford of the Brewers, Jesse Crain of the White Sox, Michael Saunders of the Mariners and Brett Lawrie of the Blue Jays.
Ernie Whitt will manage the Canadians again and Morneau is slated to be with him for the third time.
"Any time you're out there and they're playing the anthem, and you look down the line and you're not the only Canadian in the lineup, it's a sense of pride," Morneau said. "There's a lot of emotion involved. There is emotion involved any time you're playing for your country."