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Hickok SportsThoughts

Sports historian and author Ralph Hickok of www.hickoksports.com sometimes meanders on about current happenings in sports and sometimes looks back in languor.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

The Real World Series

It didn't receive much notice in the press, but baseball will get its own version of the World Cup in March of next year.
For the first time, major-leaguers will play for their countries in international competition. It took a lot of negotiating to make it happen. In fact, the original plan was for the series to take place this year, but the problems couldn't be solved in time.
Major-league teams were worried about losing players to injury. The players' association was worried about the same thing, from a somewhat different angle.
An insurance deal covering player contracts has been worked out, and there will be guidelines on how pitchers can be used, with rules on pitch counts and rest between appearances.
Players have also agreed to a drug testing policy meeting the guidelines of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
One major question remains: Will Cuba take part? An invitation would first have to be approved by the U. S. State Department and then accepted with Fidel Castro's approval.
But, although Cuba has been a major force in amateur baseball, it's not likely to be much of a factor in the professional era, since the Cubans with MLB teams are all defectors who wouldn't play for a national team.
More than 80 percent of major-leaguers are U. S. natives, but a disproportionate number of the biggest stars are from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela.
Consider, for example, this possible starting lineup for the Dominican Republic:
C - Miguel Olivo
1B - Albert Pujols
2B - Alfonso Soriano
3B - Aramis Ramirez
SS - Miguel Tejada
LF - Manny Ramirez
CF - Jose Guillen
RF - Vladimir Guerrero
P - Pedro Martinez
Add to that list David Ortiz as DH (if there is a DH) or lefty pinch-hitter, along with pitchers Bartolo Colon, Odalis Perez, Daniel Cabrera and Francisco Cordero, and you've got a pretty fair team.
The United States would have more depth, but depth won't mean an awful lot in a "season" that's only 12 games long.
The World Baseball Classic, to use its official name, will have 16 national teams in four regional pools. The top two teams from each pool's round-robin tournament will advance to a second round, also a round-robin tournament.
The four teams with the best records after the second round will move on to single-game semi-finals, with the two winners meeting in a single championship game.
That game has been tentatively scheduled for March 20 at a major-league stadium to be announced later. Possible pitching matchup: Roger Clemens of the USA vs. Pedro Martinez of the Dominican Republic.