01/19/09 6:00 PM EST
Eight Rays set to compete in Classic
Players to represent five countries in showcase of world's best
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
The following Rays are on the provisional rosters for their respective countries: Grant Balfour, Australia; Matt Garza, Mexico; Akinori Iwamura, Japan; Dioner Navarro, Venezuela; Carlos Pena, Dominican Republic; and J.P. Howell, Scott Kazmir and Evan Longoria, USA.
Of those players, Iwamura is the only one with Classic experience. Tampa Bay's second baseman played third base for Japan in the 2006 Classic and hit .389 in six games for the champions.
The final rosters of 28 players -- including a mandatory 13 pitchers -- must be set by Feb. 24. Tickets can be purchased through mlb.com.
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.
The first round opens March 5 in Tokyo, with defending 2006 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, PR (March 7-11): Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Netherlands, Panama.
Mexico City (March 8-12): Mexico, Cuba, South Africa, Australia.
It's a double-elimination format in the first two rounds. The winners from Toronto will meet the winners from Puerto Rico in the second round at Miami's Dolphin Stadium, while the winners from Tokyo will face the winners from Mexico City in San Diego's PETCO Park.
The semifinals and finals are on March 21 and 23 at Dodger Stadium.
Potential clashes involving Rays players going against teammates could come in the first round when Venezuela plays Team USA, which could see Navarro squaring off against one of his batterymates in Kazmir or Howell.
If Team USA advances to the second round, Rays pitchers could face the Dominican Republic and Pena. Australia or Mexico could play Japan in the second round, pitting Iwamura against either Balfour or Garza. Bragging rights will be at stake and many different scenarios could promote a lot of trash talk inside Tampa Bay's clubhouse once the Classic has a champion.
Participation in the tournament can potentially take players away from the Rays' camp for more than three weeks. They would report to Port Charlotte with the team on Feb. 14 before heading to their respective Classic teams at the start of March.
Should any of the teams with Rays players advance to the finals on March 23 at Dodger Stadium, they could rejoin the Rays on March 24, in time for the final 10 exhibition games of Spring Training.
The Rays' final Spring Training game in at Port Charlotte will be April 1 against the Twins, but they will close out Spring Training on April 4 against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.