O's are game for 1st Classic

Despite absence of 11 players, team not complaining


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- After talking about it, wondering about it and hoping for a break from Major League Baseball, evacuation day for the World Baseball Classic finally arrived here yesterday.

Nine of the 11 Orioles playing in the inaugural 16-team, international tournament left immediately after the first exhibition game of the spring at Fort Lauderdale Stadium. Two members of the club's starting staff, two catchers, star shortstop Miguel Tejada, converted first baseman Javy Lopez, center fielder Luis Matos and two minor league pitchers won't be back for at least a week, maybe more.

The only Classic participants left in camp are left-handed starter Bruce Chen (Panama), who will leave after pitching today, and Daniel Cabrera (Dominican Republic), who is scheduled to pitch tomorrow and then leave. The Orioles are holding out a sliver of hope that Cabrera can be held back with permission from the Classic's governing panel, but they haven't heard anything official and aren't optimistic.

So the Orioles' camp, as much or more than any other in baseball, will be a lot less populated next week. But manager Sam Perlozzo, who has been championing a fresh start after the on-field and off-field disaster of 2005, is putting a positive spin on losing more than a third of his Opening Day roster.

"Our players that go are actually going to be playing, so they are going to be in baseball playing [shape]," Perlozzo said.

Besides, Perlozzo figures, the reality is there's nothing he can do about it.

"The Classic is something that has to happen, that's going to happen and there is no use fighting it," he said. "It makes it a little more difficult for everyone, but it is something you have got to work through. Everyone's got to do it."

The event, which started yesterday in Tokyo and opens in Orlando, Fla., Phoenix and San Juan, Puerto Rico on Tuesday, is the brainchild of baseball commissioner Allan H. "Bud" Selig as a way to further globalize the game. The players union and the International Baseball Federation also jumped on board to make it happen.

Still -- in public and private -- there have been rumblings about the tournament and its timing. The most vocal opponent has been New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who despises the idea of his stars -- Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon and Bernie Williams -- risking injury in exhibition games away from Yankees' camp. Critics believe that with their country's baseball reputation at stake, the players will show more intensity in March games than they normally do, and consequently, they'll be more prone to injury.

But players that are participating argue there's an injury risk no matter where the games are played or what is at stake.

"Every team is worried about players getting injured in the World Classic, that's baseball," said Tejada, who will play for the Dominican Republic. "It's the same baseball played in spring training and the same baseball played in the season. I don't think players are afraid to get hurt, I am not afraid to get hurt."

Citing injury, several high-profile injured players have backed out of the tournament, including Barry Bonds, Pedro Martinez and Carl Crawford. Others, such as Vladimir Guerrero, Melvin Mora, Mariano Rivera and Manny Ramirez, have rejected invitations for personal reasons.

Those who are playing, however, are taking the competition seriously.

"This is the first time I am going to represent my country. It is something that I am very excited about," said Orioles pitcher Rodrigo Lopez, a Mexico native. "When I was a kid, I never represented my country, so now that I get the chance. It gives you pride."

Lopez doesn't see it hurting his preparation for the regular season.

"I think this will help me a little bit more [than spring training] because the intensity is going to be more over there in those games," Lopez said. "When I come back, I will probably be ready to throw five innings or six innings."

To protect the pitchers, the Classic has established pitch-count limits: 65 for the first round; 80 for the second and 95 for the semifinals and finals.

And several managers, including the U.S.'s Buck Martinez, the Dominican Republic's Manny Acta and Puerto Rico's Jose Oquendo, have vowed to keep a close eye on all of their participants.

"I want everybody to understand that we are not trying to win only and are forgetting about our players," Acta said. "We have a responsibility to the organizations that allowed these players to play."

Ultimately, Perlozzo said, teams have to put their faith in the managers and players during the tournament, and hope all goes well. Because, he said, it's difficult to ask his players not to participate.

"When I stand at attention for our national anthem, I am proud of our country. And these guys are certainly the same way, and you can't take that away from them," Perlozzo said. "So we'll work through it."


O's in Classic

Pos. Player Country

P Erik Bedard Canada

P Daniel Cabrera D. Republic

P Bruce Chen Panama

P Adam Loewen Canada

P Rodrigo Lopez Mexico

P John Stephens Australia

C Geronimo Gil Mexico

C Ramon Hernandez Venezuela

1B Javy Lopez Puerto Rico

SS Miguel Tejada D. Republic

OF Luis Matos Puerto Rico

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