Mexico starts Classic with home field
The team from south of the border opens with Australia
Adrian Gonzalez said Team Mexico has the talent to compete with the Cuban powerhouse and the rest of Pool B when the World Baseball Classic opens at Foro Sol Stadium in Mexico City on March 8.
"We have a great defense, good pitching and the right kind of hitters to help us," said Gonzalez, the Padres All-Star first baseman. "I think our chances of winning are very good."
Mexico posted a 2.77 ERA in 2006 and has what appears to be one of the stronger staffs in this year's WBC, with ace Oliver Perez of the Mets and veterans such as Luis Ayala, Elmer Dessens, Rodrigo Lopez, Dennys Reyes and Ricardo Rincon. The staff also includes Joakim Soria of the Royals, one of the game's top young closers.
Offensively, the club has plenty of experience, led by Gonzalez, who hit 36 home runs last season. Manager Vinny Castilla will assemble a lineup from a roster that also includes Jorge Cantu and Alfredo Amezega of the Marlins, Blue Jays catcher Rod Barajas and ex-big leaguers Karim Garcia and Erubiel Durazo.
Cuba, the WBC runner-up in 2006, will face South Africa in the first Pool B game on March 8, with Australia and Mexico squaring off in the nightcap.
"Australia is the team that we can't look past," Gonzalez said. "I don't know Cuba a lot on paper, but I know they've always been a very competitive team. They know each other very well, so they're a tough team to play."
Not only will Team Mexico have home-field advantage for the first round, but potentially for the second round, which will be at San Diego's PETCO Park, not far from the Mexican border. The roster includes three Padres: Gonzalez and his older brother Edgar, along with outfielder Scott Hairston.
Hairston is part of Team Mexico's other fraternal tandem, joining older brother Jerry Hairston Jr. of the Reds.
"Having two sets of brothers should help, but I think we're going to have really good chemistry overall," Gonzalez said.
The 30-year-old Edgar Gonzalez, who made his big league debut with the Padres last season, expressed concern to Castilla about getting enough at-bats since he's trying to make the San Diego roster again this season.
"He wants to make the Padres, and nothing is for sure for him here," Adrian Gonzalez said. "He wants to play as many games as possible so when we come back to Spring Training, he can go out there and have good at-bats."
Like other squads, Team Mexico had several players from its provisional roster turn down opportunities to play, most notably Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Matt Garza.
"I would have liked to have seen those guys play, but I obviously understand that they're trying to stay away from injury or make their respective teams," Gonzalez said. "I think a lot of times people want to see the best 28 players on the roster, but I think this is the best possible team we could put together to give ourselves the best chance to win."
Pete Williams is a freelance writer based in Safety Harbor, Fla.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.