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U.S. players are having a great time in World Baseball Classic

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Phil Rogers
March 10, 2009
— Chipper Jones could have caught the first flight back to the Atlanta Braves’ complex in Florida. He didn’t.

A day after straining a muscle in his side, Jones spent Monday hanging out with his Team USA teammates. “You couldn’t get me away from here with a crowbar,” he said.


Consider that a ringing endorsement for the World Baseball Classic, at least when things are going as well as they are for these guys.


Having already been assured a spot in the semifinal round, the Americans’ biggest problem is having time on their hands. They have only Wednesday’s no-real-consequence Pool C championship game before Saturday, when the semifinal round gets under way in Miami.


For Jones and the other U.S. players, this trip to the WBC hardly seems like a burden, as it is frequently advertised. He’s not even letting a potentially troublesome injury bother him.


Jones felt a tweak in an oblique muscle during Sunday night’s 15-6 victory over Venezuela but didn’t go to the trainer’s room to sulk. He was afraid of what he might miss as Davey Johnson’s loaded lineup battered Venezuela.


“I haven’t even contributed to this point, at least offensively,” said Jones, who has gone 0-for-7 with five strikeouts. “(But) it’s fun to be out in the dugout and watch the offensive explosion, you know, over the last three or four innings. It’s just fun to be part of.”


Jones will sit out Wednesday’s game but hopes to play Saturday, even if he’s limited to designated hitter. The last thing he wants is to head back to Braves camp and miss out on a possible trip to Dodger Stadium for the championship round.


“These guys are focused and ready to play, and they’re hungry,” Jones said.


In the two games against Canada and Venezuela, the U.S. scored 21 runs on 25 hits, including six home runs. Kevin Youkilis and Adam Dunn have hit two home runs apiece, but the production has been spread around.


“This is really fun, awesome,” said Dustin Pedroia, the Boston second baseman and reigning American League Most Valuable Player. “They’re all great guys. Playing against them, you get to know them some, but this has been so much fun. I didn’t know what to expect, but this is really special.”


Johnson has the hard job—dividing playing time among his 28-man roster. But the pressure seems to have drained away after J.J. Putz nailed down a 6-5 victory over Canada and his hitters pounded Venezuela’s thin pitching staff.


“Winning the first two games and everybody contributing ... that’s what you call chemistry,” Johnson said. “Winning solves a lot of problems. I really sweated it out the first two games, because we were in a really tough situation. I was thinking we could play Venezuela, have to come back and play the next great team in Canada, then come back and play Venezuela again, had we not won (Sunday).”


Johnson never loses sight of his two responsibilities — winning and helping his players get ready for the upcoming season. He started each of his regulars in at least one of the first two games but has been struck by the selflessness of the roster put together by Bob Watson and others with USA Baseball, the organizing body.


“The makeup is exceptional on this club,” Johnson said at Monday’s optional workout. “Every conversation I’ve had, from David Wright, (Curtis) Granderson, any of them, (Jimmy) Rollins, it’s whatever they could do to help win.”


Mark DeRosa, the former Cub, exemplifies the Team USA attitude. He can play all over the field, but Cleveland Indians officials wanted him working mostly at third base, where he will play this season.


According to Johnson, DeRosa told him not to sweat the details.


“He said, ’Shoot, don’t worry about me,’ “ Johnson said. “(He said), ’I just want to win. Pinch-run me, that would be fine.’ That’s basically how everybody feels.”


Brian McCann, Atlanta’s All-Star catcher and cleanup hitter, batted eighth in the WBC opener.


“I’ll hit 12th in this lineup,” McCann said. “It’s an unbelievable lineup . . . just a great team to be a part of.”


Good times. Nothing but good times.



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