Well, it’s time for the sports world to enter what may be the most hated of all months – February.
The Super Bowl has ended, the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest has been scheduled for Valentine’s Day, thus causing thousands of otherwise happy couples to breakup, and worst of all, March Madness is sitting just weeks away, laughing at us as we are forced to endure this nauseating month.
However, this year has one thing that most other years don’t. One thing that will keep me going. One light at the end of this awkward 28-day tunnel.
The World Baseball Classic.
The WBC is an international baseball tournament that allows both amateur and major league players to represent their home countries in a 16-team, double-elimination extravaganza that kicks off March 5.
The first WBC took place in 2006 and was won by a Japanese team that featured major leaguers Akinori Iwamura, Kosuke Fukudome, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Ichiro Suzuki, among others.
Now, I can only assume the rest of the general public despises the fantastically boring month of February as much as I do, and as a result, has had the first game of the WBC circled on their calendars for quite some time.
However, just in case there are still some people out there who want to take the time to soak up every ounce of February, let me explain why it is time to focus your misguided energy on March.
The United States failed to qualify for the semifinals of the inaugural Classic, but returns this year with a lineup that will be sure to turn some heads.
The 2009 squad features a number of young, extremely talented, rising stars, mixed with a healthy bunch of seasoned veterans.
Starting on the pitcher’s mound, whipper-snappers such as John Danks, Scott Kazmir and Johnathon Broxton will share the work load with established experts like Joe Nathan, Ted Lilly, Roy Oswalt and Jake Peavy. And the roster only gets better from there.
In the infield, future superstars Evan Longoria and Dustin Pedroia will be turning double-plays with players such as Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones and Derrek Lee, while the outfield will be able to choose between sluggers such as Ryan Ludwick, Carlos Quentin and Ryan Braun or speedsters such as Curtis Granderson and Grady Sizemore, who may be one of the best all-around players in the game right now.
Even with the talent the U.S. team possesses, a very brief look at the other rosters will show that even some of the best players in America are going to have a tough time competing in an event this deep.
Not only does the Dominican team feature the lights-out pitching of Ervin Santana, Edinson Volquez, Carlos Marmol and Francisco Liriano, the team also has one of the most potent infields the game could possibly muster.
Featuring reigning NL MVP Albert Pujols, shortstops Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes and Miguel Tejada and second basemen Robinson Cano and Plaicdo Polanco, it’s tough to believe the Dominican Republic is even going to need much help from outfielders Vladimir Guerrero and Alfonso Soriano.
Oh, and just for kicks, the team also added Alex Rodriguez.
The Venezuelan team will be enjoying the company of three of last year’s most dominant pitchers – Johan Santana, Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Zambrano.
All three pitchers are coming off huge seasons, and all three will certainly take comfort in having the big bats of Bobby Abreu, Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera behind them.
And of course, there is no way we can leave out the reigning WBC champs.
The Japanese team returns all of the above mentioned major leaguers, with the addition of Red Sox reliever Hideki Okajima and Mariners’ catcher Kenji Johjima.
Although most of the other teams in the tournament have gotten considerably stronger since 2006, the champion Japanese team certainly has not gotten any weaker.
With these types of unbelievable teams that will be taking the field in March, this tournament will be well worth the wait. But until then, just be sure to enjoy all that February has to offer: the Northern Trust Open, Larry the Cable Guy’s birthday and National Science Day.
At least it’s not a leap year.
D.J. Piehowski is a junior journalism major from Genoa. He is the Scout assistant sports editor.
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