Players enthusiastic about next Classic
Many who passed first time want to participate in '09
TOKYO -- After the lights inside the room were dimmed late Monday morning in Japan, all eyes turned to the big screens, where a beautifully edited montage of the 2006 World Baseball Classic opened with a shot of Ichiro Suzuki, who helped lead Japan to the event's inaugural championship.
Off to one side of the room were David Ortiz, Jason Varitek and Alex Cora of the Red Sox and Huston Street and Rich Harden of the A's, here to help open Major League Baseball's regular season with Opening Series Japan 2008 on Tuesday and Wednesday. Clearly as riveted as the many media and baseball officials filling the Ho-Oh Room at the New Otani Hotel, the players' silent, rapt attention spoke volumes.
By the time the video ended and the lights came back up, illuminating once again the championship trophy that stood gleaming to the right of the stage, all of the drama, excitement and emotion of the World Baseball Classic had come rushing back into the collective minds of those who experienced it, heightening the anticipation for the return of the global tournament.
The word global, in fact, was the key word of the day. The most significant and exciting part of the press conference that introduced the 2009 World Baseball Classic, everyone seemed to agree, was the announcement that all four venues hosting first-round action -- Tokyo Dome, Hiram Bithorn Stadium in Puerto Rico, Rogers Centre in Toronto and Foro Sol Stadium in Mexico City -- are, for the first time, located outside of the continental United States.
"Absolutely," Bob DuPuy, MLB's chief operating officer, said after the press conference. "If you want to talk about the global reach of our game, you can start with the WBC. It's a statement we wanted to make."
DuPuy was joined on stage by the aforementioned players, MLB senior VP of international business operations Paul Archey, MLB Players Association COO Gene Orza, International Baseball Federation president Dr. Harvey Schiller and the Tokyo venue host, Yomiuri Shimbun chairman Takuo Takihana.
Commissioner Bud Selig was unable to attend as the result of travel delays, but those up front surely echoed Selig's sentiments on the event, when, to a man, they expressed unshakable conviction that the 2009 World Baseball Classic will be, in the words of Orza, "bigger, better and stronger" than the highly successful 2006 edition.
"As they say in our country," Orza added, "'You ain't seen anything yet.'"
Archey, who called the first-round sites "four historic, international venues," was as pumped up as anyone.
"We believe the first tournament was exciting and exceeded expectations," Archey said. "The second one will only be better."
DuPuy called the inaugural World Baseball Classic "unlike anything we'd seen" and added that the stiff competition among cities and venues hoping to serve as tournament hosts underscored the game's ever-expanding global appeal.
"We've got four world-class venues ... chosen from many, many bidders," DuPuy said. "That speaks very well for the international growth of the game. This is truly a world-wide event, and these sites represent and reflect our growth."
Representing and reflecting the enthusiasm for the event on the field were the players. With the exception of Harden, who was recovering from surgery at the time, all of them played in the first World Baseball Classic: Ortiz for the Dominican Republic, Varitek and Street for the United States and Cora for Puerto Rico.
"It's every kid's dream growing up to play for your country," said Harden, a Victoria, B.C., native who hopes to play for Team Canada in 2009. "And I'm very excited to get the opportunity to do that this time around."
Like Harden, Ortiz and several others spoke of the honor that comes with playing for one's homeland. Decked out in a skull cap, oversized sunglasses and enough bling to blind an eagle, Big Papi recalled the excitement that washed over the Dominican during the first World Baseball Classic before predicting that those feelings will be enhanced in 2009.
"It was a wonderful experience," Ortiz said of the 2006 tournament. "Great idea by MLB."
Varitek made a vague reference to the players who declined to participate in 2006 by encouraging any American player who is asked this time around to play, lest they miss out on a "phenomenal experience," and later he provided the biggest laugh of the press conference.
Asked what his approach will be should he square off in the 2009 event with current Red Sox batterymate and 2006 WBC Most Valuable Player Daisuke Matsuzaka of Japan, Varitek laughed.
"By the time we get to it next year, we'll have another year together, so I'll come up with something by then," he said. "Right now, I'm gonna bunt. And then steal second."
In keeping with the global theme, Varitek also noted that were it not for the World Baseball Classic, Matsuzaka, who will start for Boston in the opener here Wednesday, might not even be in Boston.
That's why, Orza noted, he's heard from countless players who have said, "Gene, I'm really sorry I didn't play in the WBC," and "Gene, I'd really like to play in the  WBC."
Orza also went out of his way to publicly congratulate Selig on "giving so much" to make the World Baseball Classic a reality.
"This is an event that touches on so much that's great about our game," DuPuy said. "It's just a great day for everyone involved."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.