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Venezuela opens Classic hunt vs. Italy

Contest will be hosted at Rogers Centre on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET

The star-studded Venezuelan squad, featuring closer Francisco Rodriguez, hopes to go deep into this year's World Baseball Classic. (Lynne Sladky/AP)

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TORONTO -- With an All-Star roster of Major League talent, Team Venezuela will take on the less experienced Italian squad on Saturday in Game 2 of Pool C in the Toronto portion of the 2009 World Baseball Classic. The game, which begins 8 p.m. ET, will take place at Rogers Centre.

Though Venezuela was winless during its week-long pre-Classic stint -- going 0-2-1 in three games -- the team will arrive in Toronto boasting a plethora of proven Major Leaguers. Outfielders Magglio Ordonez and Bobby Abreu, along with infielders Miguel Cabrera, Melvin Mora and Carlos Guillen, are just a few of the big names set to represent their country on the Rogers Centre field.

Venezuela did not advance past the second round of the inaugural Classic in 2006, and will surely look for a better finish this year. It's not just the players who will be looking for success though, as there are many more who'll be rooting for the squad.

"Everybody watches [in Venezuela]," Guillen told recently. "The fans over there are great, they love baseball. Everybody. The President [Hugo Chavez], he used to play baseball. He watches almost every game."

"[Our country] deserves to watch us play together," Ordonez added. "They watch us every day in the big leagues, but they never have a chance playing together. It's a good opportunity to see us all playing together."

Venezuela is expected to send Mariners ace Felix Hernandez to the mound for the Game 2 start. The 22-year-old right-hander will face an Italian team that does not boast the same star power as its counterpart.

The biggest name on the Italian club just happens to be its hitting coach, Mike Piazza. Even so, Piazza, one of the top catchers of his generation, is looking forward to guiding Italy.

"I'm excited to get on the field a little bit, and the fact they [Italian players] are so eager to learn, and there aren't a lot of egos over there," Piazza told last week.

"It's a good thing," Piazza said. "I'm really pumped. The fact that they are really eager and trying to build their program to a level of respect internationally -- it's fun to watch that."

David Singh is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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