By DJ Gallo
Special to Page 2

Sorry if I'm breaking some sort of media-person protocol by admitting what I'm about to admit, but I am actually excited to watch the World Baseball Classic. I don't know, I guess I think it might just be a tad bit more exciting than spring training baseball. But then again, I was also excited about this year's Super Bowl matchup and the Winter Olympics, so maybe there is something wrong with me. Like, um, that I like sports.

Anyway, I'm excited by the prospect of watching meaningful baseball in March. So I hope you'll indulge my pool-by-pool mini-preview of the WBC.

Pool A

Byung-Hyun Kim
AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
You've got to be confident in your team when you have Byung-Hyun Kim on the mound. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The Korean team is boosted by major-league experience on its pitching staff, including the likes of Chan Ho Park and Byung-Hyun Kim. On the down side, its pitching staff includes the likes of Chan Ho Park and Byung-Hyun Kim. Team China has been outscored 40-6 in its three WBC games so far, proving that one of the few things not manufactured in China is runs. Or pitching. Chinese Taipei looks to draw on a rich baseball history that includes numerous Little League World Series championships. Unfortunately, the average age of Chinese Taipei's WBC team (24 years old) is below that of its great LLWS squads of years past (36 years old). Japan is the favorite in Pool A but will be playing without Hideki Matsui of the Yankees, who decided it was better to disappoint his entire homeland than the insane man who pays him $13 million a year to leave men on base every October. Probably a good choice on his part.
My pick: Japan

Pool B
If you enjoyed watching the Canadians stink it up in hockey at the Olympics, wait until you see them play baseball! Hilarious. Even more hilarious? Their second baseman is named Stubby Clapp. Seriously. But even Canadians who hate baseball might want to tune in when Team Canada plays Mexico, as Mexico's center fielder, Karim Garcia, is probably the best chance the WBC has for a hockey fight. The United States squad is probably the most balanced team in the entire tournament, and the clear favorite in Pool B. That is, as long as it can get by South Africa, which could potentially give Team USA quite a battle. If they play cricket.
My pick: United States

Pool C

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At first glance, the Netherlands may appear to be the weak link in this group, but the Dutch squad draws many of its players from the Caribbean island of Curacao, including Braves star Andruw Jones. The team's speed will be seriously hampered, however, as all Dutch players will be shod in wooden baseball shoes. Cuba will be a serious contender and a must-see team, simply because it will be interesting to watch how many players defect each time a hit-and-run is called. Panama is without several of its best players, as is Puerto Rico, the favorite in Pool C. If Puerto Rico should happen to meet Team USA in the championship game, look for Congress to grant Puerto Rico statehood to guarantee the title goes to the United States.
My pick: Puerto Rico

Pool D

Mike Piazza
AP Photo/Steven Senne
You know Piazza Italia jerseys are going to sell like hotcakes. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Italy has bolstered its squad with major leaguers who have Italian roots, including future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza. Although having Piazza on the team at this stage of his career will be about as productive for Team Italy as starting Joe DiMaggio in center would be. Since baseball season runs from September through March in Australia, the Aussies will be in playoff form -- which might just be enough to prevent them from getting mercy-ruled in every game. Team Venezuela has the hopes of an entire nation riding on its shoulders and, should it fail to deliver a championship, can expect to be cursed out and called cowards by Ozzie Guillen. The Dominican Republic has suspect pitching, but far and away the most powerful offense in the tournament, and is hoping this age-old baseball mantra proves true: "Defense and pitching win championships, but not World Baseball Classics. Those are won by power-hitting Dominicans."
My pick: Dominican Republic

*****

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Four Things I Thought I Thought While Trying to Find What Channel UNC-Duke Was On …

Phil Mickelson
AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
Mickelson wasn't able to tame Tiger this weekend. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

1. Tiger Woods proved yet again this weekend that Phil Mickelson isn't even in his league, let alone a threat to wrest away the title of "world's best golfer." But you have to hand it to Mickelson. He seems resigned to his place behind Woods. In fact, knowing he can never top Tiger, I think Mickelson has his sights set on other pastures. I noticed he's growing his hair out and, when you pair that with his generously proportioned chest area, I'm starting to think he might have it in his mind to join the women's tour.

2. The way Duke is playing right now and how tired J.J. Redick appears, I will be pretty surprised if they win the national championship. They still have a shot, of course, but it's going to be on Mike Krzyzewski to find some way to refocus them for the postseason. The same old tactics won't work though. He needs something new. Something fresh. He needs the most inspiring pep talk ever. He needs to gather his players around him before practice today, look them in the eyes and deliver these four simple sentences: "I want you to develop as a player. I want you to develop as a student, and I want you to develop as a human being. My life isn't about playing games. That's why my card is American Express." Armed with the knowledge of how much their leader's credit card means to him, I see no way the Blue Devils can lose.

3. I have no real rooting interest in the whole UNC-Duke rivalry, so please take this as nothing more than an observation from an impartial fan: I watched part of Saturday's game on ESPNU, which featured a split screen showing continuous shots of the Duke student body and, uh … these are not attractive people. And yes, of course -- many are future millionaires who could buy and sell the likes of me, no doubt. But not a handsome lot. Sort of like a thousand Lee Melchionni's. And those were just the females. I imagine it must be quite hard for Redick to find someone muse-worthy on campus for his poetry.

4. In the waning moments of Cincinnati's win over West Virginia on Saturday, Bearcats fans "taunted" the Mountaineers with chants of "Over-ra-ted." I understand it was a big win for Cincinnati, but for the life of me I can't understand why fans ever cheer that. It's more insulting to your own team than the opponent. May as well just chant: "If you're bad enough to lose to the likes of us, you're obviously not nearly as good as people thought you were … da, da, da-da-da." Sure, it's a bit longer of a cheer and perhaps not as catchy as "Over-ra-ted," but I think it gets the point across much better.

DJ Gallo is a regular contributor to ESPN The Magazine, as well as the founder and sole writer of the award-winning sports satire site SportsPickle.com. He also contributes headlines to "The Onion."




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