Many are excited to represent their countries

Updated: June 23, 2004, 3:58 AM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Jorge Posada wants to play for Puerto Rico in the baseball World Cup, even if it means missing most of the New York Yankees' spring training camp next year.

"Obviously, we'll be playing, doing something," the catcher said Tuesday. "What's important here is you've got to be loyal to the team. I'd have to ask the Yankees, but I would love to play."

If baseball owners approve the plan and deals are reached with the players' association and the International Baseball Federation, the 16-nation tournament would take place from around March 4 to 21. The regular season is likely to start April 3, leaving players with only 1 weeks of exhibition games for their major league clubs.

"It doesn't matter because if you play, you'll still get in good shape and see some live pitching," said St. Louis Cardinals star Albert Pujols, who is from the Dominican Republic. "You're going to be ready. You just need to respect this game and take it seriously. If I have the opportunity to play, I'm going to play."

Some players are reluctant to leave their clubs during spring training.

"I don't see how it's going to work here," said Houston outfielder Lance Berkman, eligible for the U.S. team. "How are we going to benefit the game with that? The baseball season is so long already, I don't think it will be good to have this thing then. Spring training is kind of when you ease back into things. I think the World Cup would be more appropriate if they played it in the Olympics."

While the NBA and NHL have sent their players to the Olympics, baseball owners say the regular season can't be interrupted because it can't start earlier or end later.

Baseball officials prefer to have the tournament before the season rather than in November, after the World Series.

"It's a nice theory, but the problem is that we have to get guys ready to play and to pitch in the spring," said Houston first baseman Jeff Bagwell, also eligible for the U.S. team. "I just don't know how logically that could work. No one would want to take a chance on getting their players hurt. You have the entire baseball season to go after that."

Anaheim first baseman Darin Erstad, another American, echoed those thoughts.

"If I was perfectly healthy, I still wouldn't do it," he said. "Everything I do is geared to helping the Angels, and that's the most important thing."

But AL MVP Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees is intrigued by the prospect of playing for the United States.

"If I'm invited, I'd definitely consider it," he said.

Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams, who is from Puerto Rico, said it would be a difficult decision for him considering the timing.

"I'd like to play, but I don't know," he said.

Detroit catcher Ivan Rodriguez wants to be with the Puerto Rican team.

"I would play, no problem," he said. "You're still playing, still practicing, so it is not a big deal."

But Yankees closer Mariano Rivera said preparing to pitch for New York in 2005 is more important than playing for Panama.

"It would interest me, but I got a job here. The World Cup won't guarantee me anything," he said.

Pittsburgh outfielder Daryle Ward, an American, pointed out that players in the tournament will just be starting to get into shape for the season.

"I think it is a pretty neat thing to put together," he said. "It's going to be strange to do it in March. It will be a big adjustment to make."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press