World Baseball Classic Preview: Look, Europeans!

Bejing 2008 it aint.

Bejing 2008 it ain't.

And so, with Tommy Lasorda flipping on a light switch (no, seriously), the World Baseball Classic officially got underway yesterday morning. Of course, other than Group A no one has actually played yet, so there’s still plenty of time for previews. Today, we’ll be looking at the European representatives : Italy and the Netherlands. These are the teams that got invited because you can’t have a “World” anything without global participation, even if that particular part of the world doesn’t really have a shot at ever winning. (This is probably how Europe feels about the US participating in the World Cup.) Moving on!

Italy

Frank Cattalanottos grandma is proud of him, but wishes hed tuck in his shirt.

Frank Cattalanotto's grandma is proud of him, but wishes he'd tuck in his shirt.

You’ve Heard Of: Italy’s baseball team is most famous for filling their roster with American players of Italian lineage and this year is no exception: Nick Punto, Frank Catalanatto, Mike Napoli, and Mark DeFelice, are among those professionals playing under the flags of their grandparents (Mike Piazza, who played for the 2006 team, serves as hitting coach). However, Cubs pitching prospect Alessandro Maestri is actually Italian-born – the first Italian born player to be signed to an MLB contract, in fact.

Alessandro seems a bit overwhelmed by his historic contract.

Alessandro seems a bit overwhelmed by his historic contract.

2006 Results: 1-2 in pool D, beating only Australia
2009 Expectations: Playing in a different group this year (with the US, Canada, and Venezuela), this team has quite a bit of major league experience, but no real superstars. They probably won’t make it to the second round, but they could scare a team that doesn’t take them seriously. Then again, they couldn’t beat the Nationals.

Kingdom of the Netherlands

Rick VandenHurk.  If you like your pitchers tall, cute, and Dutch.

Rick VandenHurk. If you like your pitchers tall, Dutch, and baby-faced, he's your guy.

Special Geography Fact: The official “kingdom” of the Netherlands includes both the European country, the islands which make up the Netherlands Antilles, and Aruba. This is why Andruw Jones, as a native of Curacao, was eligible to play for them in 2006.

You may be seeing a lot of these two this year, but probably not until April.

You may be seeing a lot of these two this year, but probably not until April.

You’ve Heard Of: Bert Blyleven, Twins great and the Netherlands pitching coach. Pitchers Rick VandenHurk (Marlins), and up and coming prospect Greg Halman (Seattle).

2006 Results: 1-2 in pool C, beating Panama convincingly (10-0), but unfortunately having to contend with Puerto Rico and Cuba.

2009 Expectations: Stuck in the same group as Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, it’s going to be hard for the Netherlands to do more than equal their 2006 finish. At least they are probably still better than Panama.

The Netherlands first round game vs. the Dominican Republic will air on ESPN2 at 11 ET tomorrow; Italy’s first game against Venezuela is on the new MLB Network at 8 PM.  (Both games will also air on ESPNDeportes.)  Anyone planning to watch?  Or are you going to stick to basketball and hockey until the “real” season starts?

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