The World Baseball Classic, the Olympics of baseball, was first held in 2006. This year, the second WBC is set to take place, and many prominent Red Sox players will represent various teams.
Second baseman and reigning AL MVP Dustin Pedroia will join third baseman Kevin Youkilis on Team USA. Left fielder and former Pittsburgh Pirate Jason Bay is one of the featured bats in the lineup of Team Canada. Finally, designated hitter and first baseman David Ortiz will play for the Dominican Republic in the Classic.
With several Red Sox stars playing in the classic, there is one notable player not going to the classic: Jonathan Papelbon. Instead of playing for Team USA, Papelbon decided to stay with the Red Sox for Spring Training.
"I had a daughter this offseason," Papelbon said. "With the baby and everything, it just didn't work out well for me. Secondly, I just don't think with me not necessarily locked in with a long-term deal, I'm going to jeopardize my career to go play in a three-week tournament or however long it is," the Red Sox's star closer had to say.
Papelbon would not have been the only elite closer going for Team USA. Papelbon would have joined Toronto closer BJ Ryan and Minnesota closer Joe Nathan on the roster.
Commenting on the roster, Papelbon said: "Obviously, I'd want to do that, but it's just not for me," Papelbon said. "Everybody wants to be part of a great team, and, obviously, they have a great staff and a great team. To me, there's more important things than pitching on a loaded [World Baseball Classic] roster."
The Red Sox and Papelbon are cooperating to ease the closer into the 2009 season. Although Spring Training started about a week ago, Papelbon won't pitch in his first game in the Grapefruit League until Sunday, February 28. Papelbon is primarily focusing on training for arm strength.
With a large regular season workload combined with two years in a row of pitching deep into the postseason, this year the Red Sox want Papelbon to take it easy at the beginning of Spring instead of cutting him loose. Papelbon said he is aiming to be pitching at full intensity by the last week or two of Spring Training.