SCOTTSDALE - They'll play in the Far East and the Far West - and in the Caribbean, too. Wherever they are, Miguel Cabrera and R.A. Dickey and dozens of All-Stars in the World Baseball Classic know the team to beat: two-time WBC winner Japan.
The Japanese are hoping to defend their title in the third edition of baseball's global tournament, having topped Cuba in the inaugural Classic in 2006 and South Korea three years later.
To do it, Japan - with a roster that doesn't include a single player from Major League Baseball - will have to win two rounds at home and then the semifinals and final at San Francisco's AT&T Park. In their way will be an American team led by Dickey, Ryan Braun and Joe Mauer, trying to make up for a couple of underwhelming WBC showings - and featuring Joe Torre's return to the top step of the dugout.
Team USA has plenty of motivation. The Americans didn't get out of the second round in 2006, then lost in the semifinals to Japan three years later.
"We'll probably be disappointed if we don't make it to San Francisco," said Giants right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, slated to be the No. 2 starter in the U.S. rotation. "First and foremost, we're focused on getting there."
Japan's pro teams are known for their rigorous spring training regimen, which typically begins a couple of weeks before the major-league clubs and feature all-day workouts with just a short break to eat.
"It's such a dedicated group of players. I go back to going over to Japan as a member of the Mets back in '74 and just noticing and at that time I didn't think necessarily that the Japanese could play at our level, maybe stature-wise," Torre said. "Even though their game was clean and disciplined, it just didn't look like they were as good as we were. That certainly has changed."
In all, 45 big league all-stars, including seven MVPs, were on the final WBC rosters.
World Baseball Classic IN Phoenix
• March 7: Italy vs. Mexico, 1 p.m. (Salt River Fields at Talking Stick)
• March 8: Canada vs. Italy, 12:30 p.m. (Salt River Fields at Talking Stick); Mexico vs. United States, 7 p.m. (Chase Field)
• March 9: Canada vs. Mexico, 12:30 p.m. (Chase Field); United States vs. Italy, 7 p.m. (Chase Field)
• March 10: United States vs. Canada, 1 p.m. (Chase Field)