The World Baseball Classic is almost here. The tournament starts March 2 and runs through March 19 with 16 teams hoping to rule the baseball world. Since international baseball brings new players and storylines, Big League Stew is helping you get ready this worldly clash with previews of each team.
Pool: C — San Juan, Puerto Rico
'09 finish: N/A. This is Spain's first WBC appearance.
First game: Friday March 8 vs. Puerto Rico
Biggest star: "Star" is probably the wrong term to use for anyone on this roster, but you might remember the name Barbaro Canizares. The 33-year-old Cuban defector got 21 plate appearances with the Atlanta Braves in 2009 and has bounced around the lower ranks ever since, appearing in both the Mexican League and independent ball. And, you know, he shares his name with a famous horse. So there's that.
Notable absences: Uh, great question. Can we say Fernando Torres?
Names you may not know, but should: Paco and Daniel Figueroa are twin brothers who grew up in Miami, played for the Hurricanes and reached the Triple-A level before their careers stalled. Now 29, they'll try to help Spain make a mark at the WBC.
Important questions to ask about Spain:
They play baseball in Spain? Yes, though it's obviously not in the same stratosphere of popularity where soccer and basketball reside. Mop Up Duty's Callam Hughson actually has a fascinating look at the history of baseball in the country and it's interesting to note that Spain banned baseball while Cuba was fighting for its independence in the 19th century. Cuban immigrants brought the game back in the mid-20th century and its has attracted mild interest since. According to Hughson, the country features two baseball leagues and a healthy international rivalry with Italy.
Can Spain fill an entire roster with Spaniards? Uh, not quite. Spain's roster does not contain a single Spanish-born player and is instead populated by those who were born in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and the United States. The team's manager, Mauro Mazzotti, is Italian. Some players have Spanish League experience while others have plenty of minor league experience in the U.S.
How'd they get here? Spain defeated Israel 9-7 in 10 innings during a World Baseball Classic qualifier in Jupiter, Fla., last fall. They're currently ranked 16th by the IBAF.
Do they stand a chance in Pool C? Probably not. Spain will have to play pool host Puerto Rico in the opener before playing the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. They arguably have the three toughest pool opponents of any country in the field.