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Whether you're waiting for it or not, the World Baseball Classic is fast approaching. The international shindig kicks off in Tokyo on March 5 and runs through the final at Dodger Stadium on March 23. In an attempt to get you quickly up to speed with what's going on, BLS will be running occasional team previews (and more) as the event nears.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

Pool: D, San Juan

'06 WBC finish: Fell to Cuba 3-1 in semis

First game: Saturday, March 7 vs. Netherlands

Five questions to ask about the Dominican Republic

• With A-Rod playing for them, is the D.R. the team U.S. fans can root against? The WBC was created in the spirit of goodwill, it has been said. Maybe that's why many Americans find themselves troubled to embrace the tournament. Everybody needs a bad guy to oppose. Good punches evil. Yin yields to yang. Sodom socks it to Gomorrah. Salt loathes Pepper. As much as Americans detest Canada (totally kidding), they just can't muster up enough Irish to feel any hatred toward the sticklers of Celsius. The Cubans and Chinese might be political adversaries but we have a curiosity, even a fetish, toward their athletes. Yao ain't exactly Mao on our bad guy list. Skipping the other teams in the tournament because of time constraints, that leaves the Dominicans and their strong man, Alex Rodriguez. Right now, he's the ballplayer everyone at work can agree to dislike. The timing of his drug revelations couldn't be better for that sly fox, Bud Selig. The WBC is a phone call away from being a mere figment of his imagination; yet with A-Rod's reputation skidding off the runway and into the Hudson River, maybe he can inject into the tournament something we all need to enjoy it: bile.

• Who else is in? These are the top-tier players expected to play: Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Damaso Marte of the Yankees; David Ortiz of the Red Sox; Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins; Jose Reyes of the Mets; Adrian Beltre of the Mariners; Ubaldo Jimenez of the Rockies; Jose Guillen of the Royals; free agents Pedro Martinez and Moises Alou. Also in: Willy Aybar of the Rays; Johnny Cueto, Edinson Volquez and Willy Taveras of the Reds; Jose Arredondo of the Angels; Tony Pena of the D-backs; Rafael Perez of the Indians and Nelson Cruz of the Rangers.

• You know who else is in? Odalis Perez! The Nationals recently cut him because he didn't show up for camp and wouldn't return anyone's phone calls, including those of his agent. But O.D.P. is on the D.R. squad because he's got nowhere else to go! Mayo! Juan Cruz, a free agent for different reasons (ie: he's no good), also is on the squad.

• Who's out? Some huge names, including: Albert Pujols of the Cardinals; Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Marmol of the Cubs; Vladimir Guerrero and Ervin Santana of the Angels; Placido Polanco of the Tigers; left-hander Francisco Liriano and outfielder Carlos Gomez of the Twins; closers Francisco Cordero (Reds) and Jose Valverde (Astros); Carlos Pena of the Rays; Fausto Carmona and Jhonny Peralta of the Indians. Others not going: Santiago Casilla of the Athletics; Melky Cabrera, and Daniel Cabrera of the Nationals.

• What about catching? Miguel Olivo was talking like he might not have accepted a bid, which would have left them barren behind the plate. His true patriotism won out as did that of Alberto Castillo, who came out of semi-retirement to back him up. Overall, Felipe Alou will manage a lot of talent, and the bracket isn't deadly — it also includes Puerto Rico, Panama and the Netherlands — so the Dominicans hope to improve on fourth place in the WBC in '06.

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Previous WBC previews: Korea (Jan. 9); Venezuela (Jan. 13); Australia (Jan. 21) Mexico (Jan. 27); Netherlands (Jan. 29); South Africa (Feb. 4); China (Feb. 16), Italy (Feb.17) Japan (Feb. 18), Canada (Feb. 20), Chinese Taipei (Feb. 23); Panama (Feb. 24).

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