Big League Stew - MLB

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 is running team previews as the event nears.

PANAMA

Pool: D, San Juan

'06 WBC finish: Fell to Netherlands 10-0; dropped all three games in pool play

First game: Saturday, March 7 vs. Puerto Rico

Five questions to ask about Panama

Does Panama have its act together this time? Signs point to possibly, as long as manager Hector Lopez hasn't resigned yet. Has he? (Hit refresh.) Lopez, a former teammate of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, has some mending to do. The manager in 2006, former big-leaguer Roberto Kelly, resigned in exasperation before the tournament even started because officials above him tinkered with the roster and muscled him for control. Sometimes, a strongman emerges in Panama — such as Manuel Noriega (lower left in the collage) — and all heck breaks loose. In the wake of losing Kelly (middle left, wearing shades), the Panamanians were outscored 20-7, including an embarrassing 10-0 loss to the Netherlands. Model citizens. Zero discipline.

Will Ruben Rivera provide his own equipment, or will he borrow Derek Jeter's stuff (and then sell it)? Rivera was a fizzling prospect with the Yankees when he got caught in 2002 selling Jeter's glove for $2,500 on eBay. The Yanks let Rivera go and he's sporadically played in the big leagues since, but is with a Mexican League team now. Jeter (top row, second from left in the collage) forgave Rivera publicly. ("I have no problems with Ruben," Jeter said then. "He did what he did, he admitted what he did and it's over with, the way I look at it. "He screwed up, he knows it. I'm sure he wouldn't avoid me, we were roommates in the minors. I'll say hi to him.") Hacks in the media keep bringing it up because it's funny, pathetic and true. Maybe Rivera (below Jeter) can hit a couple of homers and latch on to a club — before he latches on to their duffel bags, jockstraps and jacuzzi! Yeah, we're runnin' a little bit hot tonight. /Diamond Dave

Will Carlos Lee report on time? Doubtful, but he'll get there in time and hit third or cleanup. Houston's slugger (right, second row from top in the collage) has been one of the more consistent hitters in the majors since breaking in with the White Sox, but occasionally he'll wander in past the reporting time. He's the top power threat in the lineup, though Julio Zuleta used to hit them a long way in batting practice for the Cubs. Fernando Seguignol, formerly of the Expos, is a large, large man, too. Mets prospect Ruben Tejada, still 19 years old, might get a chance to show some speed in the outfield. Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz (right, alone) gives Panama strength and class behind the plate. He's got the feel for the wheel and keeps the moving parts clean.

Why isn't Mariano Rivera playing? And shouldn't there be more Panamanians in the majors? He didn't pitch in '06, either. Mo is getting up there in age, he's coming off an injury in 2008 and the Yankees seem to have a collective focus in camp. So he wants to be part of that. He's the oldest Panamanian in the majors, but the Canal Zone has a long tradition of sending ballplayers to the majors, from Lopez to Rod Carew (bottom row, third from left in collage) to Omar Moreno and Manny Sanguillen, to Kelly, Lee, Rivera and Ruiz. Moreno, in fact, has been working on constructing Panama's youth leagues from scratch so it leads to a minor league and more major leaguers in coming years. Ain't no stopping now.

Do they take the field to Van Halen's "Panama"? If they want to rock hard, they do. Ohhh, yeah. Uhhh huh. Ain't nothing like it, starting a ballgame with Eddie and Alex Van Halen, Michael Anthony and "Diamond" David Lee Roth (upper left and elsewhere) who nearly achieved pop perfection with their "1984" LP. And now, on with the countdown.

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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)

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