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Francisco Cervelli Opts Out of Classic to Focus on New York Yankees Catching Competition

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COMMENTARY | After having originally been listed on Italy's provisional World Baseball Classic roster, New York Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli told team manager Marco Mazzieri, "No grazie."

"This is what I've been looking for. I think it's a smart thing to stay here," Cervelli said, referring to the Yankees' spring training facilities in Tampa.

With Cervelli's decision to opt out of the Classic, the Yankees now have only two players scheduled to participate in the tournament, which begins March 2nd - first baseman Mark Teixeira (Team USA) and second baseman Robinson Cano (Dominican Republic).

Cervelli's wise move means he will not lose face time with Yankees manager Joe Giradi when it comes to the competition for the Yankees' starting catcher spot left open by Russell Martin's departure to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who offered Martin a two-year, $17 million deal.

"I talked to [Mazzieri] two days ago, and he understood everything," said Cervelli, who is of both Italian and Venezuelan descent, and played for Italy in the 2009 Classic.

Cervelli, 26, has been up and down with the Yankees since 2008. Over that span, he's caught in 177 games for New York, including a season-high 90 games in 2010. Combined, he's hit .271 (.331 OBP) with five home runs in 184 games. He's also been hampered by injuries, the latest of which occurred in December. While playing in the Venezuelan Winter League, he suffered a whiplash injury on a foul tip (he was catching). In previous offseasons, he's suffered a concussion and a broken foot.

Earlier this week, Cervelli said that it was the broken foot that led him to Biogenesis, the Miami anti-aging clinic tied to latest performance-enhancing drugs scandal.

"I checked with doctors, people, and somebody recommended me to Biogenesis," Cervelli said. "I went there for, maybe, suggestions, and that's it. I walked away with nothing. No [therapy]. I just went there, talked, and that's it."

Cervelli would not say who recommended the clinic; however, he noted that it did not come from another player or an agent.

Cervelli is considered a favorite for the Yankees' open starting catcher spot, although veteran backup Chris Stewart and prospects Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine are also competing for the job. (Bobby Wilson, a former backup with the Los Angeles Angels is also in camp as a non-roster invitee.)

Romine came to camp earlier this week 13 pounds lighter than last year, owing his trimmed down physique to cutting junk food from his diet.

Even if he doesn't win the catching job, this will not be a February that Romine will soon forget. Romine, who projects to start the season at Triple-A, tweeted news earlier this month about the birth of his first child, calling it the best day of his life. A few days later, he posted a picture of his newborn with a Yankees pacifier.

Joining the young catchers this spring training will be one of the Yankees' "old-timers" - Jorge Posada, who is listed among the guest instructors expected in camp. Not expected to make an appearance will be Yogi Berra. The 87-year-old Hall of Famer has found traveling to be increasingly difficult, according to the Yankees.

Howard Z. Unger is a freelance journalist in Brooklyn, New York. For the past 15 years, he has written about sports, media, and popular culture. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, New York Post, and New York Times.

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