Team Canada, with Milwaukee Brewer infielder Taylor Green of Courtenay on the roster, opens play at the 2013 World Baseball Classic today when they take on Italy at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Phoenix, Arizona.
Canada is hoping to advance past the first round for the first time. After going 1-2 at the inaugural Classic in 2006, they went 0-2 in 2009, with a disappointing 6-2 loss to Italy knocking them out of the tournament at Rogers Centre in Toronto.
Major-leaguers Justin Morneau and Jesse Crain are among the returning veterans. Canada also features a bolstered bullpen with the addition of Milwaukee closer John Axford.
Canada got good news Monday when their best hitter, Joey Votto, said he was ready to play. The Cincinnati first baseman tested his surgically repaired left knee throughout the early weeks of Spring Training and says he’s good to go.
Team Canada began workouts at Goodyear Ballpark on Monday and Votto was scheduled to join them on Thursday for a final workout at Chase Field before today’s first-round Pool D game against Italy.
Also in the same round-robin pool are teams from the United States and Mexico. Canada plays Mexico on Saturday and the U.S. on Sunday. The second round (modified double elimination) gets underway March 12. Sportsnet will air all of Canada’s games live.
Green has been having a less than stellar Spring Training with the Brewers but broke an 0-for-13 slump March 2 with a two-run double off the right-centre field wall in the bottom of the second inning that helped the Brewers beat the California Angels 4-3.
As of March 4, the Brewers’ third baseman was hitting .158 (3-for-19) with two doubles and three RBI. He went hitless Tuesday in one plate appearance for Canada, who beat the Brewers 7-4 in Phoenix.
Green represented Canada at the 2007 World Cup in Taiwan. He’ll be joined at the WBC by Campbell River pitcher Mark Hardy. The two were teammates in 2010 with the Blizzard baseball club that played out of the Comox Valley and again in 2004 with the Parksville Royals.
Hardy, who is scheduled to pitch Sunday against the U.S., wore the red and white twice in 2011, winning gold at the Pan Ams and bronze at the Baseball World Cup. He pitched for Team Canada in 2008 at the University of Baseball Championships.
Former Blizzard manager Chris Kenny notes Hardy is the Blizzard’s all-time leader in games pitched, wins, and strikeouts. The lanky lefty pitched a scoreless sixth inning for Canada in the qualifying championship game against Germany in October.
He was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 43rd round of the 2010 MLB draft out of the UBC Thunderbirds and pitched for the Padres AA Minor League Club the San Antonio Missions in 2012. He went 3-6 with a 4.71 ERA and struck out 68 in 70.2 innings. He appeared in 22 games, starting 10 of them.