Canada welcome World Baseball Classic

The World Baseball Classic is coming to Toronto, and players like the home advantage.

Rogers Centre has been chosen as one of the sites for the first round of next year’s WBC, with Canada, the USA, Venezuela and Italy, whose team will be composed largely of second-generation players of Italian parentage possibly comprising the pool for the event, which will be scheduled for the first 12 days of March.

The Toronto Blue Jays have been working on this for over a year, but there was some question about the city’s status after the Dominican Republic threatened to boycott the event unless Santo Domingo was chosen to be one of the host cities.

The first WBC was a largely artistic and final success, despite skeptics who wondered how Major League teams and players would react to the interruption in their usual spring training regimens.

Among the Canadian Major Leaguers who appeared in the 2006 event were Justin Morneau, Erik Bedard, Matt Stairs and Jeff Francis.

“It’s a good draw for Toronto, because even the weakest team (Italy) might attract a few fans because of the sizable Italian community in the city,” said the source.

During the first WBC, it was estimated that the host teams for events made about $1 million after expenses. That’s in addition to the spin-off benefits to the hotel and restaurant business.

For players, they are excited.

Matt Stairs played for Team Canada at the 1988 Olympics as a 20-year-old. Next year, when he is 41, he plans to represent his country again in the World Baseball Classic. If he does, he will get to perform before a home crowd.

Toronto will serve as one of the host sites for the first round of the WBC, with games played at the Rogers Centre. The United States, Italy and Venezuela will also compete in that pool.

Stairs, the only Canadian on the Toronto Blue Jays roster, said the club has already given him permission to leave spring training next March to play for Team Canada, as he did in the first WBC tournament in 2006.

“Whenever you get 25 Canadians in one locker room, it tends to be quite fun,” Stairs said.

So does Rich Harden of the A’s.

“It’s every kid’s dream growing up to play for your country,” said Harden, a Victoria, B.C., native who hopes to play for Team Canada in 2009. “And I’m very excited to get the opportunity to do that this time around.”

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