Team U.S.A. will basically be a cobbled together group of the best players not on a Major League team's top 25 players. Joining them will be the top players from the college ranks. For an NRL equivalent, think about Australia entering the Rugby League World Cup without being able to choose any first grade players, plus the best reserve graders from the other teams.
Team U.S.A. will still be all kinds of good. Led by San Diego State college phenom (widely tipped to go first in next years rookie draft) Stephen Strasburg, and Mike Minor U.S.A. will pitch very, very well.
The Australian tilt... well it's not happening. a silver medal in the last Olympics wasn't enough to let Australia avoid the qualification campaign. The qualification campaign which somehow found a direct qualification spot for THE DUTCH! A country whose most famous baseball export is Win Remmerswaal.
I only hate two things; people who are intolerant of other people's cultures; and the Dutch!
Anyway, you can write off the Dutch, along with hosts China, Chinese Taipei and I will happily write off Korea as well. Some would dispute this, however Korea has been lagging behind their neighbours - Japan - in terms of churning out quality players for some time, and it is pretty hard to see the Chan Ho Park led Koreans battling out for more than a minor role. They will have a lot of depth - with very few players ineligible for selection but will find the top few too classy.
So who does that leave???? Favourites Cuba, Team U.S.A., Canada and Japan.
Cuba have been spurred on by words of encouragement from both Fidel Castro and later Raul Castro: "You all know what the Cuban people expect from you". Exactly what these enigmatic words mean is up for debate. Are the Cuban people hoping that they win? Or have the Cubans been watching a lot of Disney films, and simply hope that the Cuban team has fun and learns some kind of life lesson? Quack.
Cuba are used to tasting success at the Olympics, winners in 1992, 1996 and 2004 and silver medalists in 2000. Bookies have been cautious, sticking them at $1.80. You never know much about the players you will see - the Cuban national team is based at home. The success in the majors of occasional defections from Cuba, such as 2008 defector Alexei Ramirez underline their threat here. Though it can hardly be called defecting anymore.. And after signing a $4.5 M contract with the White Sox it doesn't seem likely that he floated over to Florida on a fridge door.
At $50, Canada could easily find themselves battling out for the gold. With one of the best pitching prospects in the game, Phillippe Aumont leading their staff, anything could happen here. And if anything could get the Captain interested in baseball, it is his beloved Canadians!
You fart loving, fart lovers.
And then comes my pick for the title, Japan. Winners of the inaugural world baseball classic - that's the real pinnacle of international baseball - the one where MAJOR Leaguers play. Japan has lost two of its Major League stars in Ichiro! and Matsuzaka, however the feudal system in Japanese baseball where clubs basically own players until they die means that only a few Japanese players are playing in the Major Leagues and the losses of Matsuzaka and Ichiro! can be adequately covered. Matsuzaka, the find of the World Baseball Classic should be ably covered by Yu Darvish - whom the Japanese hype machine touts as being BETTER than Matsuzaka. Japan at $4.50, yes please.
Even without Australia in the mix, Baseball fans should be entertained to some extent. Though even a rabid fan such as myself would be more likely to watch his Brewers on mlb.tv rather than catch the 5 minute highlight package of Cuba v the Netherlands, in all honesty, there is little more enjoyable than watching the Americans not win Olympic gold in the game where American teams battle out for the WORLD SERIES. Whether it is by their hated Communist neighbour, their hockey mad brothers across the border or by the Japanese. It's all GOOD!
My money is on the Japanese, but my heart says:
IT'S ABOOT TIME!