Fri Jan 09 11:19am EST
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 on what's going on, the Stew will be running occasional team previews as the event nears.
Pool: A, Tokyo
'06 WBC finish: Lost to Japan in semifinals, 6-; went a perfect 3-0 in pool play
First game: Fri. March 6, vs. Chinese Tapei
Five questions to ask about Korea
• What's a gold medal worth? The Koreans are riding high on the international baseball hog, having just won the gold medal in Beijing by going undefeated in nine games. They're built on pitching and defense, rarely make mistakes and carry a tremendous amount of national pride. They'd be one of the tournament's favorites with or without the gold, but you have to think that it certainly doesn't hurt to have that little trinket hanging from their collective neck.
• Can Byung-Hyun Kim make a comeback? Despite reportedly not being in game shape, the Yankees ol' pal will be back in the WBC. You might remember that Kim polished his reputation from the 2001 World Series by giving up a two-run shot to Kosuke Fukudome in the WBC semis. There was actually a rather exciting clip of the homer on YouTube, but the MLBAM snake seems to have struck and now I can't find it anywhere. Awesome. Wouldn't want to publicize this tournament or anything.
Regardless, the 29-year-old Kim, who's been out of baseball since being cut by the Pirates last spring, says he's back to defend his honor.
"If I have another chance to walk to the mound in a situation like that, I will put a clamp on it. That’s why I have longed to join the national team," Kim told the Korea Times.
• Will Shin-Soo Choo have a big impact? The Indians just signed Choo's WBC permission slip, which is a bit surprising considering an elbow injury limited him to only 94 games in '08. It's not surprising that his homeland would want him back, though: Choo hit .309/.397/.549 with 14 HRs and 66 RBI in his abbreviated season.
• Will the disappearance of incentives damper Korea's play? Get this. Back in 2006, the Korean government rewarded the team's performance by releasing each player from the country's military service requirement. They've already said that won't be the case this year, and that's bad news for Choo, who was a victim of the final cut in '06. At some point, the army's going to come calling and Cleveland won't have anything to say about it.
• Will Korea be sporting the best caps in the WBC? My first and last name make me partial, but the answer is a loud YES. Now can someone put them for sale online already?