No I am not talking about soccer. This is baseball’s version of the World Cup and it began on Saturday night in Panama with Opening Ceremonies. The host team Panama came back to defeat the European Underdog Greece in the opening game.
Team USA does not have a member of the KC Royals minor leagues on its roster (like last year), but it does have a mix of younger prospects and veterans. The big name is catcher/DH Travis D’Arnaud of the Toronto Blue Jays (who was the Eastern League’s MVP). Tuffy Gosewich of the Philadelphia Phillies will platoon with D’Arnaud. John Danks’ brother Jordan will patrol the outfield. Veterans Randy Williams, Royce Ring, Scott Patterson, and Joe Thurston will be counted on. The USA begin their World Cup play tonight at 8:30pm against Japan. You can catch all the action live HERE.
Don’t fret. There are a few Royals minor leaguers speckled throughout the international tournament and a few former players. Let’s start with the host team Panama. Former minor league catcher Damaso Espino (and his pitcher brother Paulo) were big parts of Panama’s opening win. Paulo picked up the win, as he allowed three runs on five hits over six innings while striking out eight. Damaso tied the game up with a double and produced a two-run single in the 6th inning as Panama defeated Greece 8-3.
On the Greek roster (but didn’t play in the first game) is former Royals minor league catcher Mike Tonis. Remember him? He was supposed to be that elite catcher coming up through the system (well at least on defense). You can check out a 2009 article on him from Will McDonald HERE.
The Italians have just two players from the minor leagues on its roster, one from the Royals. Pitcher Andrea Pizziconi spent the 2011 minor league season with Burlington in the Rookie Appalachian League. The soon-to-be 20 year old (his birthday is October 4th) posted a 1-2 record with a 6.81 ERA over 40 innings. Italy, with former All-Star Mike Piazza as a coach, begins World Cup play today against the Dominican Republic at 8:30pm. You can watch that game LIVE online at http://www.ibaf.livesport.tv/home, where all of the games will be streamed live throughout the tournament.
Speaking of the DR, two former Royals will again be teammates. The 2003 American League ROY, Angel Berroa, will be suiting up for his country, along with outfielder Alexis Gomez. Berroa spent the second half of the 2011 season with the Reno Aces (the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks). There he hit .320 with 12 doubles, four homeruns, and 25 RBIs. He had an on-base percentage of .354. Gomez, who was in a car accident last winter and suffered head trauma (and I believe surgery), spent this season again in Mexico. There he hit .312 with 25 RBIs and an on-base percentage of .366. I will be rooting for these two, as I became friends with them during their time in Wilmington.
Taiwan and the Netherlands (who have a very good team) and Cuba and Australia kick off Sunday’s World Cup action at 3pm.
Speaking of Australia, there are two former Royals on the Aussie roster. Justin Huber was part of the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006 with the Aussies. I was there in Florida as the upstart Australians almost knocked off both Venezuela and the DR. That WBC led to the Atlanta Braves signing of reliever Pete Moylan. Huber has participated in every international tournament for the Aussies since. He always had solid seasons in the minors with the Royals, but could never put it together in the big leagues.
Pitcher Paul Mildren spent some time in the minor leagues with the Royals from 2007-2008. When he pitched in Wilmington in 2008, I was excited because I saw him pitch in the 2006 WBC (okay, I am a fan of the Aussies). This season, he returned to Australia and played in their baseball league. The very young Australian team (with the Kennelly brothers) begin World Cup action against Cuba today at 3pm. You can check it out live HERE. If you want to know what’s going on during the World Cup via an Aussie player’s point of view, check out Todd Van Steensel’s blog HERE (he is part of the Minnesota Twins minor league system).
Team Canada, who won the bronze at 2009′s World Cup, begins play today against Puerto Rico. Andrew Albers, who spent part of the 2011 season with the New Britain RockCats (the Double-A affiliate of the Twins), will get the start in his World Cup debut. I had the chance to see Albers pitch this year and he was pretty good against the Trenton Thunder (he allowed one run on seven hits over six innings and did not walk a batter).
Two former Royals join Albers on the Canadian roster and both were teammates with the NW Arkansas Naturals. Jamie Romak (who can play first base, third base, or DH) and outfielder Tim Smith once again team up. Romak, who I had a chance to see play last year in Wilmington (and in 2008 & 2009 with Altoona), hit .251 with 21 doubles, 23 homeruns, and 71 RBIs for the Naturals. Check out an article written about Romak HERE. Smith hit .311 with 13 doubles, ten homeruns, and 49 RBIs with the Naturals.
Puerto Rico is rumored to have two Royals minor leaguers on its roster (I am having trouble finding final rosters). First is pitcher Mario Santiago, who pitched very well down the stretch for the Naturals when he moved to the rotation. Overall with the Naturals, he was 5-1 with a 2.23 ERA over 64.2 innings. The other is infielder Irving Falu, who was a member of the PCL champion Omaha Storm Chasers. Falu hit .301 with ten doubles, nine triples, and 47 RBIs. The shortstop was also hot when the season ended.
Remember: you can catch the games streaming live on your computer.