Venezuela thinking big as camp opens

WBC skipper Sojo begins to finalize roster of confident talents

Venezuela manager Luis Sojo said he was pleased with the first day of his team's training camp.  (Jose Orozco)

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CARACAS, Venezuela -- Fresh off its Caribbean Series crown, Venezuela began World Baseball Classic workouts Friday before thousands of roaring fans. Relaxed and confident, Venezuela's dream team isn't merely ready for the so-called World Cup of baseball. They're ready to win it.

Pirates pitcher Giovanni Carrara took a break from practice to claim the Classic in advance for Venezuela. "It's going to stay here in Venezuela," said Carrara. "Everyone knows Venezuela is a baseball powerhouse as the Caribbean Series proved. Now, we have to prove it in the Classic."

Venezuela coach Dave Concepcion indicated that Dominican Republic was the only thing standing in the way of his country's baseball nirvana.

"We have to eliminate [the Dominican Republic]," said Concepcion. "We can't both be in the final."

After Ozzie Guillen's World Series championship leading the White Sox, plus the Caribbean crown, it's no wonder Venezuela is getting too big for its britches. To the team's credit, Venezuela isn't just talking big. They're taking a very businesslike approach to the Classic.

Venezuelan manager Sojo was firm about those players who didn't show up at the workout. "If they don't come to practice, they don't want to be on the team," said Sojo. "This isn't about individualism, it's about putting together a team that can represent us with honor."

Sojo also gave mixed signals about cuts, saying first that Venezuela's team would be more or less defined in a week to a week and a half. He later said that by the end of the final workouts Monday night, the team would be more or less solidified. In either case, no announcements are planned for some time.

Overall, Sojo was pleased with the opening of this four-day training camp. "Today's group was excellent," he said.

Setting the tone for Venezuela's campaign for the Classic, Sojo's pep talk prior to the workout emphasized honoring Venezuela. "Whoever is on this team requires a lot of responsibility and discipline," said Sojo.

As for Sojo's role, leading Venezuela in the Classic won't quite be like running Double-A Norwich in '02.

"They're men and they know what they have to do," said Sojo. "You can't watch over these guys and try to control their social lives. Of course, when it comes to the clubhouse and the dugout, if you don't follow rules, you have to leave the team."

Excitement aside, Venezuela is serious about winning the Classic. Sojo and Concepcion are trying to inculcate an attitude into their players that will help them accomplish just that.

But for now, Sojo seems just as concerned with players' conditions, both physical shape as well as athletic ability and skill. Sojo will visit many of his players in Spring Training to "see how they are feeling," which probably has more to do with the physical rather than the emotional.

As for finding playing time for everyone, Sojo says that shouldn't be a problem.

"The lineup will be more All-Star Game style," said Sojo, "with people coming in and out more frequently. All these [great] players give me a lot of versatility. But if someone gets hot, you know, I have to leave him in."

Sojo, like the rest of the country, sees this week's Caribbean Series title as positive energy going into the Classic. "I think it gives us momentum," he said. "People think, 'Venezuela is for real.'"

José Orozco is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.