Sojo gets up-close look at hopefuls

While much is set, openings remain on Team Venezuela

Skipper Luis Sojo supervises his team's workout this weekend in Caracas, Venezuela. (Fernando Llano/AP)

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VALENCIA, Venezuela -- Venezuela went into Sunday's World Baseball Classic tryouts with few big names present and just over a dozen players of the 60 that are officially eligible for the inaugural event. But manager Luis Sojo brushed off these disappointments as par for the course.

Sojo pointed out that Miguel Cabrera will finally put on his cleats for today's final day of tryouts in his native Maracay. The much-anticipated arrival of Alex Cabrera, a big star in Japan who wanted a guarantee that he'd start in the Classic, has not shown up.

"Where is he? I haven't seen him," said Sojo. "This is a [national] selection of players, not just one guy."

Sojo praised the intensity displayed by the Venezuelan players through three days of tryouts. Considering the mere dozen or so players attending, he said: "Showing up at tryouts definitely helps your chances, but there are many who couldn't be here."

Sojo indicated that many who could come and didn't have made his job easier by giving him a smaller pool from which to choose Venezuela's final roster.

"The limited attendance," said Sojo, "makes things easier, much easier. There has been an incredible intensity displayed these three days. That [too] makes decisions easier."

Sojo repeated earlier claims that "there are no untouchables here, no one is guaranteed a spot [on the team]." But it seemed like less of a threat and more of a motivation tactic to those trying out.

Beside starting pitchers Johan Santana, Carlos Zambrano, Freddy Garcia, team captain Omar Vizquel, key bat Bob Abreu, and a slew of others, these tryouts serve to tie a few loose strings among the starters, shore up the backups and establish the bullpen. Team Venezuela is anything but wide open.

While Sojo has to maintain Team Venezuela's respect -- anyone who seems to put himself over the team has no chance -- national pride requires that the manager get the best players available.

In this light, Miguel Cabrera showing up Sunday seems more a favor to Sojo than an attempt to save his chances, never in danger, of making the national squad.

Carlos Guillen has been one of the few stars who has shown up more than one day at tryouts, showing the desire that Sojo is looking for.

"It would make me very proud to represent Venezuela at second base next to Omar Vizquel, one of the best Major League players out there," said Guillen.

A's infielder Marco Scutaro hopes this national squad can reproduce the magic of the team that won the Caribbean Series. "That team had incredible chemistry and a winning mood from the moment you walked into the dugout," said Scutaro.

While Major League success brings great personal satisfaction, playing in front of Venezuelan fans, and in their name, motivates Scutaro in other ways. "The Major Leagues gives you personal pride," explained Scutaro, "but playing for these incredible fans, how would you not want to give 100 percent to make these people happy?"

Along with representing Venezuela, Scutaro is thrilled about the opportunity to compete against the best baseball players in the world. "The notion of a World Baseball Classic is a tremendous idea," said Scutaro. "This isn't two U.S teams, but a true world championship. It's an opportunity to play against guys you've never faced in your life."

After acquiring infielders Alex Gonzalez and Abraham Nunez, Tomas Perez's job as a utility infielder with the Phillies seems in danger. Perez has been at every tryout and seems eager to take on the Classic as well as his situation with his big-league club, which Venezuela will play in an exhibition game just before the Classic.

"We know that Tomas Perez has faced many stumbling blocks and has been able to overcome them," Perez said. "My challenge is to help Venezuela succeed and to show many people on the Phillies that Tomas Perez is a big-time player."

In the meantime, the Phillies backup is trying to show Sojo the same thing. "They're two different things," explained Perez. "The Phillies [situation] is more serious. I'm going to try to do the best I can in both."

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