Whitt to manage Team Canada

Skipper returns to Classic after heading '06 squad

Ernie Whitt again will manage Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic. (Rusty Kennedy/AP)

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With the World Baseball Classic less than three months away, Team Canada announced this week that Ernie Whitt will be returning to manage the squad, which will include, among others, Twins first baseman Justin Morneau.

Morneau was the first player officially named to the Canadian team, and although he has been actively recruiting Canadian teammates, it won't be until Feb. 22 that the 28-man team roster is officially set.

Three years after falling short of advancing to the second round of the tournament, Team Canada will get the added benefit of playing their first-round games in Toronto's Rogers Centre. With a new double elimination format in use, Canada will compete against the United States, Venezuela and Italy in Pool C, with two teams eventually advancing to second-round competition.

The Classic -- an event featuring 16 teams in four brackets -- will be played March 5-23, with the first round taking place in four countries and the tournament concluding with the semifinals and finals at Dodger Stadium.

Whitt's team will assemble for the first time on March 1 in Tampa and will hold its first practice the following day. Team Canada will then play exhibition games against the Blue Jays, Phillies and Yankees before heading north to Toronto.

There is scheduled to be one other team practice on March 6 in Toronto, one day before the club opens tournament play against the United States at 2 p.m. ET.

"I think, first and foremost, being able to bring back players to Canada to play in Canada is real special," said Greg Hamilton, the director of National Teams for Baseball Canada. "We've got an opportunity to feature some tremendous players."

On Jan. 16, a preliminary 45-man roster will be set, from which Whitt will eventually choose 15 position players and 13 pitchers. Hamilton indicated that most of the notable Canadian position players will indeed be on the final 28-man roster, though Morneau is the only player to already be officially named to the squad.

"Any time you're out there, and they're playing the anthem, and you look down the line, and you're not the only Canadian in the lineup, it's a sense of pride," Morneau said. "There's a lot of emotion involved. There is emotion involved any time you're playing for your country."

Among those position players likely to participate along with Morneau are outfielder Jason Bay, outfielder Matt Stairs, catcher Russell Martin, utilityman Mark Teahen, infielder Pete Orr and first baseman Joey Votto.

Whitt also confirmed on Thursday that Canadian infielder Stubby Clapp will again come out of retirement to be a player on the team. Clapp, who played for the Edmonton Cracker-Cats and briefly for the St. Louis Cardinals, is now a hitting coach for one of the Astros' Minor League affiliates. However, he came out of retirement this summer to be on the Canadian Olympic team and also played in the 2006 Classic.

The pitching side of things, however, is not as easily defined. Team Canada has already learned that starting pitcher Erik Bedard will not be able to play because of the left shoulder surgery he underwent in September. Pitchers Shawn Hill, Scott Mathieson and pitcher/outfielder Adam Loewen would also be out due to injuries, Hamilton said on Thursday.

However, Morneau said that in his talks with Cubs starter Ryan Dempster that Dempster has indicated that he will be participating in this year's Classic. The statuses of Rich Harden and Jeff Francis remain up in the air for now.

Whitt said that he has also reached out to former Canadian players as he looks to finalize his staff. Whitt has offered invitations to former slugger Larry Walker and former reliever Paul Quantrill to serve as coaches, though the exact capacity of their positions has not yet been announced.

As for Whitt, this will mark the seventh time that he has managed the Baseball Canada's Senior National Team. He served as the team's manager in the inaugural Classic and also in the 2004 Olympics.

Although born in the U.S., Whitt spent 12 seasons as a player with the Blue Jays and later took out Canadian citizenship. He also served as a coach for the Blue Jays from 2005 until midway through the 2008 season.

"I feel pretty Canadian," he said. "I've been a part of baseball in Canada since 1977. That's a long period of time. I know I'm an American citizen, but when it comes to this, I'm pretty Canadian."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.