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Lachemann hopes third time's the charm at Classic

ANAHEIM -- Like few other American citizens, Angels special assistant to the general manager Marcel Lachemann has perfect attendance at these World Baseball Classic events.

In 2006 and '09, he was the pitching coach for Team USA. And this year, he'll pretty much handle the bullpen as part of a star-studded coaching staff.

Why does the 71-year-old former manager keep coming back?

"Probably the biggest reason is that we haven't won yet," Lachemann said. "I just want to see the USA do better than we've done before."

For all its star power and Major League experience, the U.S. hasn't been able to dethrone the mighty Japanese team in the last two editions of this tournament.

In 2006, a contingent graced by Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens and Derek Jeter couldn't make it out of the second round, suffering back-to-back losses to South Korea and Mexico. In '09, the likes of Jeter, Jimmy Rollins, David Wright and Roy Oswalt lost in the semifinals to Japan, which then claimed its second straight title with a victory over South Korea.

One reason Japan has performed so well, Lachemann said, stems from its preparation heading in.

"They start earlier," he said. "Their Spring Training starts in January some time -- always has. So they're further along than our guys are from the standpoint of any kind of a team preparation. ... It's up to our guys to do a lot of it on their own is what it amounts to."

Major League Spring Training will start about a week earlier this year, allowing players to spend more time with their teams before jetting off to compete in the Classic. By Feb. 11, Lachemann will be with the Angels in Tempe, Ariz. About three weeks later, he'll head to Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, site of Team USA's practice facility leading up to its first game at nearby Chase Field on March 9.

There, Lachemann will be greeted by yet another talented U.S. team.

On the provisional roster that was announced Thursday, Team USA boasted an All-Star at every position, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner (R.A. Dickey), three MVPs (Ryan Braun, Joe Mauer and Rollins) and one of the game's most exciting young players (Giancarlo Stanton).

But it's a prestigious list of those who won't take part -- names including Mike Trout, Buster Posey, Prince Fielder, Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw -- that seems to suggests U.S. participation isn't on par with that of other nations.

"You look at most of those other countries -- everybody who physically can walk wants to play," said Lachemann, adding that he doesn't blame those who don't participate because of the heightened intensity and risk of injury.

"The guys that do get it, that have had it in the past, they understand that it's a different environment. You're representing USA now, not just your club or your city or your town. You're representing your whole country. I think that in this country in general we've lost a little bit of that, but some guys do see an opportunity to do that."

Team USA is in Pool D, along with Mexico, Canada and Italy.

On a Joe Torre-led coaching staff made up of notables like Larry Bowa (bench), Greg Maddux (pitching), Gerald Perry (hitting), Dale Murphy (first base) and Willie Randolph (third base), Lachemann will mostly assist. He'll pencil out innings, make sure pitchers are getting enough work and -- most importantly -- toe the thin line that resides between winning and preserving another team's valuable arm.

In hopes of ensuring more safety for pitchers, Classic officials have reduced the maximum pitch counts for the first round (from 70 to 65), second round (85 to 80) and championship round (100 to 95), according to a recent report.

But that does little to quell the skepticism of teams that send their best arms to the 16-team tournament.

"I understand their apprehension, because I had it the whole time I was a pitching coach both those years," Lachemann said. "I was on pins and needles, because I didn't want to get anybody hurt. The last thing I want to do is get anybody hurt."

When Torre called him about returning to the staff last fall, though, Lachemann hardly thought twice about it.

The two got to know each other in the late 1980s, as Lachemann served as the Angels' pitching coach and Torre worked as a color commentator for TV broadcasts. Lachemann has long had a propensity for participating in these international competitions. He was a part of coaching staffs for the 1999 Pan-American Games, the 2007 World Cup, the '08 Olympics in Beijing and the two previous Classic events.

Now he's back for the third, simply because he wants to see Team USA win it all.

"I don't know if I can keep coming back," Lachemann said, "so I guess we better win it this time."

United States, Los Angeles Angels