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Players point to national pride in choosing Classic

As Brandon Phillips deliberated whether to participate in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, he essentially formulated a pros-and-cons list in his head.

Phillips initially wasn't sure about the idea, fearing injury or additional wear on his body and how it might affect his usual rhythm in preparing for the Major League season. However, there was one overriding factor that tipped his hand and ultimately led to him being named to Team USA for this year's tournament, to be played in March.

"Just talking to [Team USA manager] Joe Torre, it's like you're representing the country," Phillips said. "It's something I can always say to my kids and their family and their kids, just to say I played and represented the country."

Although some high-profile players passed on the Classic, many were drawn to their respective national teams by the allure of representing their country on a global stage.

"It's an incredible honor for me," said Rays utilityman Ben Zobrist, who will join Phillips on the U.S. team. "It's one of my career goals, one of my career dreams to play for Team USA in the WBC. So when I heard the possibility I could be added to the roster, I was of course elated. It's such a distinct honor to represent your country in any way, especially a country like ours."

It's unlikely that any Major League team will be better represented in the Classic than the Brewers, who are expected to send as many as 14 players -- including 2011 National League MVP Award Ryan Braun and catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who were named to Team USA. Pitchers John Axford and Yovani Gallardo and outfielder Carlos Gomez are among the others.

Lucroy said knowing general manager Doug Melvin's stance on the Classic was a factor in his enthusiasm to participate.

"I know that, for Doug, one of his things is he supports guys playing for their countries, because it doesn't happen a lot," Lucroy said. "It's kind of a rare thing."

Lucroy said he was actually surprised when Torre reached out to him about joining the roster, but he called accepting the offer "a no-brainer." Lucroy recognized the sacrifices players make in potentially missing a large chunk of Spring Training, but he considered his situation with the Brewers and believed playing was a reasonable choice.

"It is [a sacrifice], but, then again, if I'm going to catch guys during the early part of Spring Training when I'm there, I'm very comfortable with the rest of the staff," he said. "I'll catch the guys I haven't seen before, which is only four to five of them, so it should be fine."

Said Zobrist: "At this point in my career, I feel like those 2 1/2-to-three weeks of Spring Training are kind of ingrained in my mind and body a little bit, so I don't feel like I won't be able to pick up very quickly with the team and what's happening at the point I get back, if we go all the way.

"I considered that in my desire to play in the tournament and I felt like it's going to help me be even more game-ready at the start of the season because of the competitive at-bats, and hopefully I'll be able to get some of those. It's that playoff atmosphere that I think will be really exciting. It will be interesting for me to feel that in March. I'm not used to feeling that in March."

Despite all the time missed, many managers see the benefit in having their players return with international experience they can use in bringing value to their big league clubs. Reds manager Dusty Baker was asked at this year's Winter Meetings if he hoped his players' World Baseball Classic teams would fall out of competition early so he could have them back at camp in Goodyear, Ariz.

"No, I can't say that," Baker said. "No, I couldn't do that, because I remember talking to Joey Votto and some of the other guys about how much fun it was playing for their country. I had Joey address the team one time about what it was like, the excitement and the vision that that was the playoffs and a World Series-type atmosphere."

Beyond the time missed with their clubs, the participating players are most concerned with getting ahead of schedule on their winter workouts so they'll be in game shape sooner.

Zobrist said he goes to Spring Training with his fielding preparation "pretty much ready to go" but he is working to ramp up the speed of his swing. Phillips, too, said he started his workouts sooner.

"I started a little bit earlier this year, because I don't want to look stupid on TV," Phillips said. "I've been working my butt off."