Baseball Canada announced on Thursday Ernie Whitt as manager of Team Canada. In addition Justin Morneau was confirmed as first player on the roster for the 2009 World Baseball Classic next March. Whitt was the skipper for Canada in the premier edition of the tournament in 2006 and also led the team to a fourth-place finish at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. At the inaugural event three years ago, Canada upset Team USA 2-1 in pool play, but were eliminated after the preliminary round.
Morneau is a first baseman for the Minnesota Twins and received the American League MVP award in 2006 and finished in second place in the 2008 voting. He was selected by the Twins in the third round of the 1999 amateur draft and debuted in the MLB in 2003. He has a career batting average of .281 (OBP .348/SLG .498) with 133 homeruns. Morneau batted .308 in the 2006 Classic for Canada.
Baseball Canada will publish a preliminary roster on January 16th and the final roster on February 22. Despite the injured or rehabbing pitchers Erik Bedard (Mariners), Shawn Hill (Nationals) and Scott Mathieson (Phillies) no player has rejected an invitation so far. Larry Walker, who hit 383 homeruns during his 17-year major league career, will be part of the coaching staff according to Whitt in a conference call on Thursday afternoon.
The team and the coaching staff is scheduled to arrive in Tampa, Florida on March 1st and will come together for their first workout on the next day. They are going to play three exhibition games in three days against the Blue Jays, Phillies and Yankees, starting on March 3rd. Canada is slotted into Pool C at the Rogers Centre in Toronto with Italy, Team USA and Venezuela. Like in 2006 they are open the tournament against the United States on March 7th.
March 3rd: Canada versus Toronto Blue Jays
March 4th: Canada versus Philadelphia Phillies
March 5th: Canada versus New York Yankees