03/04/09 — Opinion -- This is chance for redemption

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Opinion -- This is chance for redemption

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on March 4, 2009 1:46 PM

The roster read like a Hall of Fame ballot and yet the outcome felt like a well-timed punch to the gut.

The pieces were seemingly in place from the talent on the roster to favorable matchups for the United States to advance deep into the 2006 World Baseball Classic. Six games and a 3-3 record later, the Americans were sent home embarrassed and forced to watch as Japan defeated Cuba in the finals on U.S. soil.

With the second installment of the WBC beginning Thursday, the U.S. roster now reads more like a well-crafted blend of seasoned veterans and blossoming young stars.

Gone are the egos of Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens that left the '06 squad feeling more like an All-Star team and less like a club assembled to represent a nation.

The U.S. enters the '09 WBC with the proven leaders on its roster necessary to mold of a group of gifted baseball players into a close-knit team in a short period of time. Names like Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones, Kevin Youkilis, Jake Peavy and Roy Oswalt speak for themselves.

On the mound, Peavy and Oswalt headline a staff deep in ability but lacking in big-game experience. The Cubs' Ted Lilly and Baltimore's Jeremy Guthrie round out a starting rotation that combined to go 44-42 in 2008.

The withdrawal of closers Joe Nathan and B.J. Ryan from the U.S. roster put a dent in the bullpen leaving the pressure on a stable of lesser-known arms.

Improving upon a team ERA of 3.75 from 2006 while cutting down on the 43 hits allowed in 48 innings will be the task lying before the American hurlers.

Four years ago the U.S. compiled a .289 batting average, but manufactured just 57 hits in 197 at-bats and stole just one base.

Jones and Atlanta teammate Brian McCann along with Youkilis, David Wright, Adam Dunn and Brian Braun combined to hit 184 homers in 2008 and should provide some pop in the lineup.

Jimmy Rollins, Dustin Pedroia, Curtis Granderson and Shane Victorino -- four speedsters who combined to swipe 115 bases last season -- will need to be active on the base paths while applying pressure on opposing defenses.

For centuries baseball has been woven deep into the fabric of our nation. The sport has galvanized America while our freedom was being defended overseas and captivated fans young and old as storybook moments were written into the game's legendary history.

As our nation toils through economic hardships, the 2009 World Baseball Classic is about more than just stolen bases, home runs and strikeouts.

This is about putting to rest four years of haunting memories from 2006.

This is one more opportunity for sports to serve as a reminder to us all that life gets hard but there's no price tag for perseverance.

Above everything else, this is the United States' shot at redemption.