Damon, Teixeira: U.S. is team to beat at Classic

NEW YORK -- Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira think the United States will be as motivated as any other team at the first World Baseball Classic and see the Americans as the team to beat.

"We'll have All-Stars two deep in the lineup, and then we'll also have a pitching staff full of All-Stars," Teixeira said during a conference call Wednesday.

"So I think you can't go wrong with looking at the United States and calling us the favorites," the Texas first baseman added.

Some players have said they think the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Japan will take the tournament more seriously than the U.S. team because winning it might mean more to fans back in their homeland.

Not so, says Damon.

"I actually like our team," the new Yankees center fielder said. "I feel very confident in the approach we're taking with the players we have. We are a fairly young team, and a lot of teams really don't know about a lot of our players. I think we can sneak in there."

Damon said it will be special to represent his country, repeating a statement many soccer players make before World Cups.

"I'm very proud to be an American," he said. "My father served in the military. When it was asked if I would represent the country, there was no hesitation. I'm proud that we get to live in this land where there's freedom, where we can even have these baseball tournaments."

U.S. manager Buck Martinez said he wasn't surprised by Barry Bonds' decision this week to drop out. The 41-year-old outfielder missed all but the final few weeks of last season following knee surgery.

"I think Barry Bonds was in a unique situation given his injuries from a year ago, the fact that he played in just 14 games," Martinez said. "Even though I spoke to Barry in December and he was enthusiastic and excited about the possibility, I think the closer he got to the reality of spring training, and as he got himself in shape for the regular season and the San Francisco Giants, he felt like it may be too much of a challenge to try to push his body at this point in his career."

Martinez's preliminary roster is filled with closers, an indication he might use a stream of one-inning pitchers, especially in the early rounds of the tournament, which runs from March 3-20. Among the relievers he picked were Chad Cordero, Brian Fuentes, Todd Jones, Brad Lidge, Joe Nathan, Huston Street, Mike Timlin and Billy Wagner.

"We have a chance to overpower lineups with the depth of this bullpen," Martinez said.

Among the starting pitchers on the U.S. roster is Milwaukee's Ben Sheets, who pitched a three-hitter to beat Cuba in gold medal game at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Sheets was just 10-9 in 22 starts last year, missing September because of a torn back muscle, and Brewers general manager Doug Melvin objected to his inclusion but was overruled by the commissioner's office and the players' association.

Melvin wanted to make the U.S. team aware of Sheets' injury.

"They have expressed the plan for Ben to be ready for their regular season," Martinez said. "He has a history with Team USA, so that is something we considered very strongly. He knows what it means to represent your country probably better than anybody. But at the same time, I think the concern the ballclub has is that he is healthy given the fact that he had kind of a down season with injuries last year."

Melvin said the Brewers want to make sure Sheets doesn't try to do too much too early. While starters usually throw 25 to 30 pitches per outing in early March, they might be throwing 50 to 60 in first-round WBC games.

"We'll talk to him and see how he feels after he gets to spring training," Melvin said. "I'm confident Ben will know whether he's capable of it or not capable of it."

While the Yankees prevented catcher Jorge Posada from playing for Puerto Rico, Damon said they haven't tried to block his participation.

"I think they want me to go out there and show off what I have, to go out there and get myself ready for when the season rolls around, because this is definitely going to feel like the playoffs," he said.