Braun to play for Team USA

MILWAUKEE -- Before he plays for his team in 2009, Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun will suit up for his country.

Braun said Friday that he has accepted an invitation to play for Team USA in the second installment of the World Baseball Classic, the 16-team tournament scheduled for March 5-23 at locations around the world.

"I'm really excited to get to represent my country," Braun said. "It's an honor just to get invited for the event, and I think it's going to be great."

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, Braves third baseman Chipper Jones and catcher Brian McCann, Angels pitcher John Lackey and Red Sox second baseman (and reigning American League MVP) Dustin Pedroia have also said they will play for Team USA, which will be looking to improve on its somewhat disappointing showing in the 2006 inaugural event.

The 28-man U.S. roster will assemble under manager Davey Johnson on March 2 in Clearwater, Fla., the Spring Training home of the Phillies. The squad will tune up with a trio of exhibitions from March 3-5 before its Classic opener on March 7 against Team Canada at Toronto's Rogers Centre.

Also in Pool C with the U.S. and Canada are Italy and Venezuela. The top two teams will advance to the second round in Miami against the winners of Pool D, which is comprised of the Dominican Republic, the Netherlands, Panama and Puerto Rico.

The Classic finals are scheduled for March 21-23 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

Braun, who has belted 71 home runs in his first two big league seasons, is the first Brewer to commit to next year's Classic, but several other players expressed interest, including right-hander Yovani Gallardo, whose Mexican countrymen made it to the second round of the 2006 event. Considering Gallardo missed most of 2008 after undergoing knee surgery, the Brewers probably would prefer he remain at Maryvale Baseball Park.

But speaking in October, during the Brewers' brief playoff run, Gallardo said he was interested in suiting up for Team Mexico.

"I bet there are a bunch of guys out there who want this opportunity," Gallardo said. "So if the opportunity is there for me, I definitely would take it. I'm pretty sure the guys who did it last time had a great experience."