Tuesday March 10th, 2009

1. One of the real standouts in the Team USA lineup, and even in the clubhouse, has been Adam Dunn. Being around some of the best players in the game in an intense environment seems to be bringing out the best in a guy who found little interest on the free-agent market and seems to confound many people in baseball. He is an on-base machine with massive power, but also is a career .225 hitter with runners in scoring position (.247 overall) who at times can seem to be operating at cruising speed. "I go through a lot of valleys," is how Dunn described the inconsistent nature of his game.

But in the World Baseball Classic, Dunn, 29, has asserted himself as a force in the lineup and one of the more popular players in the clubhouse. He has homered twice. Nobody wants to miss his spectacular batting practice shows. And the 6-foot-6 Dunn has developed a friendship with the 5-foot-9 Dustin Pedroia, whose effervescent personality has become an important bonding element of the team. The intensity of the games, Dunn said, is helping to raise his game.

"I've never played in the playoffs," he said, "but guys are saying it's a playoff atmosphere. If this is what it's like, I'll take the playoffs every day. Me not being in the playoffs before, the only thing I compare it to is football. I played in front of some big crowds. It's easy to get excited. When they asked me if I wanted to play [in the WBC], I said, 'Hell, yeah.'"

Enjoy it while it lasts. When the WBC is over, Dunn will report back to his new team for his next two years of duty: the Washington Nationals.

2. Much of Italy was asleep -- including the editors for at least one Italian journalist eager to tell the news -- when Italy beat Canada, 6-2, Monday. In Italy, soccer is king, while professional baseball is played only three times a week and gets little notice. But this win just might make more Italians notice the sport. "Hopefully," manager Marco Mazzieri said, "we're going to get the media to talk about it a little more, as we had two years ago in the World Cup when we beat the USA team that eventually won the World Cup without losing any other game. And for one day, all the newspapers in Italy talked out that win."

Said Mike Piazza, the Italian hitting coach, "Hopefully it has a big impact on the kids of Italy. It shows that Italy can contend on a world class level. We just want to encourage the game from the grass roots level."

The Italians could significantly raise the profile of the sport in their country if they can find a way to beat Venezuela on Tuesday to advance to Round 2. Now that would be shock-the-world kind of stuff. Italy will start righthander Adam Ottavino, 23, a 2006 first-round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals. Ottavino was 3-7 with a 5.23 ERA for Springfield last year. Venezuela will start Enrique Gonzalez, 26, who in the past 18 months has been waived by the Diamondbacks, Padres and Nationals, has a career record of 4-7 with a 5.96 ERA and is now property of the Boston Red Sox organization. Clemens vs. Schilling it is not.

3. There is a story, of course, of how someone with the name of Chris Cooper wound up pitching for Italy in the World Baseball Classic. The left-handed reliever helped knock out Canada with 2 2/3 shutout innings. Cooper's grandfather ran into some difficulty with immigration officials when he arrived in America in 1911. His last name was Cocchiaraio, a surname officials unsuccessfully tried three times to transcribe into their records, tripping over the spelling each time. Finally, he pointed to the nametag of a U.S. immigrations officer. "OK, we've got Cooper," an official said. And so that was how "Cooper" was entered into the immigration logs.

Cooper, 30, was born in Pittsburgh, attended the University of New Mexico, was drafted by Cleveland in the 35th round in 2001, and posted a 2.94 ERA in six minor league seasons in the Indians organization (making it as high as Triple-A), then pitched in the Atlantic League in 2007. He went off to play in Italy last year, for Montepaschi Grosseto. Just like Pedro Martinez and Ivan Rodriguez, only with a slightly lower profile, Cooper is hoping some major league organization likes what it sees of him in the WBC. "I definitely would love to get back to affiliated baseball," he said. "Maybe somebody saw something."

4. Oh, Canada. As big of a win as it was for Italy, it was a crushing defeat for Canada, where the news played out after the nightly NHL game summaries, of course, but ahead of curling, at least. The Canadians went from nearly upsetting Team USA to becoming the first team knocked out of the pool -- on their home turf. Reds first baseman Joey Votto made no attempt to hide his hurt, saying, "This is the most emotional and devastating loss I've ever been a part of. It's going to take some time to recover. I'm really devastated. I was really excited for this tournament. To be out in two games, it's going to take some time to recover."

The Canadians were hurt by the losses of pitchers Jeff Francis, Rich Harden and Erik Bedard (all out with injury concerns) and the absence of Ryan Dempster, who chose to stick in Cubs camp after the club gave him $52 million as a free agent. But the bottom of their order was woeful, not providing nearly enough support for Votto and Justin Morneau (four hits against Italy).

5. Dan Serafini gave Italy three scoreless innings before getting tagged for three straight doubles that produced two runs for Canada in the fourth. Does the name sound familiar? Serafini, 35, actually had a fairly decent-sized run in the majors with the Twins, Padres, Cubs, Pirates, Reds and Rockies -- 104 games in all. In fact, he is one of 2,574 pitchers ever to appear in at least 100 big league games. And his ERA, 6.04, is the seventh worst among those 2,574 pitchers. Today, of course, he owns a much happier place in Italian baseball history.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.