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US, Mexico highlight Arizona pool in Classic

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PHOENIX -- For the second time since the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006, the Phoenix area will be home to one of the first four pools, beginning next Thursday when Italy plays Mexico in a 1 p.m. MT game at Salt River Fields, the Spring Training complex shared by the D-backs and Rockies.

Team USA and Team Canada complete the bracket in which four of the six games will be played at Chase Field. The U.S. opens with one of the most exciting games of the weekend against neighboring Mexico on Friday, March 8, at 7 p.m. at Chase Field.

MLB Network will broadcast all 39 games in a tournament that eventually closes with the semifinals and final March 17-19 in San Francisco's AT&T Park.

"It's going to be a blast," D-backs president Derrick Hall said. "We bid for it because we were hosts for the first round of the first one in 2006 and we thought it was such a success. The U.S.-Mexico game should be quite an event. We'll continue to market to our Hispanic friends and across the border to Mexico, and hopefully get visitors up here again to watch those games. Last time, we couldn't keep merchandise on the shelf, and the World Baseball Classic is much more popular now."

The U.S. plays the other two premier games at Chase Field in the round-robin first round: on Saturday, March 9, at 7 p.m. against Italy and Sunday, March 10, at 1 p.m. against Canada. There's a day-night doubleheader under the dome on March 9 with Canada playing Mexico at 12:30 p.m.

The afternoon game on March 8 pits Canada against Italy at 12:30 p.m. at Salt River Fields.

Team USA will have a one-day camp at the facility, now hosting its third Cactus League season, on Monday. Mexico is slated to play an exhibition game there against the D-backs on Tuesday at 7:10 p.m.

"It's going to be nice to host Team USA at Salt River Fields," Hall said. "To me, it's like an open house sales opportunity for us, showcasing what I think is the best Spring Training facility to players who have never been there."

In 2006, the U.S. and Mexico made it out of the Arizona bracket, and their game at Chase Field, won the by the Americans, was one of the most raucous and festive. Neither team made it beyond the second round that year in Anaheim. Canada and South Africa were the two losers back then. Seven years ago, the other Arizona venue was Scottsdale Stadium, spring home of the now defending World Series-champion Giants.

Japan won the first two Classics with right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka named tournament MVP on both occasions. This time, the Japanese won't play on U.S. soil unless they survive the first and second rounds, both slated for Japan.

This year, Japan is joined by Cuba, China and upstart Brazil in their first-round bracket this weekend at Fukuoka, Japan. The other Asian bracket on the same dates is in Taichung, Taiwan, and includes the Koreans, Chinese Taipei, Australia and the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The two winners from each of those brackets meet in the Tokyo Dome from March 8-12.

Far, far away, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and newcomer Spain meet at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico, from March 7-10, the same dates as the Arizona bracket. The victors from those brackets meet on March 12-16 at Miami's Marlins Park.

If the stars align properly, three Latin teams and the U.S. could all clash in the second round, thus creating a salsa festival in the one-year-old ballpark located in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood just beyond the outskirts of downtown.

Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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