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Let the Games Begin

TORONTO – In the midst of a media frenzy, Team Canada held it first workout in Toronto today at the Rogers Centre on the eve of kicking off Pool C play of the World Baseball Classic on Saturday against the United States at 2 pm in the dome.

Earlier in the day, it was released that Mike Johnson (Edmonton, AB) will get the ball on Saturday. This has been a whirlwind journey for Johnson, who has not pitched in affiliated baseball since 2004.

He had Tommy John surgery in 2005, played in the independent Northern League with the Edmonton Cracker-Cats in 2006 and 2007 and was on the verge of retirement when it all turned around in the 2008 season.

“I ended up getting a call from a team in Taiwan asking me if I wanted to come and play. Not really having any expectations about the season or looking too far ahead about getting back into the game, agreed to go over there,” says Johnson.

“And a for some reason, my arm just kind of went over a hump and I was able to throw, like, 185 innings, which was the most I've ever thrown in my career, and ended up having a pretty good year. And now, I'm here today.”

Team Canada Manager Ernie Whitt decided to go with Johnson against the U.S. because of his experience... 17 years in professional baseball, which is the most of any pitcher on the roster.

Johnson also brings alot of experience from the international stage, having played in both the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.

“He's done it before,” says Whitt. “We don't think that the fact of playing in front of the home crowd will bother him.”

“You know, he throws strikes, he changes speeds, and so we're looking forward to Mike going out and throwing us 70 pitches.”

“Just a great opportunity,” reiterates Johnson. “I mean, a couple years ago, I never thought I would be here, let alone starting the first game against the U.S., kind of relish the opportunity to pitch in front of the hometown crowd. We have a really good team here, a great line-up.”

Canada is arguably in one of the toughest Pools in the tournament, with Venezuela and Italy along with their first opponent from South of the border. But the Canadians have reason to be optimistic. In 2006, Canada finished the first round with a 2-1 record, including a legendary upset win over the United States. This time around when the two neighbouring countries face-off, The U.S. side will not be surprised by the talent in the other dugout.

“I think we snuck up on them (in 2006). I think they're going to come out ready for us tomorrow,” says Justin Morneau (New Westminster, BC).

“Our line-up, I think, is pretty solid from top to bottom. Hopefully, we can get off to a good start tomorrow, and then get the crowd on our side and just kind of feed off that.”

Team Canada will hit the field at the Rogers Centre on Saturday, March 7th to take on the United States to open Pool C action of the World Baseball Classic. Mike Johnson takes on U.S. starter Jake Peavy with first pitch scheduled for 2 pm.