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“You have to represent your team,” Gonzalez said. “You see all the news about King Felix not playing for Venezuela and the whole country changes, they get upset that you’re not going to play for your country. They think it’s all about the money but, you know what, we’ve been working since we were 16 years old and we came from Venezuela to represent. … I think made the right choice.”

The inaugural 2006 Classic featured a pool-play format, while 2009 was double-elimination _ and this one will be a combination of both. The first round will be pool play, with the top two teams advancing. The second round is double-elimination, and the top two teams from each group will reach the semifinals.

The Americans will play their round-robin games at the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field in Phoenix. The other first-round groups will play in: Fukuoka, Japan; Taichung, Taiwan; and, San Juan, Puerto Rico.

“The guys who have played this before were excited to get back to it,” Torre said. “I think it’s still something to get a little used to. Let’s admit it, you play the USA team, MLB, even though there are a number of MLB players obviously playing for other countries, it’s like putting on your Sunday best, you know, We’re excited because we have a chance to beat them at their own game’ so to speak.”

Semifinals will be played March 17-18, with the championship March 19 in the Giants’ waterfront ballpark.

That’s where Sandoval cleared the fences three times in a Game 1 World Series win against the Tigers.

The guy known as Kung Fu Panda hopes to find his groove again for his country. If he does, and his nation wins it all, Sandoval will be World Series, Venezuelan and WBC titles to his credit.

“I’m trying to get the Triple Crown,” Sandoval said.

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WATCH FOR:

_ Animated crowds with a different flavor than the regular MLB fans. Expect musical instruments, patriotic chants, face paint and flags. More than 1.5 million fans have attended games in first two WBC tournaments.

_ This year’s 16-team field was drawn from the top 12 nations in the last WBC, plus four others who qualified in a tournament last year. The WBC winner will be named “world champion” for the first time.

_ Americans on a mission: Team USA failed to reach the championship game of the first two Classics.

_ Players will be subject to drug testing by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

_ San Juan will host games for the third time at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, to be played March 7-10.

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