Notes: WBC offers world of opportunity

Notes: WBC offers world of opportunity

MESA, Ariz. -- To say Michael Barrett is pumped about the World Baseball Classic is an understatment. So is Brandon Sing.

Brandon Sing?

Sing isn't playing for Team USA or the Netherlands or Mexico. The first baseman, who batted .276 with 26 homers and 71 RBIs at Double-A West Tenn last year, will be getting more playing time for the Chicago Cubs in Spring Training because Derrek Lee will be on the U.S. squad. The Cubs still need a first baseman when Cactus League games begin.

"It's an honor for [Lee] and cool for me to step in and be seen a little bit," Sing said. "Anytime I can come up and help the team, that's what I want to do."

"I've got Sing, I've got [Brian] Dopirak, and I told [Michael] Restovich to get a first baseman's glove," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said Friday of his options for Lee's fill-ins. "There are guys who are going to be volunteering to play first base now, where before there wasn't much hope [because of Lee]. I'm going to have some candidates."

As for Barrett, he's thrilled at the chance to wear a red, white and blue jersey.

"In 1994, I had an opportunity to play in the Olympic Games and I turned that down to play professional," Barrett said. "I never dreamed I'd have a chance to put on a USA jersey, and now I get a chance to do that. I can't think of a better opportunity to play for your country. I think this is the real deal."

Barrett also wants Team USA to make a statement at the inaugural WBC, which will be played next month.

"I don't think we should take this experience lightly," he said. "If we're the first team that goes out there and loses it, I don't want to be one of those guys."

"I've represented the country twice and played on two USA teams," Cubs pitcher Mark Prior said. "It's a great experience, it's an awesome experience. You can't describe it from an athletic standpoint."

However, the WBC also will mean the Cubs will lose their Nos. 1-2 catchers for at least a few days during the practices and the first-round games. On Friday, Barrett caught Bob Howry, while Henry Blanco caught Scott Eyre, the Cubs' two new relievers, for their first bullpen sessions. Geovany Soto caught Greg Maddux. These are short sessions, but they will give the catchers some feel for the new guys.

"It'll be good for guys like Geovany Soto and Jake Fox to be in those Spring Training games and be with the 'A' squad," Prior said. "They'll be able to get their feet wet. Maybe they're the catchers of the future. It'll be a weird spring with this Classic. I have this feeling there will be a lot of weird things going on."

While Team USA will open at Chase Field in Phoenix for the first round, Team Venezuela will open in Orlando, Fla., against the Dominican Republic. It's not certain when Chicago pitcher Carlos Zambrano will pitch for Venezuela, but the Cubs are keeping their fingers crossed that he doesn't overdo it.

"If you know Carlos, when was the last time you saw Carlos take it easy?" Baker said. "This is something out of our hands. The main thing we want to do is make sure he's in the best shape. After he leaves here, he's out of our domain and control except for reports."

Double duty: One of the messages Baker gave to the pitchers and catchers before their first workout was the need to be more fundamentally sound.

"We made a lot of mistakes as pitchers last year," Prior said. "We didn't cover the bag at first a few times, threw the ball to the wrong bases. I think we all need to make sure we're focused this spring on doing the things we need to get better at. They're small, but obviously very huge parts of the game."

Baker doesn't want to see the same mistakes as last year.

"[Fundamentals] are a part of the game that I take pride in, and that's what disgruntled me so much was to see a team of mine not fundamentally sound," Baker said. "That was a first. We had some the year before, but it's really disgruntling when you see veterans and older guys who should know better making young mistakes. You can take it from the young guys, but it's hard to take from veterans."

One veteran who does all the little things right is Maddux.

"That's why he has a golden glove," Baker said, referring to Maddux, who won his 15th Gold Glove Award in 2005.

"He may not like it, but I point to him all the time as the way to be," Baker said. "I single him out and say to anybody, 'Hey, this is how you want to go about your business, this is how you want to perform, work on fielding, hitting, bunting. This guy is a pro and he's not going to the Hall for nothing.'"

How much does Baker respect Maddux?

"You know how I feel about the guy -- I love the guy," Baker said. "I would've loved to have played with him, and behind him. I've enjoyed watching him here with us. He's one of the few guys I've had who has earned the right -- and you know he's not going to abuse the right -- to call his own shots. This guy is a pro. You don't know he's around. He never boasts or brags."

Extra bases: Prior says he's a little behind because he was sick for a couple weeks this winter. He has yet to throw a bullpen session. ... Among the pitchers who threw off the mound on Friday besides Maddux, Eyre and Howry were Will Ohman, Glendon Rusch, John Koronka, Angel Guzman, Scott Williamson, Sean Marshall, Bobby Brownlie and Jae Kuk Ryu. ... Kerry Wood played catch on Friday, part of his rehab from arthroscopic shoulder surgery. Wade Miller, who had similar surgery in late September, threw long toss on Friday. ... The Cubs released their 2006 TV schedule on Friday. All 162 games will be televised in the Chicago area. WGN will carry 72 games, Comcast SportsNet will carry 72 and WCIU will televise eight. Two games are scheduled for ESPN and eight will be televised by the FOX Network. ... The Cubs batting helmets have three cutouts on each side for better air circulation.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.