FORT MYERS, FLA. - It's an event still trying to gain traction. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire refers to it as the "world games.''
It's actually the World Baseball Classic (WBC). The third WBC begins this weekend and, whether they like it or not, the Twins are playing a leading role. By the end of the weekend, the Twins will lose 13 players to national teams, tying them with Milwaukee for the most players from one organization in the WBC.
Gardenhire is losing former MVPs, a batting title winner, starting players, role players, top prospects and players fighting for jobs. The Twins can adjust because they have 67 players in camp. And Gardenhire won't get in the way of someone like Justin Morneau, who is passionate about being part of Team Canada.
"We sit there and say, 'This is kind of scary. Would I rather have him here?' Yes, I would,'' Gardenhire said, "but I also know that you don't get many opportunities in your lifetime to do things like this, represent your country.''
Because of injuries, Joe Mauer missed the first two WBCs. But his involvement with Team USA goes back to when he made the U18 team as a 16-year old. Being part of Team USA has allowed Mauer to travel to tournaments in Taiwan, Panama, Mexico and, before he was a major leaguer, Canada.
Now healthy, Mauer raised his hand for national team duty last September.
"I'm very familiar with the organization and the things they do,'' Mauer said. "I realize how special it is to put that jersey on. I know what it's about.''
The toughest part for Mauer is missing time getting to know several new pitchers who are expected to be part of the staff.
"I would like to stay and get to know these guys even better,'' Mauer said, "but we'll have time before the beginning of the season.''
Catcher Drew Butera and outfielder Darin Mastroianni both were wanted by Italy. Butera, whose spot on the Twins roster is not guaranteed, is playing. Mastroianni, who is trying to win the starting center field job, is staying.
Butera hopes to head north for a fourth straight season, but the Twins might decide to add offense to their bench. Butera understands what he might be risking by leaving the club.
"It's a prestigious event,'' Butera said. "It kind of puts a unique twist on baseball, to be able to play for a different cause. It's going to be a fun event.''
Mastroianni would have been a lock to start for the Italian team -- two of the other outfielders on the squad are from a pro league in Italy. But he decided early in the offseason -- before Denard Span and Ben Revere were traded -- that there would be too much riding on this spring training camp for him to leave.
"In the future, I would love to do it,'' he said, "but right now this is my first real opportunity to break camp with the team, and I felt like I should be here.''
The WBC has been great for Jose Berrios and Eddie Rosario, who have opened eyes with their talent over the last week and have shown why they are among the top 10 prospects in the Twins organization. They were not invited to camp originally but were added in order for them to prepare for the tournament.
Berrios, an 18-year-old righthander, has shown a good fastball, an above-average curve and a willingness to pitch inside. He retired all six batters he faced on Thursday in a B game against Boston.
Rosario, an outfielder-turned-second baseman, is 5-for-9 in spring games, including an impressive home run on Tuesday in Dunedin. "He wouldn't have this attention if it was the regular season,'' Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said.
If there's a WBC game being played over the next few weeks, there's a good chance that someone on the field will be from the Twins organization.
"Every one of these guys that are leaving is going to have that country on their shirt,'' Gardenhire said. "They ought to be happy with that. I wish I would have been able to do that. I just wasn't good enough. I couldn't play for Oklahoma. I couldn't play for Okmulgee.''