THE Philippine baseball team hopes to live up to the hype when it begins its quest in the World Baseball Classic qualifiers on Thursday against Southeast Asian neighbor Thailand at the Xinzhuang Stadium in New Taipei City.
The Filipino batters face the Thais at 11:30 a.m. Manila time.
Although the team failed to secure the services of major leaguers Tim Lincecum of the World Series champions San Francisco Giants and Clay Rapada of the New York Yankees, Philippine baseball officials have expressed optimism over the Nationals' chances in the Qualifier Four.
Geno Espineli, a former San Francisco Giants relief pitcher, and Fil-Japanese Ryuya Ogawa of the Chunichi Dragons of the Nippon League lead a team made up of Manila-based stars reinforced by players with Filipino blood from various leagues around the world.
Also in the team are minor leaguers Chad Nacapoy, Leighton Pangilinan, and Ryan Pineda and a few other collegiate players.
They will be joined by local talents led by left-handed pitchers Jon Jon Robles and Darwin Dela Calzada, and slugger Jonash Ponce.
The event is a modified double-elimination tournament also featuring Chinese Taipei and New Zealand.
The local-bred players have been with their foreign-based teammates as early as Saturday in hopes that they can play as a unit despite the short preparation.
The Philippines won gold in the 2011 Southeast Asian Games, while Thailand bagged bronze.
A few years before that, however, the Thais got some better finishes than the Filipinos. Thailand finished fifth ahead of the Filipinos in the 2006 Doha Asian Games and won gold in the SEA games the year after.
Thailand also got a boost in the WBC with the confirmation of Johnny Damon, who last played for the Cleveland Indians last season. The mother of the 39-year-old former Boston Red Sox and Yankees star is Thai.
The winner of the Philippines-Thailand match will face the winner of the Chinese Taipei-New Zealand game on Friday.
The game will be televised in the Philippines live through Solar Sports and can be viewed online at worldbaseballclassic.com.