Hu's Choice -- Play Or Be Drafted

The World Cup of baseball opens Friday in The Netherlands. This is not to be confused with the international extravaganza planned for next spring. American teams certainly know the difference. Although this particular event has been around since 1938, U.S. teams regard games being played here as far more important. And that includes minor league playoffs.

Other countries take it far more seriously, though. Cuba is sending its A-list players so is the favorite. Taiwan certainly wants to win -- so much so that officials there presented Chin-lung Hu with an ultimatum -- either play for the national team or face imminent induction into the armed forces. Which sounds rather like choosing between a date with Julia Roberts or Phyllis Diller.

Taiwan, it should be pointed out, has compulsory military service, something it has required ever since it was formed as a nation by Chaing Kai-Shek and his followers when they were forced from the Chinese mainland by the Reds in 1948. And Hu, as a citizen of the island nation, still owes his two years .

Not surprisingly, he chose playing in this event over basic training so has left for the tournament. That means he won't be available to Vero Beach for next week's Florida State League playoffs. Ironically, this is the second year he has missed them. Last season, he came down with a sore arm and had to be scratched from the post-season.

Major league baseball has insisted that no player under control of a 40-man roster participate so Team USA is pretty much a patchwork of retreads like former Dodger farmhand Chris Latham , who was briefly in the big leagues with the Twins and who now plays independent ball.

Team Canada is faced with the same dilemma . It does, however, have a catcher from Jacksonville on its roster but it's not Russell Martin but , rather, his backup (and fellow Canadian) Eric Langill.

Martin, who will be with the Suns for the Southern League playoffs, has just been named to that league's All-Star team where he is joined by shortstop Joel Guzman. Suns center fielder Todd Donovan was named the "Best Hustler" in balloting by league managers.

Langill is being replaced on the Suns' roster by Mike Nixon, dropped back from Las Vegas.

Two others in the Dodger system, infielder/outfielder Nick Theodoreau of Las Vegas and pitcher Albenis Castillo of Columbus had been invited to play in the World Games for Greece and Panama respectively but decided against participation. Theodoreau had played for the Greek team in the 2004 Olympics.

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