Thursday in Tokyo the second annual World Baseball Classic begins. Many baseball fans in the U.S. are still scratching their heads over what this event is all about.
In places such as the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, they can’t wait for what will be the highlight of their baseball season. In the U.S., more ponder than anticipate.
The WBC is a product of Major League Baseball and the players’ association, with the support of the International Baseball Federation and the professional organizations in Japan and Korea.
The idea is the tournament will be played every four years, with four sites for the first round.
This year, the WBC’s first-round sites will be Mexico City, Tokyo, Toronto and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
There are 16 teams/nations participating. In Tokyo, Japan, China, Chinese Taipei and Korea will compete.
South Africa, Cuba, Australia and Mexico are in Mexico City. The U.S., Canada, Venezuela and Italy are in Toronto. San Juan hosts Puerto Rico, the Netherlands, Panama and the Dominican Republic.
Two teams will advance from the first round at each site to either Miami or San Diego for Round 2, and four teams will compete in the finals in Los Angeles.
Each country’s baseball organization (such as U.S.A. Baseball) selects the coaches and players. MLB players are obviously heavily courted by teams.
That decision by a player to answer the call from his country involves a lot of issues revolving around whether playing in the WBC will hurt the player and/or his MLB team for the coming year.
In that regard, MLB teams certainly have input with players, but the final decision to play is up to the individual.
With baseball out of the Olympics, the Classic is the most publicized international baseball event. However, those at MLB and the MLBPA do not view the WBC as a replacement for participation in Olympic Games.
Gene Orza, second in command at MLBPA, says, “We [the WBC] don’t want to be the only game in town.”
Orza says, “The Classic is not designed to make money. This is about promoting the sport around the world. We can’t do that alone. The Olympic movement is necessary to expand baseball internationally. We want the International Olympic Committee to reconsider their decision on baseball.”
The IOC is being asked to do just that by both softball and baseball organizations.
For now, though, this is the “world” of baseball’s biggest event.
Japan and Korea are favored in Tokyo with Japan the defending WBC champion.
Mexico and Cuba are the favorites in Mexico City. Evaluating Cuba is difficult since their players are from the Cuban baseball league that we hear nothing of in the U.S. Their league will shut down its season to provide the players for the Cuban roster.
The U.S and Venezuela are expected to advance from Toronto. Both teams are loaded with MLB players and both think they should be in the finals.
The Dominican and Puerto Rico are favorites in baseball-crazy San Juan. These teams will renew the longstanding rivalry developed over the years from the Caribbean World Series.
There is a joy in this event that spreads from fans to players once the games begin, nowhere more so than in Puerto Rico and Japan.
While many in the U.S. are more concerned about their favorite MLB team not being negatively impacted by players’ participation in the WBC, this event is worthy of any fan’s attention.