The 3rd World Baseball Classic tournament begins in March and players, fans, and those with pride in their country anxiously await the best of the best in baseball represent their countries.
In 2005, the International Olympic Committee decided that baseball be removed as an Olympic sport. In response to this, MLB and other professional baseball leagues came together and created the World Baseball Classic (WBC) tournament. This tournament is the first organized baseball tournament to feature professional players from leagues like the MLB because the timing of the Olympics conflicted with the regular season so college and minor-league players would represent their respective countries. The WBC tournament would follow a 4-year gap between tournaments after the first and second installments were just 3 years apart.
In 2006, the tournament involved 16 teams in a round-robin format that divided the teams into 4 pools with 4 teams each. The teams chosen for the inaugural tournament were based on the “best baseball-playing nations in the world and provide global representation for the event.” This controversial format would involve a surprising effort by South Korea, who would go through the first 2 rounds undefeated before being eliminated by Japan in the semifinals, finishing with the best record of the tournament, 6-1. Cuba would defeat the Dominican Republic in the other half of the semifinals and go head-to-head with Japan in the final round. Japan would go on to win the tournament.
The tournament brought attention to many players that may have not been noticed and bring credibility to countries that some overlooked. Players like outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. dealt with injuries during a number of years but would make the All-WBC Team as he tied with Korean first baseman Seung-Yeop Lee for runs batted in with 10. Pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched for the Seibu Lions of the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) league and expressed an interest to pitch in the MLB. The tournament allowed Matsuzaka to showcase his talents and in 13 innings, he would go 3-0 and earn the Most Valuable Player Award of the tournament. Matsuzaka would sign with the Boston Red Sox and debut the following season after signing a 6-year, $52 million contract that likely was assisted by the tournament.
In 2009, a new double-elimination structure was put in place for the first round of the tournament to make up for Korea being held out of the championship game despite having the best record in the previous tournament. The surprising team of the 2009 tournament was the Netherlands, who defeated the Dominican Republic team, featuring MLB players like Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano and Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, twice and eliminate them in the first round. The finals would feature Japan defeating Korea in extra innings and winning the tournament again.
Daisuke Matsuzaka, now representing Japan despite signing with the Boston Red Sox, would win the Most Valuable Player Award of the tournament again, pitching 14.2 innings to a 3-0 record again. This tournament would give the MLB another opportunity to witness unseen talent in countries like Cuba and Japan. Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes made the All-WBC Team in this tournament. Cespedes would defect from Cuba in 2011 and signed with the Oakland Athletics. In his first season, he would finish second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting, behind outfielder Mike Trout. Japanese outfielder Norichika Aoki was another outfielder selected to the All-WBC Team in this tournament. He would sign with the Milwaukee Brewers for the 2012 season and would finish 5th in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.
In 2013, the 12 teams that had at least 1 win in the 2009 tournament were automatically a part of the upcoming tournament. 16 teams would compete in a double-elimination qualification to determine which teams would be a part of the tournament in March. Spain, Israel, Canada, and Chinese Taipei all advanced from qualification and will be a part of the tournament.
The timing of the tournament benefits the MLB the Asian teams because it allows players to represent their respective countries if they choose to do so because the tournament takes place before their seasons start. This timing also requires selecting locations with suitable weather for baseball or enclosed stadiums that will not be affected by weather. Venues for the World Baseball Classic include the Tokyo Dome in Japan, Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the finals of this tournament have been held in California. Previous years featured Petco Park in San Diego and Dodgers Park in Los Angeles. This year’s final game will be played in the home of the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants, AT&T Park.
The World Baseball Classic is a worldwide gathering of the most talented baseball players around the world and many players take tremendous pride in representing their country. Players like American League MVP and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera look forward to represent his home country of Venezuela, “Baseball is a passion in Venezuela,” Cabrera said, “and I look forward to playing for my country against the rest of the world.” The recently announced outfielder of Team USA, Baltimore Orioles’ Adam Jones expressed his excitement to represent his country “I said, ‘You’re damn right. Of course I want to play for my country,’…I take pride in something like that.”
The tournament will take place from March 2 to March 19.
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