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A touch of sophistication

A Touch of Class

Baseball fans will enjoy the next two weeks. That’s because the World Baseball Classic is back after Covid, following its cancellation in 2021. Classic brings together the best players in the world who are proud to represent their country in the most unpredictable tournament in world sport. Fans from America, Asia and the Caribbean will be hoping their team will become the fifth world champion. Here’s your guide from volunteer journalist Brian Salmon to exciting competitions not to be missed.

What is World Baseball Classic?

It’s actually the Baseball World Cup, but with some twists. In a sport that is largely club-driven, it is baseball’s premier international tournament outside of the Olympics. The World Baseball Classic is an event sanctioned by the WBSC (World Baseball Softball Conferderation) but organized by Major League Baseball. However, unlike the soccer World Cup, which is allocated to a single host country or region, the group matches are held in geographically diverse stadiums before the group qualifiers fly to the United States for the knockout stage. Although the best players appear in their countries, they are not allowed to play every match; because there are rules to prevent fatigue when returning to clubs. The biggest surprise, however, is the unpredictability of the World Baseball Classic. There have been plenty of upheavals in every edition so far as disliked teams have beaten nations with rosters full of talent. It is a tournament where countries that traditionally do not perform well in international sport have a real chance to play for medals.

How did the World Baseball Classic come about?

The Baseball World Cup was held from 1938 to 2011, but apart from the last few years of its existence, it was strictly limited to amateurs. For the last few years, professionals from the lower leagues have been allowed in, but the lack of star names meant that the tournaments were of little interest, and even the gold medal games had a pitiful turnout. This sport, together with softball, has been included in the Olympic Games since the 1992 edition in Barcelona. However, Major League Baseball’s repeated refusal to send its best players ultimately cost the game automatic inclusion in the Olympic Games. This shock forced a radical rethink; Major League Baseball, along with its Japanese counterpart Nippon Professional Baseball, and an international federation (now the World Baseball Softball Confederation) proposed a new prestigious international tournament in an attempt to regain a coveted place in the Olympic Games. The inaugural tournament was held in 2006 and was the first time baseball had an international tournament that matched The World Games values. It featured the best professional players, was sustainable because it used existing baseball stadiums, and included Puerto Rico and Japan, which hosted group matches, as well as the United States. Like The World Games, the first edition had to do with California. The World Games were first held in Santa Clara in 1981, the first World Baseball Classic Final was held in San Diego.

What is the format of the World Baseball Classic in 2023?

Even though it is a relatively new invention and only had four editions, the event really captured the imagination of baseball fans around the world. This year’s classic is set to be the biggest and best yet and will undoubtedly be the most watched single sporting event in 2023 for every member of The World Games family. The classic was split into four groups of four, but the fifth edition will feature a record 20 countries as well as expansion teams. There will still be four groups, with the top two teams from each pool advancing to the quarter-finals, which will be played in a knockout format for the first time. The first match will take place on March 8 in Taichung, Chinese Taipei. The Tokyo groups will start a day later, while the two American groups from Phoenix and Miami will have to wait until December 11 for their first performance. Tokyo will host the first two quarter-finals, while Miami will host all other cup matches, including the final on March 23.

Who is competing?

In Group A, it will be hosts: Chinese Taipei, the Netherlands, who surprisingly took part in the last two matches for bronze medals, Cuba, which was a finalist in the first edition, Italy, which reached the second round in 2013, and Panama. In Group B, two-time winners Japan take over as hosts and welcome their longtime rivals (and 2013 finals opponent) South Korea. Australia and China, and rookies from the Czech Republic, don’t seem to mind these two, but it’s Baseball World Classic, you never know!

In Group C, the reigning US champions look to defend their title against countries like Canada and Mexico. The Americans can’t take anything for granted as both nations have defeated them at the World Baseball Classic in the past. Colombia can surprise you too. The team most likely to have fun in Arizona, but the results are being chased by the rookies of Great Britain: they actually won the first World Cup in 1938, when their only opponents were the United States! Accordingly, Miami’s Group D has a very Hispanic feel, the only team that doesn’t speak Spanish being Israel, who surprisingly won all their first round matches on their debut in 2017. The most competitive group sees former Dominican Republic champions take on their opponents again in the 2013 final, Puerto Rico. Venezuela shocked the United States in 2009 by winning the bronze medal match, and Nicaragua will hope their fans will have something to cheer for in their tournament debut.

Who will be the star of the game?

World Baseball Classic is famous for big names who proudly represent their countries. The tone was set in the first edition when future Hall of Famers Derek Jeter (New York Yankees) and Ken Griffey Jr. (Seattle Mariners) were named to the Team of the Tournament. Despite their presence, the US did not do so well in the inaugural tournament, losing somewhat to Canada and Mexico. The exceptional fielding skills of Yadi Molina (St Louis Cardinals) helped Puerto Rico to the last two finals. Albert Pujols, the newest member of the 700 Club (700 home runs in MLB), went to the Dominican Republic. His compatriot Bryan Abreu could be the athlete to pick up the 2023 classic for Most Valuable Player. He pitched a very rare playoff strike to help the Houston Astros into the 2022 World Series. Other superstars set to shine are usually Los Angeles Angels teammates. American captain Mike Trout arguably the best hitter in the Classic, and Japanese Shohei Ohtani who bats as well as he throws.

What will be the impact of the World Baseball Classic?

The tournament is already on its way to a spectacular success – many games are sold out, so the atmosphere of the fiesta is guaranteed. The nature of baseball, where well-matched teams can generate tense finishes, means the sport will gain new fans. In the final rounds, every pitch must be perfect; each batter must make contact. There will be a lot of drama, and if the fifth World Baseball Classic is similar to its predecessors, the results will be shocking. The tournament, like previous editions of The World Games, will contribute to strengthening the rank of world-class baseball and softball. The end of softball in Birmingham in 2022 attracted the largest crowds at the edition of The World Games in Alabama. A large-capacity crowd watched the United States take gold and avenge their loss in the Tokyo 2021 Olympics final to hosts Japan. Although baseball and softball were not included in the Paris 2024 sports program, there is a good chance of participation in the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 2028. Baseball’s global classics such as The World Games and exciting tournaments in Tokyo will reinforce the case for the sport’s return to the Olympics. Let’s play ball.

Brian Salmon for The World Games

World games is a multi-sport event organized every four years by the International World Games Association, organized with the support of the International Olympic Committee. The 2022 World Games took place in Birmingham, Alabama, USA from July 7-17, 2022. 3,600 athletes from 34 sports and 100 countries participated in the games. The 12th edition of The World Games will be held in Chengdu, CHN in 2025.

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