U.S. Set To Host Olympic Qualifier

In the last Olympic cycle, the United States didn't even qualify for the Games.

This time, with a new qualifying process set up for the 2008 Games in Beijing-the last Olympics that will include baseball-the U.S. is taking a small measure of control of the qualification process.

USA Baseball will serve as the host of the first stage of Olympic qualifying, with the tournament scheduled for Nov. 15-19 in Phoenix. It is the first baseball event with Olympic qualifying implications ever to be held in the United States. Games will be held in three different Phoenix-area ballparks-Mesa's HoHoKam Park, Maryvale Ballpark and Phoenix Municipal Stadium. Players who are not on major league 25-man rosters are eligible for the event, both for Team USA and for the other five nations participating in the event.

"This will be a very challenging and important event, and we're looking forward to some very good competition," USA Baseball Professional Team General Manager Bob Watson said. "We encourage all baseball fans in the Phoenix area to come out to the ballpark for some great international baseball and to support Team USA."

It's a crucial event for USA Baseball, which hired Watson earlier in the year to oversee selection of its professional teams with an eye on avoiding the embarrassing 2003 debacle, when a strong Team USA club lost to Mexico in the quarterfinals of the 2004 Olympic qualifying tournament. It's also important for Team USA to play well after its recent seventh-place finish in the World Cup in the Netherlands. USA Baseball's Eric Campbell, the director of national team operations who traveled to the Netherlands with the World Cup club, said some players from the World Cup roster who played well there (such as Mets outfielder Lastings Milledge, Giants infielder Mike Cervenak and Astros shortstop Ben Zobrist) would be considered for the qualifying roster. The Arizona Fall League also is a natural pool from which USA Baseball will look to assemble the Team USA roster.

The event, officially known as the 2005 CONCEBE (North and Central Region) Baseball Regional Olympic Qualifying Tournament, will be a six-team tournament. In addition to Team USA, participants will include Canada, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama. The top four finishers advance to the Americas Olympic Qualifier in Havana, Cuba, scheduled for August 2006. In that event, the four teams representing CONCEBE will compete against the top four regional qualifiers from both the Caribbean and South American regions for two bids to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. The third- and fourth-place finishers in Cuba will advance to a secondary (i.e., second-chance) Olympic qualifying event to be held sometime in 2007.

The tournament is sponsored by Major League Baseball, and will be organized and administrated under the direction of the Commissioners' Office and the staff of the Arizona Fall League, which is ending its season a week early to accommodate the tournament.