U.S. Set To Host Olympic Qualifier

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

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.

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.

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.