World Baseball Classic Adds 12 Teams To Field

Tournament Grows With Addition Of Qualifying Round

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The third installment of the World Baseball Classic will include even more of the world, as Major League Baseball announced that the field will expand to 28 teams and include a 16-team preliminary qualifying round.

The qualifying round will take place in the fall of 2012 in advance of the WBC, which is set to begin in March 2013. Having the entire field play in March before the start of the major league season would not be logistically possible, said Paul Archey, Major League Baseball's senior vice president of international business operations.

The 16 teams receiving qualifying-round invitations include Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Great Britain, Israel, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Philippines, South Africa, Spain, Taiwan and Thailand. Four countries—Canada, Panama, South Africa and Taiwan—participated in the 2009 WBC but failed to win a game.

The winners from each of the four six-team, double-elimination pools will advance to the WBC tournament. Those four teams will join the 12 that received automatic berths: Australia, China, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Puerto Rico, South Korea, United States, Venezuela.  

The decision to expand the tournament came largely out of demand, Archey said, as more and more countries petitioned to participate in the event after the first two tournaments in 2006 and 2009. Including many countries where baseball is a burgeoning sport could boost the sport's grassroots development, particularly since it was dropped from the Olympics after the 2008 Beijing Games.

"We always viewed the two events as complementary," Archey said. "We already felt after two events that the World Baseball Clasic had become the preeminent baseball competition because of the level of play and players and fans interest. We're very supportive of baseball returning to the Olympics and feel both events are important and can coexist. We're supportive of IBAF returning baseball to the Olympics, but until that happens, maybe this (event) has taken on more importance to those countries to be included for the first time.

"It means so much to the countries to be a part of it as far as development. To participate in the tournament not only gives them a credibility and respect within their own country, but also the chance to compete in what has become the top international baseball event in the world."

Archey estimates that roughly 20 teams were vying for the extra 16 spots. Tournament officials made their selections with a criteria in mind that included the size and strength of the country's pro player base and what its team would look like if it had access to its best players. (Archey said the selection committee had mock lineups for each country under consideration.)

"The core of the tournament has been about having the best players available," Archey said. "Timing is going to be critical to that as we look at the qualifiers, when and if (the players) are going to be available to play. At this point, we haven't determined when we will play (the qualifiers). If it is in September, we will get one level (of players); if it is in November or December, we will get another."

Other factors for selection included world ranking, popularity and presence of baseball domestically, strength of infrastructure and support, and potential to grow the game within the country.

Reason To Celebrate

For many of the countries, being selected to participate in the WBC provided reason to celebrate.

"This is the best thing to happen in the history of diamond sports in New Zealand," chief executive of Baseball New Zealand Ryan Flynn told the Waikato Times. "This could be our moment."

Added Baseball New Zealand president David Ballinger: "To be in the qualifiers for the fourth major sport in the world, you couldn't ask for better," he said.

Potential players, according to the newspaper include: Blue Jays relief pitcher Scott Richmond, Red Sox prospects Boss and Moko Moanaroa, and University of Florida lefthander Nick Maronde, whose family lived in New Zealand. Blue Jays third baseman Scott Campbell, who was born in Auckland and played at Gonzaga, was the first New Zealand native ever drafted when the Blue Jays took him in the 10th round in 2006. He confirmed to the paper that he would make himself available to the national team.

"Deep down inside of every athlete is that desire to play for your country," Campbell said. "When you're playing for the dollar or an organization, it's different. This will be something special."  

The sentiment was similar regarding Israel's inclusion in the WBC.

"We want to leverage this to move forward with baseball in Israel because of the good publicity it will bring," Israel Association of Baseball secretary general Peter Kurz told Haaretz, an Israel-based news website. "We hope to get money for field development, which is our most pressing concern, and to invest in coaching."

According to WBC rules, non-Israeli citizens of Jewish descent can play for the Israel national team. The Jerusalem Post notes that this includes big leaguers Ian Kinsler, Kevin Youkilis and Jason Marquis. The New York Times listed Ike Davis, Ryan Braun, Scott Feldman and John Grabow as other potential players.

"We are very grateful to MLB and the MLBPA for allowing Israel to participate in this prestigious tournament," IAB president Haim Katz told the Jerusalem Post, adding that the balance of the team is expected to be made up of the top players from the Israel national team.

"Participation in the World Baseball Classic is particularly exciting to us as it enables us to create a team of not just Israeli citizens but of all those of Jewish heritage. We look at this mission as a partnership between the North American Jewish community and Israel and as a vehicle to strengthen the ties between us."

And in Great Britain, an invitation to the WBC provided reason to believe the future is bright for the country's baseball future. It's especially important considering the U.K. plays host to the 2012 Olympics and was gearing up for having a team in the Games before the International Olympic Committee voted baseball out.

British Baseball Federation president Mark Salter said on the organization's Website: "This is, perhaps, the best thing ever to happen in British baseball, both in terms of our national teams and the overall Federation. No doubt the World Baseball Classic will enhance the profile of baseball in Great Britain."