What is the world baseball classic ? Yes, after six years without primetime spring international baseball, the World Baseball Classic returns next month in 2023. Ahead of the fifth edition of the tournament, Olympics.com takes a look at some of the most asked questions about the event and provides the answers.
What is the World Baseball Classic?
The World Baseball Classic, or WBC, is the top men’s baseball international tournament. It is run by Major League Baseball (MLB) and its Player Association, under the auspices of the sport’s official global governing body for international competition, the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC).
The WBSC also runs the WBSC Premier12, another men’s international tournament in baseball featuring the top 12 teams based on its world rankings. But the WBSC features more teams – 20 as of this year’s edition – and also gives teams from around the world the chance to qualify for it.
When and where are the games?
The opener, the Netherlands versus Cuba, is Tuesday at 11 p.m., Eastern time.
The 20 teams that qualified for the tournament are divided into four groups, playing in Phoenix; Miami; Taichung, Taiwan; and Tokyo. Pool play continues through March 15.
The top two teams from each group advance to knockout quarterfinals. The semifinals and final will be played from March 19 to 21 in Miami.
Twenty seems like a lot of teams.
That’s the most ever in the W.B.C., up from 16 last time, in 2017. That means that in addition to the traditional baseball powerhouses, there’s room for first-timers like the Czech Republic, Britain and Nicaragua.
The Czech Republic? Britain? Baseball?
There are no Shohei Ohtanis on the Czech team, but the homegrown squad does have a 37-year-old firefighter on its pitching staff (who has been a two-way star for his team) and a reliever who doubles as the team’s publicity director. The top-ranked countries have Mets and Dodgers suiting up, but Britain has a player from Swarthmore College.
Who won it last time?
The United States, which had not finished better than fourth in the other editions of the Classic, beat Puerto Rico in 2017 to take the title. The first chance for the United States to defend the title was supposed to come in 2021, but the tournament was postponed because of the pandemic.
How does the U.S. team look this time around?
The defending champion is looking good because of a strong lineup. The middle of the order is particularly intimidating with stars like Paul Goldschmidt, Mike Trout, Nolan Arenado and Pete Alonso.
Pitching is more of a question mark, but that is true of many of the teams and is compounded by rules that limit pitchers to 65 to 95 pitches, depending on the round.
Who are the other favorites?
The Dominican Republic, which won in 2013, is stacked again. A batting lineup that includes Juan Soto, Manny Machado and Rafael Devers is going to be terrifying, and not just to the likes of Israel and Nicaragua. Nelson Cruz, who is 42, and Robinson Canó, who is 40 and currently without a major league team, give the team stout leadership.
Venezuela is also loaded, with José Altuve, Miguel Cabrera and Ronald Acuña Jr. swinging the bats and a strong pitching staff that includes Pablo López, Martín Pérez, and Ranger Suárez.
Japan, the only two-time Classic winner, has a host of top players from Nippon Professional Baseball and a smattering of major leaguers, including Ohtani and pitcher Yu Darvish. Fans who have heard tales of the brilliance of Roki Sasaki are expecting to see the Japanese phenom pitch against major leaguers.
Other contenders include South Korea, Mexico, Cuba and Puerto Rico (break out the trumpets for Edwin Díaz).
How can I watch?
Fox holds the rights, and the games will be split between Fox, FS1, FS2 and the Tubi streaming platform. The semifinals and final will be on FS1.
How is this different from the Olympics?
The Tokyo Olympics took place during the 2021 major league season, so star players based in North America did not participate. As a result, the lineups at the Classic are significantly stronger. Moreover, baseball will not be included at the 2024 Olympics and faces an uncertain future beyond that. At this point, the Classic is the pinnacle of the international game, and the sport hopes to continue to develop it as its version of the World Cup.
How big a deal is this?
You might ask the players. No one’s saying it’s bigger than the World Series, but over the years, many players from around the world have shown significant enthusiasm for playing.
When the Dominican Republic won the Classic in 2013, the players raced onto the field for flag-waving celebrations, then headed to the D.R. for a parade.
Even the supposedly jaded American players rushed from the dugout in 2017, gestured at the U.S.A. on their jerseys and celebrated with a bald eagle statue that had been their mascot. “We had a goal — to put the U.S.A. on top of the baseball world where it belongs, and we did exactly that,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said.
As for 2023, Trout, who skipped the previous Classic, said: “That’s the whole reason I signed up, trying to win this thing. There is nothing else. Anything else is a failure.”
That is a sentiment unlikely to be expressed at the Cubs-Royals spring training game in Surprise, Ariz., the same day as this year’s final.
How often is the World Baseball Classic and when’s the next WBC?
The World Baseball Classic has been held at irregular intervals through its history. The inaugural edition was held in 2006 and was won by Japan, which defended the title three years later in 2009.
The tournament then switched to a four-year cycle, with editions in 2013 and 2017. However, the Covid-19 pandemic meant that the edition due to be held in 2021 was cancelled and replaced with the one this year in 2023.
After this year’s event, the next World Baseball Classic is scheduled for 2026. Before then, a WBSC Premier12 – not expected to involve MLB players, but which may feature prospects and top Japanese NPB and South Korean KBO stars – is due to take place in 2024.
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