In less than one week, the officials who run Major League Baseball will finally get their long-awaited wish when the upcoming World Baseball Classic begins and truly takes the great American pastime to an international level.
The inaugural tournament, which begins on March 1, was designed to give worldwide exposure to the game and offer major league players a venue to compete, on an international level – since the United States Olympic Committee would not allow players on major league rosters to compete in the Olympics.
There are 16 teams in the World Cup style tournament with four teams residing in four separate pools. Each team will play three first-round games, with the top two teams in each pool advancing to the second round. The advancing teams will each play three more games beginning March 13. Four teams will advance to a single-elimination semifinal on March 18, and those winners will compete for the championship on March 20.
Here are the pools.
China, Chinese Taipei, Japan and Korea comprise Pool A and will play their games in Japan. Pool B games feature Canada, Mexico, South Africa and the United States playing their games in Arizona. Pool C games will be played in Puerto Rico and will include Cuba, the Netherlands, Panama and Puerto Rico. Finally, Pool D will consist of Australia, the Dominican Republic, Italy and Venezuela playing in Florida.
Now that I have explained the structure of the tournament let’s move on to the locations.
Round one will take place at five different sites: (1) Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan; (2) Hiram Bithorn Stadium, San Juan, Puerto Rico; (3) The Ballpark at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex, Orlando, FL; (4) Chase Field, Phoenix, AZ and (5) Scottsdale Stadium, Scottsdale, AZ.
Round two will take place at two sites: (1) Hiram Bithorn Stadium and (2) Angel Stadium, Anaheim, California. The semifinals and championship game will be held at PETCO Park in San Diego, California.
Now let’s look at some of the rules.
Each team will have 27 players, including at least 12 pitchers. However, unlike Major League Baseball, there will be designated pitch-count limits for pitchers.
Pitchers will be held to a pitch count of 65 pitches in the first round, 80 pitches in the second round, and 95 in the semifinals and championship rounds. A 30-pitch outing must be followed by one day off, and a 50-pitch outing must be followed by four days off. No one will be allowed to pitch on three consecutive days. A mercy rule will come into effect when one team is leading by either fifteen runs after five innings, or ten runs after seven innings and every game will use the designated hitter rule. There will be no restrictions on the use of position players.
One of the things I really like about the tournament is the fact that all players will be subject to Olympic-style drug testing in accordance with an Anti-Doping Agreement signed by MLB, the MLBPA and the IBAF.
Why Major League Baseball doesn’t adopt the same stringent anti-doping rules is beyond me, but that’s a story for another day.
At any rate, here is the skinny on some of the favorites for the championship title and my pick to win it all.
Odds makers have listed the United States and the Dominican Republic as co-favorites at 6-5 to win the event and I think it is a very real possibility that one of these teams cold hoist the championship trophy.
However, I certainly would not count out teams like Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Japan.
The U.S. is obviously one of the more talented teams in the tournament and with many of their potential games at home, I think the U.S. is the real favorite to win it all. With players like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Dontrelle Willis and Roger Clemens, how can you not like them?
Now that I think about it, I can see why odds makers like the Dominican Republic also. Let’s start with David Ortiz, Miguel Tejada and Alfonso Soriano. How about if we end with Vladimir Guerrero , Adrian Beltre and Rafael Furcal? Enough said.
Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran aren’t exactly chopped liver now are they? Oh, did I mention that Puerto Rico also has the best set of catchers of any team in the tournament?
Bobby Abreu and Miguel Cabrera have gotten the majority of attention for this team, but truth told, this team has some interesting arms. If Freddy Garcia, Carlos Silva and Carlos Zambrano pitch well, this team could surprise.
I won’t pretend to know much about the Cuban team – all I can say is that Cubans take their baseball very seriously and has been known as a hotbed for baseball talent. It’s too bad they don’t have much freedom.
Once again, I can’t roll off the names of the Japanese baseball players who will play for this team, but I will say that any team that has Ichiro Suzuki on it is a threat. The Japanese also play excellent baseball as well.
Here are the 2006 World Baseball Classic odds
Dominican Republic 6-5
United States 6-5
Puerto Rico 9-1
Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) 15-1
South Africa 400-1
I’m going to take Japan, the United States, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic to win their respective pools and advance to the semifinal round, where I expect the U.S. and Dominican Republic to meet for the championship.
Now don’t get me wrong – I’m as pro-United States as anyone. I don’t think there is a better country anywhere in the world, but deep down something tells me the Dominican Republic will win the inaugural World Baseball Classic.
Whatever the outcome and whomever is crowned champion of the baseball world, Major League Baseball has accomplished its task of taking the game to an international level and making it a global entity for all to enjoy.