Sun, Mar 05, 2017 - Page 10 News List

Taiwan among 16 WBC hopefuls

AFP, LOS ANGELES

Taiwan get under way on Tuesday at the fourth World Baseball Classic (WBC), which opens in Seoul tomorrow, with Japan seeking a third title, the Dominican Republic hoping to defend the crown and the US wondering how they might ever win.

Elite Major League Baseball talent, with 63 former all-stars including 25 from last season, are to play for their homelands against top global standouts in a 16-team showdown that concludes with a March 22 final at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

“The footprint of baseball as a sport has never been broader around the world,” said Chris Park, Major League Baseball’s senior vice president of growth, strategy and international. “We’re excited to get started. I don’t think you’ve ever seen this many national teams that have a legitimate chance to go far in this tournament.”

Two of four teams advance from first-round pools in Seoul, Tokyo, Miami and Guadalajara, Mexico, into second-round play in Tokyo and San Diego that will determine the four semi-finalists, who are to play on March 20 and March 21 in Los Angeles.

Taiwan are in South Korea, who are hosting to Israel, a lineup with all pro talent, in Monday’s opener for Pool A, which also includes the Netherlands, who are filled with Caribbean talent from Curacao in the Dutch Antilles.

Taiwan’s first game is against Israel at the Gocheok Sky Dome.

Japan, whose only major-league player is Houston Astros outfielder Norichika Aoki, host Pool B with traditional power Cuba, Australia and China, where development camps have boosted the sport for nearly a decade.

“I know the players for sure and can give my teammates a little advice,” said Aoki, who helped Japan capture the 2006 and 2009 Classic crowns.

Defending champions the Dominican Republic, who ran unbeaten to the 2013 title, join the US, Canada and Colombia in Miami’s Pool C, while hosts Mexico welcome powerful Puerto Rico and Venezuela, plus Italy in Pool D.

Seattle sluggers Nelson Cruz and Cano powered the Dominican victory in 2013 and excitement over their repeat chances has already sparked a Miami sellout of 37,000 tickets for the first-round showdown with the US.

The US have never won the Classic, hurt by many clubs not wanting to part with top players during pre-season workouts. However, with MLB unwilling to shut down its campaign for the Classic, they must take those inspired and allowed to play now.

“It’s just getting the guys pumped up to be amped up a little earlier than they normally do,” US manager Jim Leyland said. “That’s the good thing about it. It’s also the dangerous thing about it, because they haven’t been in spring training all that long.”

The US pitchers are Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer, Washington’s Tanner Roark, Toronto’s Marcus Stroman and Kansas City’s Danny Duffy, but few relievers have recent MLB experience.

MLB operates three development centers in China hoping the sport can gain a foothold there.

“We could not be more pleased with the progress we’re making. It is literally a grassroots effort,” Park said. “This tournament comes at a really good time for us both as a reflection of the progress baseball has made in China as well as a showcase for that progress.”

Designated hitter Xu Guiyan, the first player from China’s development program to sign with an MLB side after joining the Baltimore Orioles organization in 2015, is to play for his homeland.

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