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.
China also boast shortstop Ray Chang, whose parents emigrated to Kansas City and opened a restaurant. He sustained a broken leg a day before he was to be called to play for Minnesota, missing his chance at an MLB game, and will retire after the Classic to manager a development center in Nanjing.
Additional reporting by staff writer
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday said that he had called in the “third umpire” as he announced that recreational cricket would be allowed to resume next weekend. In a radio interview earlier on Friday, Johnson angered thousands of club cricketers by saying that the amateur game was still not safe to play amid the COVID-19 pandemic because of issues surrounding communal teas and dressing rooms. “It’s the teas, it’s the changing rooms and so on and so forth. There are other factors involved that generate proximity which you might not get in a game of tennis,” he said. Johnson had already
Hong Kong media reported that police briefly detained a man in a Liverpool team jersey who shouted “long live Liverpool” during anti-government protests on Wednesday, over suspicion that he was inciting independence. In-Media reported that the man was across the street from police officers who were conducting stop-and-searches on a group of protesters, when he shouted: “Long live Liverpool.” Others reportedly cheered and joined in the chant, before officers detained him. The man told In-Media that police had accused him of inciting Hong Kong independence, which now is a punishable crime. He said that he has been a fan of the English soccer
Indian police are investigating an alleged betting scandal in which a sham cricket tournament was held in an Indian village and passed off as a Twenty20 contest played in Sri Lanka. Players portrayed as Sri Lankan cricketers played two matches on Monday last week that were broadcast with live commentary on YouTube, media reports said, along with ball-by-ball coverage on top Indian sports Web sites. The organizers hung Sri Lankan advertisements at the ground for added authenticity and put up tents to block the view from outside the remote rural venue, set in farmland next to a busy highway. Police said that they
Raptors guard Fred VanVleet is already in Florida with the rest of his Toronto teammates, and he knows the time to take a stand and counter the NBA plan to restart the season has passed, but his opinion on the matter has not changed. “It sucks,” VanVleet said on Monday in a videoconference of his choice to return to the court during the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter campaign. “It’s terrible timing, but that’s been 2020 for us. We all know the right thing to do is to not play, to take a stand. Morally, yes, that makes sense, but