In a light breeze and with a dash of central Taiwan’s unbeatable hospitality, Pool B of this year’s World Baseball Classic is set to open this afternoon with the Taiwanese national team hosting Australia at the Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium.
With the opening pitch scheduled for 12:30pm and a sellout crowd of 20,000-plus expected to stand behind the home team, the hosts are looking to start this year’s tournament in grand fashion. The top two finishers will earn a visit to Tokyo in the second round for a chance to advance into the championship round in San Francisco, California.
In an effort to improve on their disappointing outing in the first round of the 2009 Classic, Taiwan have stacked up their pool of talent. Two former Major Leaguer, Wang Chien-ming and Kuo Hong-chih, and potential outfield game-breakers Yang Dai-kang (Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan’s NPB) and Lin Che-hsuan (Houston Astros prospect), are to join the very best of Taiwan’s own Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) in a bid to make sure this year’s squad will be playing ball in Tokyo, and perhaps in San Francisco later this month.
Standing in Taiwan’s way for a top-two finish will undoubtedly be South Korea and the Netherlands, who have fared better than the hosts in recent international competitions.
Several Major League-caliber players helped earn South Korea the gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2010 Asian Games, and the Dutch back-to-back silver medals in the 2006 and 2010 Intercontinental Cup.
Even though South Korea will not have the services of current Major Leaguers Choo Shin-soo (Cincinnati Reds) and Ryu Hyun-jin (Los Angeles Dodgers), skipper Ryu Chung-il should be more than well-equipped with a solid pitching staff led by 17 game-winner Jang Won-sam of the Seoul Heroes of the KBO and closer Oh Seung-hwan of the Samsung Lions.
As for the Netherlands, winners of five of the past seven European Baseball Championships, manager Hensley Meulens’ lineup includes former NPB home run champ Wladmir Balentien and former New York Yankee Andruw Jones (born in Curacao), who can light up the scoreboard with finesse and power.
Each of the four teams in Pool B will play in a round-robin in the next four days, before the top two are determined by means of the highest winning percentage.