The 2013 World Baseball Classic begins in the early hours of Saturday 2 March, U.K. time. It promises to bring the same levels of excitement, drama, colour and passion that the previous events have delighted us with.
This is the third staging of the marquee tournament. It was first held in 2006, less than a year after the International Olympic Committee announced that baseball and softball would be dropped for the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Japan won the inaugural competition and then successfully defended their title three years later. They will be aiming to complete the hat-trick this time around as the tournament now settles into its schedule of being held once every four years.
Sixteen teams were selected to compete in the first two WBC’s; however 12 additional nations were given the opportunity to qualify for the 2013 tournament. They competed across four, four-team groups in the second half of last year with each group containing one of the four teams that failed to win a game in the 2009 WBC.
Great Britain were one of the teams that entered the qualifying stage, but unfortunately Canada, the previous WBC entrant in the group, proved to be too strong for Team GB, Germany and the Czech Republic.
The qualifying stage did result in another European team being added to the traditional powerhouse duo of Italy and the Netherlands though. Spain got the better of France, South Africa and Israel in their qualifying group to make it into the WBC for the first time.
The teams and venues
This year’s WBC will take place in four countries: Japan, Taiwan, Puerto Rico and America (Miami, Arizona and San Francisco).
Between 2 March and 6 March, the WBC heads to Asia for two of the four First-Round groups. Japan will host China, Brazil and Cuba (the dominant force in international baseball for years, although going through a lean spell of late) in Pool A, with Taiwan (Chinese Taipei) hosting Australia, the Netherlands and South Korea in Pool B. The Korean team are sure to be desperate for success having lost out to Japan in the 2009 WBC Final after winning the 2008 Olympic Tournament.
The top two teams from Pools A and B will compete in Tokyo in a Second Round Pool (8-12 March) where the top two teams will earn a place in the Semi-Finals to be held at the San Francisco Giants’ AT&T Park on March 17-18.
Between 7-10 March the First Round action heads to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Puerto Rico will host the Dominican Republic, Spain and Venezuela, whilst the U.S. National Team will compete in Arizona against Canada, Mexico and Italy. The U.S. are seeking their first appearance in the WBC Final after losing a semi-final against Japan in 2009 and being knocked out in the Second Round stage back in 2006.
The top two teams from those two groups will then head on to Marlins Park, Miami, to compete for two spots in the Semi-Final stage. The Final takes place on 19 March.
The full schedule of games is available on the Official WBC website. I’ve created an Excel version that lists all of the times of first pitch in U.K. time. The sheet includes a column stating the local (to the host venue) start date just to avoid confusion in case games are referred to in that way elsewhere.
One quirk to note is that four of the U.K. time and dates have an asterisk next to them. There are two games on 9 Saturday U.K. time (3 a.m. and 10 a.m.) from 2nd Round Pool 1 and precisely which teams will play in which game will depend on whether the hosts Japan are involved. If they are, their game will be the later of the two.
It’s the same situation for two 2nd Round Pool 2 games (both Tuesday 12 in the States, although the second game begins at midnight U.K. time so technically is played on Wed 13 from our perspective). The U.S.’s game will be the later of the two if they are one of the four teams involved.
ESPN America will be showing live games throughout the WBC and judging by the first weekend’s schedule they will be bringing us a good proportion of the games.
Eurosport2 will also be broadcasting some games over the weekend beginning 8 March. There has been a bit of confusion as to whether these would be available in the UK or not, but it does now appear as though they will be. That’s a nice bonus for anyone who doesn’t have access to ESPN America but can get Eurosport.
It was expected that live coverage of games would be streamed on MLB.com, potentially to 2013 MLB.TV subscribers or courtesy of a specific paid-for WBC subscription. Disappointingly, that does not appear to be the case. The official WBC App can be downloaded from iTunes and allows U.S. based fans with an MLB Network subscription to watch the games online, yet there are no details for those of us outside the States and moderator comments on the official MLB.TV forum imply that only MLB Network subscribers will be able to watch.
It’s strange, to say the very least, that MLB.com would not give fans around the world an option to watch their premier international tournament online.
Let the games begin
The WBC really is a unique event. It’s the only international baseball tournament that includes current MLB players, allowing seasoned international players the chance to test themselves against Major Leagues and giving MLB players a rare opportunity to represent their country. Add in the special atmosphere generated by the passionate fans and it makes for a great mix.
Despite the disappointment of the potential lack of online coverage, the 2013 tournament is sure to be a wonderful addition to the baseball season once again.