Go up to someone and say that an international sporting tournament, akin to the World Cup, starts today, and they’d likely slowly bat their eyelids before walking away. But it’s true.
After a long delay, the World Baseball Classic is finally back, and the British audience should be more invested in the competition than ever.
After all, Great Britain are making their debut in the global event, after coming through a series of qualifiers in September. A young team, spurred on by some of the most exciting prospects in the game, they’ll be tasked with going up against giants like the USA and Mexico in their group.
But, before you throw yourself into this buffet of sporting entertainment, you’ll need to know what the Classic is all about. You might even need to learn about the fundamentals of baseball itself, with a large majority of the British population barely giving it the time of the day. But if you want to join a growing legion of fans, then this tournament could be the best place to start.
What is it?
The World Baseball Classic (WBC) is an opportunity for the greatest talents baseball has to offer to be showcased, all of them competing against one another.
Working in tandem with Major League Baseball (MLB), the major organisation across the US and Canada – think of it like the equivalent to the Premier League, this international tournament is sanctioned by the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) and the International Baseball Federation (IBAF).
Whoever wins it becomes the World Champion. Pretty standard so far.
Originally, this level of baseball was run as part of the Olympics, up until 2008, whilst a World Cup lasted until 2011. This reconfiguration of the baseball calendar, operating since 2013, now allows professional players to take part, drawing in the MLB’s biggest stars.
Where is it taking place?
Perhaps unconventionally, the WBC is covering three separate countries. There are four groups of five teams, with Group A based in Taiwan, Group B in Tokyo, Group C in Phoenix, Arizona, and Group D in Miami, Florida.
From there, eight teams will move into the Quarter Finals, set to be hosted in Japan and the US, before Miami sets the scene for the conclusion of the event.
How many teams are involved?
Great Britain are part of a 20-team playing field, the largest collection of nations in the tournament’s history. It was originally 16 but the introduction of a new group phase has allowed more countries to get involved.
Who’s the reigning champion?
It may come as no surprise that the USA come into the Classic with the crown, having won it back in 2017. But that was actually the first time they’d won it. The first victors were Japan back in 2006, with the Americans getting their hands on the trophy at last in what was the fifth instalment.
Why was it delayed?
The Classic was supposed to light up our screens in 2021, before it was announced in 2020 that it would have to be postponed, like a lot of things, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Qualifiers started in September last year, with Nicaragua claiming the final spot by the time October rolled around.
Who are the players to focus on?
Dozens of MLB All-Stars are ready to descend on the Classic, with nearly 200 players on 40-man rosters (the squad lists for MLB teams) and over 300 players under contract with big league teams.
There are seven Major League MVPs (Most Valuable Players) hoping to lead their nations to victory. These are Mike Trout (USA), Paul Goldschmidt (USA), Mookie Betts (USA), Shohei Ohtani (Japan), Freddie Freeman (Canada), Jose Altuve (Venezuela) and Miguel Cabrera (Venezuela).
What about Great Britain?
GB are first-time qualifiers for the event so, whatever happens, this will be uncharted territory for the relative minnows. They’ll be looking to wonder-kid Harry Ford to inspire them to unsettle the established order. Ford was designated the top prospect in the Seattle Mariners’ system, and his three home-runs in three games in qualifying was the catalyst for GB’s progression.
Great Britain hit the second-most home-runs in qualifying, with six to their name. They’ll need even more pop if they’re to compete with the powerhouses in Group C.
Other intriguing players include Anfernee Seymour, whose lightning pace saw him steal more bases than any other player in qualification, racking up five of GB’s nine. Nick Ward, playing Down Under professionally, was named the best Second Baseman in Australia on behalf of the Adelaide Giants, whilst D’Shawn Knowles, a prospect of the Los Angeles Angels, batted .500 in the qualifiers (got on base every other at-bat appearance).
Where to watch
A select number of games will be shown across BT Sport, whilst you can keep up to date with live scores, results, and group standings on the MLB app.
The hope is that Great Britain’s burgeoning success could inspire further national coverage for future events as they encourage a new generation of fans to take up an interest in the sport.