By Mike Sutter
The fourth iteration of the World Baseball Classic has begun. Sixteen countries are participating in the 2017 edition of the tournament. The WBC has taken place three times before, with Japan winning in 2006 and 2009, and the Dominican Republic winning in 2013.
All teams in the 2017 WBC have played in the tournament with the exceptions of Colombia and Israel. The bulk of the games will take place in five different stadiums: two in the United States, one in Seoul, one in Tokyo and one in Mexico. The championship games will be held at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
The WBC employs specific rules to prevent professional players from wearing themselves out before the MLB season begins. Pitchers are limited to 65 pitches in the first round, 80 in the second and 95 in the championship. Pitchers are also limited in how often they can throw; for example if they pitch on two consecutive days, they must wait a day before pitching again.
To shorten the length of games, the tournament employs mercy rules which end games if there is a 10-run lead after seven innings and a 15-run lead after five. Additionally, starting in the 11th inning, teams will go to bat with runners on first and second base.
Since the majority of baseball players are concentrated from a few specific countries, a special set of guidelines is adopted to create team rosters. To play for a particular country’s team, a player may be a citizen of that country, qualified for citizenship in that country or a permanent resident of that country. A player may also have been born in that country, have a parent who was a citizen of that country or have a parent who was born in that country. Having such a lax set of rules allows for rosters for countries such as Israel, the Netherlands, Italy and Australia to populate their rosters with qualified professional players.
For the fans, the tournament provides a meaningful alternative to standard spring training baseball. It also gives fans the opportunity to see players from professional leagues around the world. The majority of South Korea’s team is composed of players from the KBO League, which is the highest level of professional baseball in South Korea. Chinese Taipei’s team, based in Taiwan, is composed mainly of players from Chinese Professional Baseball, while China’s team is mainly players from the China Baseball League. Roughly half of the teams from the Netherlands, Colombia and Italy come from leagues based in those countries.
The World Baseball Classic may not be as popular as Major League Baseball, but its players are immensely talented, its teams largely competitive and its games every bit as dramatic as their MLB counterparts. The tournament has earned its place in the world of baseball.