tampabay.com

Coming in March: the real 'world' series

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published July 12, 2005


DETROIT - If you judge the potential success of an event by the enthusiasm of its probable participants, the World Baseball Classic is off to a good start.

"This is bigger than just us," Marlins pitcher Dontrelle Willis said. "This will bring baseball to the doorstep of the world."

The 16-team tournament, announced Monday, is scheduled to be played over 18 days in March during spring training. Teams will be grouped in four pools for two rounds of round-robin play.

The United States, Canada, Mexico and South Africa will play in Arizona.

Puerto Rico, Cuba (tentative), the Netherlands and Panama will compete in Puerto Rico. China, Taiwan, Japan (tentative) and Korea open the event March 3 in Tokyo or Taiwan. Australia, the Dominican Republic, Italy and Venezuela will play in Florida.

The single-elimination final four will take place in the United States with the championship game scheduled for March 20.

Devil Rays managing general partner Vince Naimoli, part of the committee helping Major League Baseball develop the 39-game event, said he will try to bring the tournament to Tropicana Field.

Sites for the preliminary rounds will be chosen from the state's major- and minor-league facilities, he said. Venues will bid for the final-four round. "It's similar to the NCAA Final Four or an All-Star Game; it's very complex," Naimoli said. "It's going to be very expensive and we need the cooperation of the (convention and visitors bureau) and the Chamber (of Commerce)."

Teams will have 27 players, including at least 12 pitchers. Players must be citizens of the nations they represent and will be selected by the countries' national federations.

According to a news release, 47 percent of net proceeds will go to prize money. Fifty-three percent will be divided among MLB, the players association, the International Baseball Federation and participating professional organizations.

The announcement comes days after the International Olympic Committee voted to drop baseball after 2008.

"I don't know if I consider it a blow," commissioner Bud Selig said. "I'm sorry they made the decision they made, but we're moving in a very dramatic way to internationalize the sport."

There are hurdles.

Japan has accepted an invitation but is negotiating details with its players association. Cuba has not accepted because of, it is believed, fear of defections. Paul Archey, a baseball senior vice president, said he expects both countries to participate.

Rosters must be completed no later than 45 days before the tournament. Because the tournament coincides with spring training, Archey said, pitch counts and other player-use restrictions will be in place.

Willis, who would play for the United States, said players will be ready.

"If I get a chance to go I definitely will prepare myself for that," he said. "If guys get selected early enough they will do what they have to to get ready.

"I just hope I make the team."