Details of the qualifying stage of the WBC were announced at a press conference in Regensburg, Germany on Monday. The qualifying tournament is scheduled to take place between 20-24 September 2012.
The success of the first two WBCs has resulted in the tournament expanding from 16 to 28 teams thanks to the addition of a new qualification stage.Â The four teams that failed to win a game in 2009 – Canada, Chinese Taipei, Panama and South Africa â€“ have each been put into a four-team group which they will need to win if they want to return to the big stage.
More importantly, the qualifying group stage gives 12 new teams a chance to make it to the WBC and Great Britain are among them.
Ever since Team GBâ€™s participation was announced last June, British baseball fans have been excitedly looking forward to finding out where the group will be staged and who we will be competing against.
Great Britain last played in Germany during the 2010 European Championships. The Armin-Wolf-Baseball-Arena in Regensburg, Germany, was used to host a group containing China, Germany, USA and Venezuela in the 2009 Baseball World Cup and it should prove to be a great host venue.
As expected, Great Britain will be facing some tough competition in the qualifying group. Sam Dempsterâ€™s team will not be favourites heading into the event, but donâ€™t rule them out from springing a surprise and qualifying for the main World Baseball Classic, scheduled to take place in March 2013.
Canada are the experienced WBC team, although they have just fallen short of qualifying for the second round in both of the first two times that the main tournament has been staged.
In 2006 they gained a memorable 8-6 victory over the U.S., followed by an 11-8 win over South Africa; however a 9-1 defeat to Mexico landed them with an early exit.Â In 2009, Canada hoped to make the most of home-field advantage with their Pool being held at the Blue Jaysâ€™ Rogers Centre. It didnâ€™t turn out that way. The U.S. got their revenge by narrowly defeating Canada 6-5 before Italy dumped the hosts out of the tournament by winning their game 6-2.
While the WBC hasnâ€™t quite gone to plan for them, Canada recently won the bronze medal in the 2011 World Cup. The main WBC rosters are essentially put together in a short space of time, so the teamâ€™s World Cup performance is perhaps more indicative of the level of play we can expect from them in the WBC qualifier, with a roster containing players that have experience in playing together.
Germany are an emerging force in European baseball both on and off the field, as shown by the facilities in Regensburg that will be used for this Pool.Â The Germans hosted the 2010 European Championships and finished third with only the two established Euro superpowers Italy and the Netherlands ahead of them. Based on that showing, they will be a tough team to beat on home soil.
As for the Czech Republic, they and Team GB were evenly matched in the 2010 European Championships. Both finished fourth in their respective First Round group â€“ with only the top three teams progressing to the Second Round -Â and that meant they were pitted against each other in a Seventh Place play-off game. The Czechâ€™s won that game 8-4, so Great Britain have a score to settle there.
The provisional schedule for the group shows that it will follow a double-elimination format, with Team GB getting the event underway with a game against Canada at 7 p.m. local time on Thursday 20 September (that is still subject to change, of course).
Germany will play the Czech Republic the following day and then there will be two games on the Saturday, with the two first-game winners facing each other to determine the first qualifier for the Final and the two first-game losers facing each other to stay in the tournament.
Which game Team GB are involved in will depend on their result against Canada and then how Germany gets on against the Czech Republic, as Germanyâ€™s second game will take place at 7 p.m. on the Saturday.Â The tournament organizers will no doubt be predicting a Germany-Canada 7 p.m. showdown and for Great Britain and the Czechs to meet at 2 p.m., but we shall see.
There will be a semi-final on the Sunday afternoon followed by the Final on the Monday evening. Depending on the precise travel arrangements, it looks like fans could get across during the day on the 20th and then depart again on the 25th after a great extended weekend of baseball.
Start making plans
It promises to be an exciting event, following hot on the heels of Team GBâ€™s involvement in the 2012 European Championships in the Netherlands in early September. With the official details now published, manager Sam Dempster, Team GB General Manager Jason Greenberg, the rest of the team, and us fans, can start putting preparations in place for what will be a super September for the Senior Men’s National team.