Baseball Champions League begins today in Mexico

September 28th, 2023

International soccer fans know it well: When the greatest clubs in the world face off in the UEFA Champions League and the iconic theme song kicks in, it just feels different.

Well, baseball is now getting in on the international club action, too, with the Baseball Champions League. Starting Thursday in Mérida, Mexico, home of the Leones de Yucatan in Liga Mexicana de Beisbol (LMB), the tournament will feature the championship clubs from the LMB, the American Association -- a partner league of MLB -- Cuba’s Serie Nacional and the Colombia Professional Baseball League.

While it's not unusual for national teams to face each other in international tournaments -- there's the World Baseball Classic and Premier12 just as an example -- this is the first time that clubs across the Americas will face off for the right to call themselves champions.

The planning for it actually began three years ago, when the American Association was looking for ways to grow internationally.

"It started with a call to Horacio de la Vega, LMB's president, about postseason play between LMB and the American Association," Joshua Schaub, commissioner for the American Association, told "After many conversations regarding that and player transfers, he said, 'Hey, I've got something bigger. WBSC [World Baseball Softball Confederation] wants to create a larger tournament featuring all the teams in North America, at least from the separate country's champions."

There were a few things that needed to be accommodated in this inaugural year. First, the leagues needed to know who was hosting the tournament and what the teams were going to be before the end of the 2023 regular season. So, the clubs taking part are the 2022 champions -- Leones de Yucatán, Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, Alazanes de Granma and Caimanes de Barranquilla -- instead of this year's winners.

The teams have also done their best to keep their rosters intact, making sure that this doesn't become a tournament of All-Stars from each league.

"It's like our champion versus your champion, our best gladiator against your best gladiator, not a culmination of our best gladiators from separate markets," Schaub said. "It's our best market versus your best market. I do think that's appealing. And what's cool for me as a commissioner is that I get to root for a team. I never [get to cheer] -- besides for the umpires -- but for us to have some pride in our champion, like as a league going down there to represent us, I think is awesome."

This is just the beginning, though: While this first year is a kind of test, it's going worldwide in 2024.

"We're starting first with Baseball Champions League Americas, then they'll have Baseball Champions League Europe and Baseball Champions League in Asia next year, with the winners of those then coming together to create a world champion."

It's the kind of thing you can imagine A.G. Spalding dreaming of when he took the Chicago White Stockings on a global tour back in 1888, even stopping to pose for a photo with the Sphinx in Egypt. Now, nearly 140 years later, it's all coming together.

"There may be a time where the world we know melts away, and this becomes a much larger event," Schaub said. "We are extremely excited about the future. And I think this is again, Year Zero of a multiyear process where this will grow to massive heights."

There are plenty of ways to watch the tournament, which runs from Thursday to Sunday. Fans can stream the games on AABaseball.TV or watch The Unbeaten via Vizio Watchfree, Amazon Freevee, Plex TV and Fubo.

"The games Leones plays in are going to be sold out and the atmosphere is going to be crazy," Schaub said. "And our players, truthfully, even the ones that have been the big leagues, I don't think they're going [to be prepared] for the atmosphere and the noise, the dancing, the horns. I'm excited for that. And I look forward to going down there and competing our [butts] off to win this championship."