With Tuesday’s announcement of two March qualifying tournaments for the 2021 World Baseball Classic, we know two things for certain:
• After the qualifiers yield two teams apiece for the 20-team field in 2021, the fifth Classic will be the largest in tournament history.
• The anticipation for next year’s Classic is officially underway -- although sources say one intrepid international baseball correspondent might’ve started sketching out Team USA’s 2021 roster around the time Marcus Stroman hoisted the MVP trophy at Dodger Stadium on March 22, 2017.
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about the world’s preeminent baseball tournament.
Q: Where and when is the Qualifying Round for the 2021 Classic?
A: The Kino Sports Complex in Tucson, Ariz., will host two qualifying pools of six teams each this spring.
The March 13-18 tournament includes Brazil, France, Germany, Nicaragua, Pakistan and South Africa.
The March 20-25 installment features the Czech Republic, Great Britain, New Zealand, Panama, the Philippines and Spain.
Each pool will include nine games, in double-elimination format. The top two finishers in each pool will join 16 returning nations in the expanded 20-team field at next year’s World Baseball Classic.
Q: How can you attend the games?
A: Tickets for World Baseball Classic qualifiers are on sale now. There will be tickets on sale for each individual game and also day passes available for each day throughout the qualifiers. To view the complete schedule and for ticket information, click here.
Q: Just to confirm, which teams already qualified for the 2021 Classic?
A: If your country played in the last Classic, you’re assured of a place in the next one. In addition to the defending champion Team USA, the group includes Australia, Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Kingdom of the Netherlands, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
Q: Which prominent baseball figures involved in the qualifiers will be well-known to U.S. fans?
A: Perhaps the most famous will manage the French national team: Bruce Bochy. Born in Landes de Bussac, France, Bochy has taken on an international challenge after retiring from the Giants following the 2019 season.
It’s unclear if Major League players will receive clearance from clubs to play in the qualifiers during Spring Training. Twins star Max Kepler (Germany) is the most prominent player among the nations involved.
Q: Do the World Baseball Classic qualifiers have a direct connection with this summer’s Olympic baseball tournament in Tokyo?
A: They are linked by governance, in that baseball’s international body -- the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) -- has sanctioned both the Olympic baseball tournament and the World Baseball Classic.
The Tokyo 2020 baseball tournament will consist of six teams: Japan (as host nation), Israel, Korea, Mexico, and two others to be determined at tournaments in March and April. The U.S. will have its next chance to claim a spot during the Americas qualifying tournament in March.
Because the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games will occur during the Major League Baseball regular season, affiliated Minor League players are expected to compete in the Olympic tournament. The top players in Japan and Korea will play in the Olympics, as those leagues have an Olympic break in their 2020 schedules.
Even with the return of baseball to the Tokyo Games, the WBSC designates the World Baseball Classic title holder as the official world champion. For the first time, the U.S. is that team -- and the qualifiers remind us that it’s nearly time for Team USA to defend its title.