MIAMI -- Years before the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006, Jim Small polled Major Leaguers about their interest in participating in a global tournament. Hall of Famer Derek Jeter, then a superstar with the Yankees, was the first hand to go up in favor.
Now a CEO and part owner of the Marlins, Jeter was part of a contingent that will have Marlins Park play host to parts of all three rounds of the 2021 World Baseball Classic, including the championship round. The announcement was made by MLB and the Marlins at a news conference Tuesday morning.
Marlins Park will become the first venue to host games in all three rounds in the same year.
"To have someone like Derek Jeter vote yes on international baseball, vote yes to a country vs. country championship, meant everything to us because it opened the door, it opened the door for six other would-be Hall of Famers to vote yes to play in this tournament," said Small, senior vice president, international. "It opened the door for the 2017 event to have 30 MLB All-Stars play in that event. Everything that we have enjoyed, all the success we've enjoyed with this tournament, started with your vote yes. We appreciate everything you did for this tournament as a player, and everything that you're doing now as an executive."
The fifth Classic, which will be played from March 9-23, 2021, will take place at the Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium in Taichung, Taiwan; the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan; as well as the D-backs' Chase Field in Phoenix and Marlins Park.
Chase Field served as a first-round venue in 2006 and '13. Games for Pool C will be played from March 13-17.
Jeter, who played in the 2006 and '09 Classics, admitted that his reasoning was somewhat selfish. After signing with the Yankees out of high school, he never got the chance to play for Team USA.
"The only uniform that I had worn throughout my professional career was a Yankee uniform," Jeter said. "It was the first time I had put another uniform on. When you put on the uniform that's representing your country, it's a pretty good feeling. Ultimately, we didn't come out on top, but it was a fun experience just to play teams from other countries -- countries you didn't even know played baseball coming in and showing up. It was a fun atmosphere, and it's just grown bigger and better since then."
Home to the Marlins since 2012, Marlins Park has hosted games in each of the last two tournaments. Pool D of the first round will run March 14-18. The North American quarterfinals, including the teams advancing from Pools C and D, will take place March 19-20. The semifinals and finals will be played from March 21-23.
Bidding to host began last summer, with global interest. Small pointed to the Team USA vs. Dominican Republic matchup at Marlins Park in 2017 as well as the local community's backing as reasons for its selection.
"The World Baseball Classic shows us all the great things baseball is and can be," Small said. "That passion, that emotion, that excitement and noise is all something that's very special, something that we want to share with the federations, the players that represent the World Baseball Classic around the world."
When Jeter and Bruce Sherman's ownership group took over in October 2017, it expressed hope in recreating the atmosphere of those Classic games with the Marlins.
Since then, Marlins Park has undergone enhancements. Last year, the Marlins opened a pair of gathering spots in AutoNation Alley and The Social: Estrella Jalisco. This season, natural grass is being replaced with a synthetic playing surface at the retractable-roof facility. The outfield walls have been moved in from 407 feet to 400 feet in center and from 399 feet to 387 feet in right-center. The home run sculpture, previously in left-center field, will be part of an art walk outside on the east plaza. And another social area will open at Biscayne Brew Hall.
"The energy and the passion in the building was electric," Jeter said. "Numerous visitors from around the world [were there], but quite a few from South Florida. That's the passion of the game that we know exists in this market. And we want to grow, and that's what we're building toward. To get to the point where every day here at Marlins Park is a WBC Championship Game-type atmosphere. As many cheering section and musical instruments we can get in the building."
The field of teams has been expanded to 20. All 16 clubs that competed in the 2017 Classic, which was won by the U.S., will be joined by four others advancing from the '20 qualifiers that are scheduled to take place from March 13-25 in Tucson, Ariz.
The Classic will feature pools of five teams for round-robin play in the first round. The top two teams in each of the four first-round pools will advance to the quarterfinals, while the top two teams from each quarterfinal pool will advance to the Championship Round.
Taichung will host Pool A contests from March 9-13, marking the second time -- first since 2013 -- Taiwain will be home to Classic games.
The Tokyo Dome, which has hosted pools in each of the previous four Classics (2006, '09, '13 and '17), will host Pool B and quarterfinal games in '21. The quarterfinals from March 16-17 will feature the top two teams from Pool B along with the two teams advancing from Pool A in Taiwan.
"For me, this is really exciting, and it's because of the players that have participated and have brought this tournament to life," said Leonor Colon, senior director of international and domestic player operations for the Major League Baseball Players Association. "It's the highest honor for players to be able to represent their country and play at the highest level. This tournament has allowed our players' passion to come through and inspired kids across the world to play our sport. And that's really what the goal is. We want to see players from all over the world reach the Major League level, and this tournament will allow that to happen."