The 2017 World Baseball Classic is taking shape, as organizers confirmed Tuesday that two first-round pools for the March tournament will be held in Asia.
Korea is a World Baseball Classic host country for the first time, as the Netherlands, Chinese Taipei and the winner of an upcoming qualifier in Brooklyn will join Korea at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul.
Japan, a two-time World Baseball Classic champion, will host Cuba, China and Australia at the Tokyo Dome.
The other two first-round pools for the 16-team field are expected to take place in the Western Hemisphere, although officials have not announced where. In each of the previous three World Baseball Classic tournaments, the semifinals and finals occurred in the United States.
As in 2013, Cuba will be the only North American team to begin pool play in Asia. Cuba's baseball federation generally prefers that its national team not play World Baseball Classic games on the U.S. mainland until it is necessary, because of defections at previous international tournaments.
Seoul's successful bid to host first-round games is a boon for Korean baseball, particularly with the Gocheok Sky Dome not even one year old. The fourth spot in the Seoul pool will be awarded to the winner of a Sept. 22-25 qualifying tournament at Brooklyn's MCU Park among Brazil, Great Britain, Israel and Pakistan.
Canada, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Italy, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the United States and Venezuela will comprise the remaining two pools.
The World Baseball Classic news comes at the beginning of what could be a watershed week for baseball on the global stage: Over the coming days in Rio de Janeiro, the International Olympic Committee is poised to vote on the inclusion of baseball and softball as Olympic sports for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.