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World Baseball Classic venues unveiled

by Jason Coskrey

Japan will begin its defense of the World Baseball Classic title on home turf.

Tokyo Dome was selected as one of the first-round venues for the 2009 World Baseball Classic, which will begin on March 5 2009, Major League Baseball’s Senior Vice President of International Business Operations Paul J. Archey announced on Monday in a Tokyo hotel.

“We’re very proud to be starting the tournament here, at the home of the 2006 champions,” Archey said. “If you recall in 2006, the tournament was jump-started by the excitement that was here in the first round.”

Archey, who was joined by two other members of Major League Baseball and International Baseball Federation president Harvey W. Schiller, also announced the inclusion of a double-elimination format for the first two rounds and cross-over games in the semifinal round.

In addition to Japan, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Canada will also host first-round games, meaning the entire first round will take place outside of the U.S.

“I think it speaks very well for the international growth of the game, that all four of the sites for the first round are outside of the continental United States in just our second tournament,” Major League Baseball President and CEO Bob Dupay said.

In Pool A, Japan, China, Chinese Taipei and Korea will begin play on the first day of the WBC on March 5 at Tokyo Dome.

Pool B consists of Australia, Cuba, Mexico and South Africa, who will begin play on March 8 in Estadio Foro Sol in Mexico City.

Pool C, which features Canada, Italy the U.S. and Venezuela, also begins play on March 8 at Rogers Centre in Toronto.

The Dominican Republic, the Netherlands, Panama and Puerto Rico will makeup Pool D, which will play in Hiram Bithron Stadium in San Juan starting March 7.

Venues for the second round, plus the semifinals and the finals are expected to be announced in April.

A few new wrinkles for this year’s tournament were also announced. Gone is the round-robin format for the first two rounds. The 2009 event will instead be a double-elimination format in the initial two rounds.

“It provides us the excitement of knockout games,” Archey said of the format. “When you get to the loser’s bracket you are faced with a more win-or-go-home scenario. We think it presents a much greater excitement for the fans.”

The semifinal round has also changed with the introduction of cross-over games. In the semifinals, the winners of each second-round pool with play the opposite pool’s runnerup in single-elimination games.

“To avoid the scenario that we had in the first tournament that we received a number of comments about, particularly in this country and in Asia,” Archey commented about the reason for the format change. “To avoid Japan and Korea playing, as they did the last time, three times. Or a team playing another team three times.”

The initial WBC, held in 2006, was hailed as a success after being met with initial skepticism.

“The excitement in the arena’s we played in was far beyond what we imagined as players,” said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek, of the U.S. “We had no idea what we were really getting ourselves into. The experience was phenomenal the excitement was phenomenal, the level of players was phenomenal and it was overall an exciting time.”

Orza is promising more of the same, on a grander scale, for the 2009 event.

“It’s going to be bigger and stronger and it’s going to make an impression on you even greater than the one that it made on you back in 2006.”