The Japanese Players Association's decision to participate
in the 2013 World Baseball Classic and MLB’s soon to be released tournament schedule may be the beginning of the most important 12 months for International Baseball; because the Next 12 Months could shape the next 12 Years of International Baseball.
In the spring of 2009, the WBC made a profit despite the world being in economic turmoil; impressive. On the heels of that success the WBC Steering Committee decided to expand their tournament. For the first time in its brief history the World Baseball Classic will have a round of Qualifiers
this Fall. Four groups of four nations with one team from each group advancing to next Spring’s main event. In September, Germany will host Canada, Great Britain and the Czech Republic; and Jupiter, Florida will host Israel, Spain, France and South Africa. In November, Chinese Taipei (aka. Taiwan) will host the Philippines, Thailand and New Zealand; and Panama will host Nicaragua, Colombia and Brazil. The success of the WBC Qualifiers may determine further expansion or contraction of this phase of the competition.
On the other side of the world, Masayoshi Son owner of the Japanese League’s (NPB) Softbank Hawks is supposedly trying to put together a new League. The tentatively named “Asia Super League
” would include teams from Japan’s NPB, South Korea and Taiwan and it is possible for it to launch in 2013. Also, the NPB its efforts to convince the Japanese Players Association to participate in 2013 WBC offered the possibility of its own version of the WBC for 2015
. Both of these ideas would be great, but they are still just ideas on paper. What is real, is the 2012 Asia Series
in Busan, South Korea in November, which will feature a record six teams from five countries: Australia’s 2011-12 ABL Champion Perth Heat, Japan’s 2012 NPB Champion, Taiwan’s 2012 CPBL Champion, South Korea’s 2012 KBO Champion, the Chinese National Team (the 2012 CBL season was cancelled) and South Korea’s Lotte Giants from the KBO. If the Lotte Giants win the KBO title, then the KBO runner up will take the second Korean spot. Started by the Japanese, the Asia Series has struggled financially, but has been revived in recent years by the CPBL and KBO. Success, may help Masayoshi Son make his Asia Super League a reality sometime in the next decade.
Staying in the Pacific Rim, Major League Baseball has 75%
of the controlling interests in the Australian Baseball League (ABL) at least for the next three years. If successful, MLB may look for other opportunities around the baseball world to invest in. For years, there have been rumors of a European Super League in the works, but that may not come to fruition. The most realistic chances are in Italy, the Netherlands and possibly Germany. Also, MLB has green lit its support for Panama’s 2nd season of PROBEIS; which marks the first consecutive professional winter baseball seasons for the isthmus in decades. Outside of MLB’s influence, is Miles Wolff
, commissioner of the American Association of Independent Baseball and the Can-Am Leagues; who is in early stages of planning a new professional Canadian Baseball League. There also are foreign investors like Kenneth Young
, owner of the Norfolk Tides and Albuquerque Isotopes, seriously attempting to get a KBO expansion team in Ansan, South Korea; and Triangle Sports
trying to start a new baseball league in Israel. The proliferation of new professional baseball leagues in new nations will be made possible by MLB and other Independent entrepreneurs.
In Winter League baseball news, the Caribbean Confederation’s decided to expand
the Caribbean World Series format to include two more teams. Currently the Winter League champions from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela meet every February. Hermosillo, Mexico will be hosting in 2013 and could see two teams from two additional nations, possibly Cuba, Colombia, Nicaragua or Panama. Although, problems have come to the surface when it comes to Cuba’s participation. Supposedly, it costs over a million dollars
to organize a Caribbean World Series and the Cuban government may not be financially ready to send a team to compete, but on the other hand Cuba is exploring new options to finding competition around the world. Cuba will be traveling to Japan and Taiwan for a few series of exhibition games in Asia. Cuba may realistically play in 2014, making it their first time in the CWS since 1960. That leaves the fledgling league Champions of Colombia‘s LCBP, Nicaragua’s LNBP and Panama‘s PROBEIS; Colombia has the inside track due to their current status as passive members of the Caribbean Confederation. This could mark the beginning of an expanded Caribbean Confederation.
Following the 2012-13 Winter Leagues is the 2013 WBC, International Baseball’s marquee event and may be the last under Selig’s regime. With qualifiers filtering out some of the weaker teams from previous WBC editions, this promises to be the most competitive WBC ever. A successful 2013 WBC makes it harder for its detractors within MLB’s ranks to eliminate the tournament. Selig’s successor will have to match or exceed his support for the event to secure its growth and therefore the continued growth of baseball around the world . Hopefully, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will be watching the 2013 World Baseball Classic and witness baseball is truly an international sport.
In the summer of 2013 the IBAF’s 2nd 12U Baseball World Championship will be played in Taiwan and continue to help grow the youth game. The IBAF has restructured its competitions to the following categories: 12U, 15U, 18U and 21U; as well as one Women’s category. The IBAF’s new structure may help create a new pipeline for international talent to develop through. Also, the Little League World Series will be realigned
to accommodate Australia to have its own representative; because it is now Little League’s fourth largest country in terms of total participation. The 2012 LLWS featured the first team from Africa (Lugazi, Uganda
) which is a testament to the sports growth at the youth league level. The IBAF, Little Leagues, Cal Ripken World Series and PONY Leagues, as well as other youth leagues continue to grow the game and teach the values of healthy competition that are very close to Olympic values.
On September 7, 2013 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will be meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina
to elect a new President, select the host of the 2020 Olympics and to add a new sport to the Olympic Program. Baseball and softball are attempting to improve their chances of Olympic reinstatement with a joint bid
. They hope that there is strength in unity, they must beat karate, wushu, wakeboarding, roller sports, squash, surfing and sport climbing. In 2005, the IOC deleted baseball and softball from the Olympic program, they gave baseball a chance at reinstatement in 2009, but it lost to Golf and Rugby Sevens. Conspiracy theorists say that the IOC members were discouraged from voting for baseball and softball in favor of, IOC President Jacques Rogge’s favorite sport Rugby Sevens and his wife‘s favorite, golf. Regardless, the damage had been done, baseball federations around the world lost funding from their respective National Olympic Committees. Olympic reinstatement would inject new life into baseball federations that have been withering away since baseball’s removal from the Olympic program. If Olympic reinstatement is a reality for baseball, then there may be an unprecedented boom for International baseball. Due to baseball’s simultaneous presence in both Olympics and the WBC, which would include the best players from around the world.
The Olympic/WBC financial and promotional synergy would be enough to secure a new level of growth for the sport and could help foster more youth leagues and ultimately the creation of new professional leagues in emerging markets. The next twelve months could be huge for the sport’s next twelve years. In 2025, the sixth WBC might be played in the Summer, the Fall classic might be played between MLB and the ASL (Asia Super League), Winter League baseball will be played in Latin America, as well as the Southern Hemisphere and some other Equatorial regions and Spring Training will be just Spring Training again. Twelve months from now International baseball will begin a new era or it will continue to make small strides that are not fully appreciated or understood by the mainstream media…only time will tell.