Dodger Stadium to host Classic finals
World to gather in LA for end of 2009 international tournament
LOS ANGELES -- Dodger Stadium is returning to the international stage.
With an official announcement Thursday afternoon, Dodgers owner Frank McCourt confirmed that his home ballpark will host the semifinals and final round of the 2009 World Baseball Classic, March 21-23.
It is the second installment of the international tournament that again will feature 16 nations. Japan claimed the inaugural crown played at San Diego's PETCO Park in 2006.
"We are excited and honored to be hosting the championships of the 2009 World Baseball Classic," McCourt said. "We have embraced the international game for a long time and it is only fitting that we open the gates to Dodger Stadium to the fans from all around the world."
The '09 Classic will open March 5 at four first-round sites, all outside of the United States. Tokyo, Mexico City, Toronto and San Juan, Puerto Rico, have been slated as opening-round venues and will feature a double-elimination format in a switch from '06 that was round-robin.
The second round will be held at Miami's Dolphin Stadium and PETCO Park. Second-round play, March 14-19, also will be double elimination.
At Dodger Stadium, play will shift to single elimination for both the semifinals and final with teams from the two second-round pools crossing over. The winner of each pool will play the runner-up in the opposite pool in the semifinal.
But the kicker in the deal for 2009 and the World Baseball Classic was getting the championship to the City of Angels.
"Given what the Dodgers organization has meant internationally and given the city, the diversity and the culture, the languages spoken and the weather, it is a natural fit," MLB president and chief operating officer Bob DuPuy said.
Dodger Stadium may already have had a Classic on its resume, but the ballpark was undergoing renovations in 2006 and was unable to even enter a bid.
Long-term projects to further make over the venerable ballpark that is celebrating its 45th anniversary in the 50th year of the franchise's relocation to Southern California are also under way. Field level renovations are complete and feature new box seating and a pair of new restaurants near each foul pole.
Renovation in the loge level and new clubhouses is slated for the upcoming offseason with its first showcase expected to be the Classic.
"It is inevitable that we would be in Los Angeles for the semifinals and finals. There is no city that has the mix of the things that we need. Weather, fan base and diversity," said Gene Orza, chief operating officer of Major League Baseball Players Association. "This organization is truly a leader in the whole idea of how global the reach of baseball is. The Dodgers have been at the forefront of the internationalization of the sport."
Japan, which defeated Cuba, 10-6, in the 2006 World Baseball Classic final, will defend its crown. The Classic likely will expand its field for the 2013 event, with 24 teams a probable goal.
"After the 2006 tournament, it was only days later that I was receiving letters from other federations around the world that wanted to be in," said Paul Archey, MLB senior vice president of baseball operations.
Archey also said the move from round-robin to a double-elimination format will streamline the event and forestall any complications that were created by a tiebreaking system that used a formula based on runs scored.
"We made that change to get rid of the tiebreaker system," Archey said. "We had a very difficult tiebreaker system in 2006 that gave us a hard time figuring out who advances. Now who advances will rely totally on what happens on the field. We think it will create more compelling first-round matchups."
In first-round action at the Tokyo Dome for Pool A, China will join Chinese Taipei, Korea and host Japan. In Mexico City's Foro Sol Stadium in Pool B, Mexico will host Australia, Cuba and South Africa.
The U.S. will travel to Toronto's Rogers Centre for Pool C and play Italy, Venezuela and Canada. Puerto Rico will stay home in Pool D for games at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan against the Dominican Republic, Panama and the Netherlands.
The World Baseball Classic had initially been slated to begin in 2005 with a four-year rotation that would avoid Olympic and World Cup years. A personnel problem with one nation pushed the first Classic to 2006, but the schedule of 2009 and 2013 remained.
DuPuy said twice as many cities submitted bids to be one of the host venues for next year's Classic and added there may be a consideration of an Asian city hosting the final rounds at a future date.
Attendance figures for the 2006 Classic was more than 740,000 fans from 48 of the 50 states and 15 countries. There were also 486 players that participated with 235 of those from Major League organizations.
For Orza there was one true measure of the tournament, though, and it passed.
"The real test of the games was not how many fans that showed up. It was the degree that players that played in it wanted to play in it again, but also the players that didn't play in it wanted in," Orza said. "Since 2006, I've had players want to play in it again or asking to keep them in mind."
Dodger Stadium will roll out its carpet of many colors for the international baseball stage in March and will be ready for its closeup.
"We think the final games of the 2009 World Baseball Classic will be the biggest international event in the history of baseball," McCourt said.
Mike Scarr is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.