Will any team unseat two time champion Japan?
Almost three years ago, while Spring Training was still running, the world was witness to baseball's answer for an international competition—the World Baseball Classic.
The Classic, generated as a response to the International Olympic Committee's decision to eliminate baseball from the 2012 Olympiad in London as well as future Olympic games, was implemented in 2006.
Since then, it's been a springboard for international talent to be discovered, like Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish, a generator of controversy—like Cuba's initial reluctance to participate—and a chance for the United States to get embarrassed, while Japan continually proves that they are better than everyone else.
Like the more famous FIFA World Cup, political differences are cast aside and America's national pastime is played amongst 16 nations.
The 2013 edition of the tournament is getting a facelift from its two previous incarnations.
First, instead of the same 16 teams, there will be 28 teams, with a qualification tournament determining which four old/new nations will participate.
The bottom four teams from the last edition, Canada, Taiwan (or Chinese Taipei), Panama and South Africa go up against such countries as Great Britain, Israel, Colombia and Thailand.
By having the qualification tournament, newer and stronger teams have a chance to prove themselves, like Israel, who will benefit from having several Major League players of either Israeli descent or Jewish ancestry.
Are you excited for the new and improved Classic?
Meanwhile, weaker countries who were in the previous Classic, like South Africa, have a chance to prove that they still belong among the teams that have already qualified.
The qualification tournament most likely be held after the Major League Baseball season ends.
Following the qualification, the four surviving teams will move on into the new group stage where the 12 teams that already qualified will await them.
Of the 12 teams, one comes from Oceania (Australia), three from Asia (China, South Korea, and Japan), two from Europe (Netherlands, Italy) and six from the Americas (USA, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and Mexico).
The group stage will be played out in a round robin format where two losses eliminate a team from further contention. The group final determines the group winner and the group wild card, with the winner earning "home" rights in the second round.
Again, the second round is played in the same style of the first round, with the winners of both groups earning "home" rights in the semifinals.
The losers of both second round final games have the chance to make it into the finals, provided they beat the other second round winner. This was the case last tournament when a resilient South Korea team knocked off second-round champion Venezuela.
The final is pretty much what it is—a matchup between two countries who battle it out to determine the World Champion of baseball. Japan has done this twice already, beating Cuba in 2006 and South Korea in 2009.
The Classic's overhaul will certainly attract attention and will hopefully add more legitimacy to the third-year tournament.
Hopefully, by the time 2013 Spring Training rolls around, baseball fans from around the world will witness an excellent Classic, with MLB and other professional league-laden rosters vying for the chance to be the World Baseball champion.