Baseball world counts down to inaugural Premier 12
2 November 2015
With the World Series decided – and with Kansas City Royals rightly in celebratory mode after snagging their first title in thirty years – the baseball attentions of many have begun to focus on the Premier 12 tournament that will commence in Japan on Sunday 8 November.
A prestigious new fixture that has effectively replaced the World Cup and the Olympics baseball programme – for the time being at least – the Premier 12 has attracted twelve baseball superpowers to a financially lucrative series that will be co-hosted by Japan and Chinese Taipei.
While Australia failed to qualify for the event, our administrators will surely be following the series closely and devising strategies that may enhance our competitiveness in qualifying for future marquee events at international level.
Unfortunately for us, Australia did not qualify for the Premier 12 under IBAF world rankings, which currently have us at fourteen, just a handful of points shy of Panama (thirteen), Mexico (twelve) and Italy (eleven). While there is nothing that we can now do about it, there are legitimate concerns being raised about IBAF ranking procedures, including the provision of points through local, sometimes even weekend tournaments – especially in Europe and Central America.
Those concerns should be addressed – and they need to be, if there is any perception that Australia is being disadvantaged by either external or internal factors. Perhaps both.
And there is the reasonable and legitimate query about whether Australia has improved or declined at international level since we snatched a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics.
For now, though, Australian baseball will look on with interest as twelve nations compete in an inaugural Premier 12 tournament that will cover all organisational and team costs while offering nearly four million US dollars in prize money – aside from the potential prestige and the augmented IBAF world ranking points that are there to be accrued.
The winner of the Premier 12 will receive a purse of one million United States dollars, while second placing will earn $ 600,000, third placing $ 400,000 and fourth placing $ 300,000. Teams placed fifth through to eighth will earn a cool $ 225,000 apiece and ninth to twelfth placing will carry away better than chump change in the order of $ 150,000 each.
While the prize money to be split between players, coaches and staff may pale into relative insignificance compared with many of the salaries at Major League level, we need to place this in a context.
It is now clear that the Premier 12 will not be attracting the very best professional players in the baseball world. The American team, for example, will include no current players on forty-man MLB rosters. That rules out United States MLB nationals, along with dozens - perhaps up to a couple of hundred – of central Americans who theoretically might have been selected in sides representing Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela and Dominican Republic.
However, like the Olympics Games in other eras, we can expect that teams representing their various countries will be selecting – if they can - former Major Leaguers and emerging Minor League prospects to field their strongest squads possible.
And we can certainly expect that the Asian countries will draw upon their burgeoning talent base to make a real impact on a Premier 12 series that will receive enormous coverage across the baseball world.
The twelve teams have been split into two groups of six. Each team will play a round-robin against the others in its group before the series progresses to a quarter-finals phase, followed by semi-finals and finals at Tokyo Dome on 21 November to decide the first four placings.
Group A comprises Chinese Taipei, Netherlands, Puerto Rico, Italy, Cuba and Canada, while the Group B teams have been drawn as Japan, South Korea, Venezuela, Mexico, United States and Dominican Republic.
The Premier 12 will open on Sunday 8 November, with a clash between Japan and South Korea at the magnificent Sapporo Dome (pictured above) before moving to venues in Chinese Taipei for the first-round of games.
While there have been rumours circulating about Mexico being a shock withdrawal from the tournament – and Australia being invited as a late entry – there is no substantiated evidence to suggest that might happen. A Mexican withdrawal would certainly be a sensation – but in any event, no country would be in a position to organise a squad to travel and compete at such short notice. Not to mention the potential repercussions that could be felt by Mexico - a proud nation in the global baseball family.
Australian baseball administrators will be watching and assessing the Premier 12 with great interest. While we may have regrettably passed up opportunities to qualify for this series – through a failure to negotiate for more games at international level and thereby improve our IBAF ranking – we need to look ahead in planning strategies to ensure our success in qualifying for future events including the 2017 World Baseball Classic, the 2019 Premier 12 and perhaps the 2020 Olympics.
If baseball is re-admitted to the Olympic Games (as appears highly likely), the Premier 12 will always be scheduled in the year preceding the Olympics and it could potentially serve as a qualifier.
The four-year cycle of the Premier 12 and the World Baseball Classic will enable national governing bodies to plan their programmes with the view to climbing up the world rankings table by regularly competing in internationally-sanctioned tournaments.
While the Premier 12 tournament will be covered by world-wide media and reported on daily by the IBAF and the World Baseball Softball Confederation, Australian Baseball Alumni will seek to provide updates, images, interviews and insights as we are able.
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