Mookie Betts #3 of Team USA practices ahead of the World Baseball Classic at Papago Park Sports Complex
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The 2023 World Baseball Classic: Everything Fans Need to Know

This time of year, if I mention the word "tournament," most people will instantly think I'm talking about NCAA basketball. It's true that college conferences are beginning their tournaments in hopes of qualifying for March Madness, but that's not what I'm talking about here. Instead, I'm gearing up for all things World Baseball Classic. That's right — I'm talking baseball!

After the most recent edition of the quadrennial tournament was postponed thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the time has finally arrived to welcome back baseball's international showcase. When the dust settles at the end of March, one nation will claim the title of "World Champion." Here's what you need to know about what the next few weeks have in store.

The World's Best Take the Diamond

In the beginning, teams were simply invited to participate. The third iteration of the event introduced a qualifying round, which enabled additional qualifiers to join the fun. In 2023, thanks to the expansion from 16 to 20 competing nations, all 16 teams from the 2017 tournament automatically qualified. They will be joined by the Czech Republic, Panama, Great Britain, and Nicaragua, which all make their debut in 2023. There will be four pools of five teams each, with the top two from each pool advancing to the quarterfinals.

Heading into play, there are some odds-on favorites to take home the title. In 2017, the United States finally broke through to claim victory, defeating Puerto Rico in the championship game at Dodger Stadium. This year's tournament has the Dominican Republic pegged as the most likely champion, especially since news broke that Clayton Kershaw would not be a part of the United States team. Japan has also been a two-time champion, and there is no shortage of talent among many of the rosters.

Multiple Countries Opening Up Their Stadiums to Host

Fans waves flags during the World Baseball Classic Pool B game between China and Japan at Tokyo Dome

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Since 2006, the United States and Japan have served as stalwart hosts for every tournament. Puerto Rico, Taiwan, Canada, Mexico, and South Korea have also had the honor in tournaments past. This year, pool play will be spread out among venues in Japan (the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo), Taiwan (Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium in Taichung City), and the United States (at Chase Field in Phoenix and loanDepot Park in Miami). The quarterfinals will take place in Florida and Tokyo before the grand finale (semifinals and championship) in Miami.

World Baseball Classic Schedule

Matt Harvey #43 of Team Italy pitchs at the bottom of the 1st inning during the World Baseball Classic Pool A game between Italy and Cuba at Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium

Photo by Gene Wang/Getty Images

You know spring is in the air when baseball fans start counting down the days until "pitchers and catchers report," which typically marks the start of Major League Baseball's spring training. This year, Feb. 24 launched the 2023 edition of the MLB season. After spending some time getting in workouts and bullpen sessions, the players had just enough time to play a few games against other teams before preparation was put on pause for those heading around the globe to play in the WBC. The competition kicked off Tuesday night (in the United States) with the Netherlands defeating Cuba 4-2. All games will be available on the Fox family of networks and Tubi, with the Spanish language broadcasts on Fox Deportes. You can also stream games through the Fox Sports app or fuboTV.

Baseball Takes the Global Stage

Xander Bogaerts #2 of Team Netherlands looks on during the World Baseball Classic Pool A game between Panama and Netherlands at Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium

Photo by Gene Wang/Getty Images

The World Baseball Classic is a refreshing break from what can sometimes be a rather stale slate of typical MLB spring training games. In non-WBC years, players spend weeks leading up to the MLB season getting themselves back into game shape while playing what essentially are exhibition games with the handfuls of teams whose training facilities are nearby. It's a chance for everyone to get reacclimated ahead of the grind of the regular season. Players and coaches who may have new teams get the opportunity to familiarize themselves with their new surroundings. Fringe players and prospects get the chance to prove themselves worthy of a Major League roster. In general, though, there isn't much for the fans to get excited about in terms of actual competition. Whenever the WBC comes around, however, everything gets an extra jolt of excitement. Whether it's a fan having the chance to root for their country or a player getting to take the field in their nation's uniform, the energy bumps up and the competitive juices flow just a little bit more. With an expanded field in 2023, there should be even more to love from the World Baseball Classic.

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