Baseball tournament to be played in '06

Baseball tournament set for '06

NEW YORK -- The World Baseball Classic, a World Cup-type tournament that Major League Baseball has been planning for at least two years, is on.

The tournament, which will include Major League players in international competition for the first time, is to be played during Spring Training 2006, Commissioner Bud Selig announced on Wednesday after the 30 owners' quarterly meeting.

The tentative dates are March 4-20, with an Asian qualifying tournament played at the front end of it and the finals a possibility for San Diego's PETCO Park. The full details will be formally revealed by MLB a day before the July 12 All-Star Game at Detroit's Comerica Park, Selig said.

"Our goal is to grow the game globally. I have very strong feelings on that subject," Selig said at a press conference. "This is something we've talked about for a long time. The time really is now. This is the centerpiece of that."

The tournament, originally targeted for this past spring, was delayed for a year primarily to accommodate the Japanese, who couldn't field a team in 2005 because of contraction and restructuring of their major leagues, Nippon Professional Baseball. It is likely Japan's team will be part of the expected 16-squad field next spring.

If all goes according to plan, the tournament would be held again in 2009, and then every four years after that.

Paul Archey, MLB's vice president of international business operations, said invitations will be sent out to countries in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. Some of the likely participants are Japan, Korea, Puerto Rico, Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, the Netherlands, Italy, Cuba and, of course, the United States.

All, except Cuba, would be able to pull from MLB talent to stock their national teams. The Cubans would bring their own nationals.

Archey said that having Cuba involved is a necessary component to staging a successful tournament. Cuba has been a world powerhouse in baseball for decades. It has won numerous gold medals in the Olympics, the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) World Cup and the Pan American Games.

A precedent for Cuba playing in the U.S. was set in 1999, when the national team took on the Orioles in a pair of exhibition games. One game was played in Havana, the other in Baltimore's Camden Yards.

"We're going to issue an invitation to Cuba, and we're working with [the U.S.] State Department on the matter," Archey said. "Cuba has dominated competition on the international level for many years. We certainly want them to attend."

MLB International has spent two years weaving through the complicated logistics of the tournament, which is meant to complement MLB's participation in the Summer Olympics, although players on the 25-man rosters of each team are not sanctioned by MLB to participate in those games.

It has been a coordinated effort between MLB, the MLB Players Association, Nippon Professional Baseball, the Korea Baseball Association and the International Baseball Federation (IBAF), which represents the 113 worldwide baseball federations.

MLB had to negotiate international-style drug-testing rules with the Players Association and the context of the event with the IBAF. All three sides have signed off on the complexity of the plan.

The four early rounds are tentatively scheduled to be played in Japan, Puerto Rico and the United States, with the earliest round a possibility for Japan's Tokyo Dome.

Archey said that next year's Spring Training will not begin earlier than usual to accommodate the tournament, nor will the regular season open any later.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.