America's Pastime has never been more popular all over the globe, and after four years of anticipation, the World Baseball Classic is back. As a delectable appetizer for the Major League feast that starts less than a month later, a spectacular 16-nation tournament, the fourth of its kind, is set to spring back into action in March in various locations in the United States and overseas.
First comes a tasty hors d'oeuvre: The star-stacked final rosters for the participating countries' teams are being revealed tonight at 6 p.m. ET on MLB Network and simulcast on MLB.com.
Soon enough, all the boxes for must-see hardball will be checked. Major League players, who have been gearing up at Spring Training, will be primed for competition with the added incentive of playing for countries full of proud fans. Fired-up crowds in the U.S., Japan, South Korea and Mexico will cheer on their favorite players as the tournament gets whittled down from four first-round pool-play sites to the eventual championship round at Dodger Stadium from March 20-22.
Team USA is shaping up to be the deepest American squad since the inaugural Classic in 2006, with manager Jim Leyland calling the shots.
"It's a nice opportunity for me," Leyland said. "But this is not a party. We want to win. I can't imagine what that would feel like. I'd love to find out."
The Americans will need to be great to do it, because they still have not won a World Baseball Classic. Japan took the '06 and '09 titles, and the Dominican Republic won the '13 installment in part because of the brilliant tournament by Classic MVP Robinson Cano, the Seattle Mariners second baseman who will be back on the field as his team attempts to defend its crown.
That will be a tougher task than ever, though.
In addition to the always-tough United States and Japan teams, the D.R. will be challenged by Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Mexico, Cuba, South Korea, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada, Chinese Taipei, Italy, Colombia, Israel and China.
Here's how it will work: From March 6-12, there will be four first-round sites hosting pool play, with four teams apiece playing in those venues in a round-robin format, with two teams emerging from each site to compete in the eight-team second round.
Pool A, which will be contested in Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, South Korea, will feature the host team, plus the Netherlands, Chinese Taipei and Israel.
"I'm very excited," Lindor said. "I can't wait. I can't wait to wear my Puerto Rican jersey. I'm proud of my country. I want to represent it everywhere I go. That's the reason I play -- for Puerto Rico, for Cleveland and for my family."
The second round is slated for March 12-19, with Pool A and B winners and runners-up meeting in another round-robin format in Tokyo, while the teams that emerge from Pools C and D will match up at Petco Park in San Diego.
The four teams that emerge from the second round will head to Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles for the semifinals on March 20-21, and the championship game on March 22.
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.