With the third World Baseball Classic set to take place next March, Team Canada will be looking to outperform its international rivals.
But first, it’ll have to qualify for the tournament.
In a 2011 decision, World Baseball Classic Inc. and Major League Baseball expanded the list of participants for the 2013 installment of the competition by adding 12 more nations and a new qualification round.
Though this move may prove beneficial for the exposure of international baseball, it may also be detrimental to the Canadian team.
As one of the four nations who failed to pick up a win in the 2009 WBC, Canada will travel to Regensburg, Germany to begin the double-elimination style qualifying process this week.
For Adam Stern, a former Major League outfielder with the Boston Red Sox who competed in both previous World Baseball Classics, this is a not an ideal situation.
“I don’t like it. I really don’t,” he said. “I don’t think Canada should have to qualify. I think there are a lot of teams that shouldn’t have to qualify and I think Canada’s earned the right to get an automatic bid.”
Now the owner of Centrefield Sports, a large indoor baseball facility in his hometown of London, Ont., Stern believes that the nature of the game is not conducive to the tournament’s new format.
“Here’s the thing with baseball – it’s not like football. If you put an NFL team against a college team, they’re going to beat the college team every time,” the 32-year-old said. “With baseball there are too many unknowns and I’ve played in too many international tournaments to know that.
“It’s not a best-of-seven series or even best-of-five, it’s a one-game situation and anything can happen in baseball.”
Speaking from experience, Stern recalled Canada’s disappointment in the last WBC competition.
“I always go back to 2009,” he said. “We were better than Italy on paper but they beat us. We had two MVPs on that team but that’s baseball.
“If it was a five-game series, I think you could deal with it, but in the new qualification round, someone can back-door Canada and bump them out and I feel that this country has earned the right to be in that tournament.”
Also working against Team Canada is timing.
Whereas two of the four qualification groups will compete in November, following the conclusion of the MLB season, the Canadian team is heading to Germany while some of the nation’s best players are still entrenched with their big-league teams.
“It’s a tough time,” Stern said of the tournament’s qualifying schedule. “You’re asking minor league guys to qualify for a team they might not even get to play for [in the 2013 tournament]. Some of them may, but not all of them will.
“You can’t take your big leaguers and that’s a bit of a problem — it’s not fair. Some of these guys are going to look in the mirror and say ‘I know I’m not going to be on this team but I have to go over there and qualify.’
“Hopefully they breeze through it, but it’s baseball.”
Competing against Canada in Regensburg this week will be Germany, Great Britain, and the Czech Republic.
Though neither of those nations is considered a baseball powerhouse, there’s no guarantee that the Canadian team will have an easy go of things.
Tim Smith, a Toronto native in the Atlanta Braves minor-league system who will be playing outfield for Canada, certainly doesn’t think qualifying will be a simple task.
“You can’t take [the competing nations] too lightly,” Smith told Sportsnet the Fan 590 on Sunday. “There are a lot of players from North America who have ties to those countries, so they’re all packed with minor-league players …You take a look at the roster and it’s like, ‘hey, I just played against this guy two weeks ago.’
“You can’t overlook anybody in these tournaments.”
Regardless of what happens over the next week, Smith, who was on Team Canada’s gold medal-winning roster during last year’s Pan Am Games, is grateful to have the opportunity to represent his nation once more.
“It’s tough to put into words [how it feels] when you get the chance to play for your country,” he said. “Just to be able to hear that Canadian anthem – you don’t get to hear it during the season too often in the minor leagues.
“You get some goose bumps when you can stand on that line and hear your real anthem for once.”
Follow Melissa on Twitter: @ThrowinSmoke