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On This Date in Sports March 3, 2006: WBC Debuts

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Spring Training goes Worldwide as the first World Baseball Classic gets underway. The tournament begins with the Asian bracket as South Korea beats Chinese Taipei 2-0, and Japan crushes China 18-2 in games played at the Tokyo Dome. The WBC was baseball's attempt at a World Cup. Japan and South Korea would advance out of the pool. Japan would win the inaugural World Baseball Classic, beating Cuba in the final 10-6. After the season, Daisuke Matsuzaka of Japan would be named the WBC MVP and sign with the Boston Red Sox.  

Commissioner Bud Selig hoping to spread baseball to new parts of the world and expand the game, came up with a tournament featuring the best players from each country. However, with no perfect time to play, the tournament became more of an exhibition feel. Many star players focusing on the upcoming season did not participate, while others pushing too hard too fast began the season on the disabled list. There were pitch and innings limits as teams whose players left spring camps to participate in the WBC wanted to keep their workloads in line with their usual spring work. 

Pool B was the most competitive group as Team USA, Mexico, and Canada all went 2-1, beating South Africa, who went 0-3. Canada would be left out as Mexico, and the Americans advanced to the second stage. Pool C featured no surprises as Puerto Rico, and Cuba advanced, while Pool D saw the Dominican Republic and Venezuela make it to the second stage.

Down to 8 teams, the World Baseball Classic created two new four-team pools that would again go round-robin, with the top two teams in each group advancing to the semifinals. Team USA started well with a 4-3 win over Japan; however, they were eliminated following a 7-3 loss to South Korea and a 2-1 loss to Mexico. South Korea, remaining unbeaten at 6-0, advanced to the semifinals, and Japan, who, despite going 1-2, held tiebreakers of Team USA and Mexico. Cuba and the Dominican advanced out of the second bracket creating a final four teams from Asia and the Caribbean.

The Final Four would be held at San Diego's Petco Park, where Cuba beat the Dominican Republic 3-1. After losing 3-2 and 2-1 in their first two meetings, Japan finally beat South Korea 6-0 behind Daisuke Matsuzaka. The championship held on March 20th saw Japan bust out the lumber beating Cuba 10-6. 

There were several controversies in the first World Baseball Classic as several teams openly complained about having Spring Training interrupted. The Cuban National team did not allow defectors to play on the team as fans in Miami protested their participation in the tournament. 

The WBC would return in 2009, with Japan repeating as some kinks were worked out. From there, it would be held every four years, with the Dominican Republic winning in 2013 and Team USA taking the crown in 2017. The WBC returns in 2023 after being canceled due to COVID in 2021.