The 2017 World Baseball Classic is drawing ever closer, with organizers set to announce the locations of four qualifying tournaments to take place in the next calendar year.
Sources say three cities will host qualifiers in February 2016: Sydney, Australia; Mexicali, Mexico; and Panama City, Panama. The fourth -- scheduled for September 2016 in Brooklyn, New York -- is perhaps most intriguing for American fans.
Australia, Mexico, and Panama must qualify for the 2017 WBC and will host those tournaments on home soil. Team USA already has a spot in the 16-team WBC field. So Team Israel is a strong candidate to play in the Brooklyn tournament at MCU Park, the Coney Island stadium that is home to the Brooklyn Cyclones, the New York Mets' New York-Penn League affiliate.
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Israel nearly qualified for the 2013 WBC -- with a roster that included Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson, managed by current Tigers skipper Brad Ausmus -- before an extra-inning loss to Spain in the finals of a qualifier in Jupiter, Fla.
Brooklyn -- the birthplace of Jewish-American sports icon Sandy Koufax -- would offer a historic backdrop for Israel's next qualifying bid, with the potential for large crowds and significant media attention given the longstanding cultural ties to baseball among Jewish communities in the Northeast.
Jewish major leaguers won't be eligible for Israel's qualifying team because the tournament takes place during the MLB regular season, but they could play in the 16-team championship tournament, tentatively scheduled for March 2017. Still, next year's Israeli team could include minor leaguers who have -- or eventually will have -- MLB experience. Of note, the last qualifying team included recent MLB players Josh Zeid, Josh Satin, Nate Freiman, Cody Decker and Adam Greenberg, in addition to Pederson.
Meanwhile, the Sydney tournament is likely to have a "Commonwealth Games" feel, with Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and one more nation -- possibly Great Britain or the Philippines.
Twelve nations have secured bids to the 16-team field based on their performance in the 2013 WBC: Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, Puerto Rico, South Korea, Venezuela and the U.S.