The next World Baseball Classic is slated to kick off in March 2023, with a 20-team field from nations around the world competing for glory. The 16 teams from the 2017 tournament automatically qualified, but four more squads can earn their way in through this year’s qualifying tournaments. The first of these four secured a spot on Tuesday, as Great Britain bested Spain to earn their first trip to the WBC.
The first of two six-team qualifier tournaments was held in Regensburg, Germany this past week between Spain, South Africa, Great Britain, the Czech Republic, France and host Germany. Great Britain entered the tournament not as a heavy favorite, but was still able to secure some MLB-level talent. The pitching staff was headlined by former Phillies starter Vance Worley, and also featured ex-big leaguers Akeel Morris, Chris Reed and Michael Roth.
Great Britain kicked off their tournament with a statement win, pounding a hapless French team 14-4. Top Mariners prospect Harry Ford had a standout game, going 2-3 with three walks and a homer. The Brits then took care of their German hosts with an 8-1 rout. Ford homered once again, as well as indy ball player Justin Wylie.
The last game of Great Britain’s underdog run came against a Spanish team that also featured a handful of former big leaguers, and the two squads didn’t disappoint. Spain got out to an early lead and entered the ninth inning with a 9-8 advantage over the Brits. However, Jaden Rudd launched a solo homer off former Astro Rhiner Cruz to send the game to extras.
After the Spaniards were held scoreless in the top of the tenth, Great Britain had a good chance to win the game with rising Cardinals prospect Matt Koperniak beginning the frame at second base. Koperniak had a wild baserunning play with one out, nearly getting thrown out on a comebacker to the pitcher, but an errant throw went into center field. The Spanish had Koperniak dead to rights at third base, but he somehow got his foot in under the tag and was ruled safe upon review. Alex Crosby then lifted a long fly ball into left field, scoring Koperniak to walk things off.
It’s a monumental victory for a British team that had never reached the world’s premier baseball tournament before. Despite the small number of homegrown British talent on the National Team, the game is growing in the United Kingdom, and a trip to the WBC will only help it gain traction.
The team’s chances are already looking brighter for the main tournament, as star Marlins second baseman Jazz Chisholm Jr. announced his intention to suit up for Great Britain. Fellow Bahamian big leaguer Lucius Fox is another possible addition, as is Astros reliever Blake Taylor who has represented Great Britain in the past.