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World Classic pairings announced

Associated Press

DEARBORN, Mich. – The United States will be grouped with Mexico, Canada and South Africa next year in the first round of baseball’s first World Cup-style tournament.

The 16-nation, 18-day event, called the World Baseball Classic, opens March 3 in Tokyo or Taiwan, where Group A will include Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China.

The United States will be in Group B, which starts play March 8 along with the other groups and will be based in the United States.

Cuba, Puerto Rico, Panama and the Netherlands are in Group C, which will be in Latin America, and the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Australia and Italy are in Group D, which will be based in Florida.

Major League Baseball has spent more than a decade discussing the tournament and hopes the event will gain in prestige, such as soccer’s World Cup. The International Olympic Committee voted Friday to kick baseball out of the Olympics following the 2008 Beijing Games. IOC president Jacques Rogge cited baseball’s refusal to allow players on 40-man major league rosters to participate and the sport’s drug-testing rules, which do not meet the World Anti-Doping Agency’s standards.

“I don’t know if frankly I consider it a blow,” baseball commissioner Bud Selig said. “I’m sorry they made the decision, but we’re moving on in a very dramatic way to internationalize this sport.”

While Nippon Professional Baseball has agreed to participate, the Japanese players’ association has not yet given its approval and has objected to having the tournament during spring training. It also is unclear whether Cuba, which might fear defections, will accept its invitation.

Gene Orza, the chief operating officer of the players’ association, said the obstacles could be overcome.

“Cubans play international events with American and against Americans all the time,” he said.

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