Thursday, Dec. 13, 2007 | After hosting the semifinals and finals of the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006, the San Diego Padres are looking to host it again in 2009.

Last year’s baseball tournament, which featured 16 international teams, culminated in a Japan victory over Cuba and drew baseball aficionados from all over the globe. Tickets sold to more than 737,000 fans from all 50 states and 16 other countries.

“It was obviously a very exciting time for the city of San Diego,” said Jeff Overton, the team’s executive vice president of business operations. “It was a kind of feather in our cap to be able to draw such prominent sporting events.”

Now, the Padres have put in their bid to host the second round or the finals again for the World Baseball Classic.

Based on the city’s ability to put together the finals in six months (they found out in September 2005 that they would host in March 2006), Overton thinks the city has a “very good chance” to host at least some of the games.

The Padres and the city worked side-by-side in order to pull together the tournament in such a tight timeframe.

“We were really happy with how it was managed,” said Carolyn Wormser, director of special events for the city of San Diego.

That success didn’t come easily, though. San Diego had to overcome a couple of major hurdles before hosting the tournament.

First, there was the problem of funding. City officials and the Padres struggled to decide how the cash-strapped San Diego could manage the costs of such an event. The major expenditures included policing and traffic mitigation. The Padres ended up footing the bill even though the contract between the team and the city doesn’t allow the city to recuperate costs for “baseball-related” events.

If San Diego wins the bid this time, Overton said that expenses will be kept between the tournament and the Padres, so it won’t cost the city government any money.

Secondly, Cuba, known as one of the top baseball teams in the world, was almost barred from playing. The U.S. Treasury Department ruled that Cuba could not participate in the tournament because of a long-standing economic embargo, which prohibited Americans from entering into contracts in which Cuba or Cuban nationals have an interest.

Cuba reapplied, and the Treasury and State Departments approved their application to participate a month and a half before the tournament began.

It was the first time Cuba was able to play at the international tournament level against Major League Baseball players. Since 1938, the International Baseball Federation has hosted an international tournament biannually called the Baseball World Cup. It is a qualifying tournament for the Olympics, and Cuba has won the gold medal 25 of the 37 times it’s been held.

The World Cup always falls during the MLB season (the last one, held in the Chinese Taipei, was the week after the World Series). Since 1996, professional minor league players have competed, but major league players aren’t allowed.

The emergence of the World Baseball Classic comes as baseball is about to lose a place on a major international stage.

In 2005, the International Olympic Committee announced that baseball and softball were cut from the 2012 Olympics in London. The committee felt that the sports were too American for the world stage.

An MLB spokesman felt that the play at the World Baseball Classic is “certainly comparable” to the level of competition at the Olympics.

“I mean, you’re getting the top players from around the world competing,” said Pat Courtney, spokesman for MLB, which co-hosts the tournament with the players association.

San Diego has a lot of qualities in its favor for winning the bid, though it hasn’t been released how many cities they’re competing against.

There are a number of things that help San Diego compete, Courtney said. MLB views San Diego as an international city because of the proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border, making it ideal for hosting an international baseball tournament. “They’ve hosted the event before, and they have a phenomenal facility,” Courtney said. “It’s one of the best facilities in the sport.”

The 16 international baseball teams are divided into pools of four. They play a round-robin tournament in four cities (last year, they were Orlando, Phoenix, Tokyo and San Juan, Puerto Rico) for the first round. The top two teams from each pool advance to the second round, hosted by two cities (Anaheim and San Juan, Puerto Rico, last year). The final four advance to the semifinals and finals, which San Diego hosted at Petco Park.

So the MLB and player’s association have seven slots to fill, but the Padres don’t expect to hear about the bid until the first quarter of 2008, giving them a year to prepare.

The Padres especially liked hosting the World Baseball Classic last year because it drew in visitors from all corners of the globe.

“We don’t have to rely on San Diegans,” Overton said. “It was quite a large draw.”

The city hopes to host some of the tournament’s games in 2009.

“We’re all very, very proud of the community of San Diego for supporting the inaugural WBC. It was an event than no one really knew about before or the kind of play to expect, and it sold out,” Overton said. “That gives us the chance to be listened to so that we can host again.”

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