March 14, 2020
(The Philippine Star ) - March 14, 2020 MANILA, Philippines — The decision came a little late but the postponement of the two-part World Baseball Classic (WBC) qualifiers involving 12 countries, including the Philippines, was inevitable. Organizers advised participants of the suspension only last Thursday, the day before the first part of the qualifiers was set to reel off at the 11,500-seat Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium in Tucson, Arizona.
Philippine Amateur Baseball Association (PABA) secretary-general Pepe Muñoz said he received the notice of postponement from tournament coordinator Nelson Gonzalez. “I’ve been in contact with different people since 4:30 a.m. (Thursday) to unwind all the arrangements we made for the team,” said Muñoz. “Hoping and praying that this problem passes soon. Looking forward to the qualifier when it’s rescheduled. I talked to our coordinator and suggested that the event be postponed until October.”
The Philippine delegation was set to leave for Tucson via Los Angeles on Tuesday. PABA president Chito Loyzaga, Muñoz, coaches Wilfredo Hidalgo and Keiji Katayama and 15 players were booked on a PAL flight to travel to Tucson. The plan was to hook up with Los Angeles Pierce College coach Bill Picketts and 14 recruits from the US and Japan in Arizona. Among the recruits were Tim Tebow, Menelik (Izzy) Israel, J. R. Bunda, Chase D’Arnaud and Andrew Magno.
The Philippines is bracketed with the Czech Republic, UK, New Zealand, Panama and Spain in the second qualifier scheduled from March 20 to 25. The first qualifier was booked from March 13 to 18 with South Africa, France, Germany, Nicaragua, Brazil and Pakistan participating. The top two placers in the first and second qualifiers will advance to the 20-team WBC next year.
It appears that President Trump’s declaration of banning European visitors to the US, except from the UK, precipitated the decision to postpone the qualifiers. Muñoz said he heard that Spain had beaten the deadline of the travel ban by arriving in the US early. Spain is a favorite to advance from the second qualifier with former major leaguer Luis Sojo of Venezuela as manager. The Spanish roster lists crack players from different countries, including Blake Ochoa, Antonio Noguera, Leslie Nacar and Vicente Campos of Venezuela, Adrian Nieto of Cuba and Engel Beltre and Rhiner Cruz of the Dominican Republic. In the 2017 WBC qualifier, Spain lined up only one Spanish-born player.
In the notice of postponement, Gonzalez said the suspension is indefinite. “Given the impact of Covid-19 affecting many people from around the world, the WBC has decided that it is in the best interest of everyone involved to postpone the qualifiers set to begin tomorrow (Friday) through March 25,” he said. “Your respective team coordinators will work with you directly to change/update any flights anyone in your respective federations may have already taken in preparation for the event. Once we determine the new dates on when the qualifiers will be able to take place, we will make sure to notify everyone ahead of time.”
Reenie Ochoa, stadium director of Pima County where Tucson is the seat city, said with announcements of postponements from other sports organizations over the past 12-24 hours, she expected the suspension of the qualifiers. “When the decision was announced to postpone the WBC qualifiers, we, of course, were extremely disappointed but completely understand the decisions that are being made in the interest of health and safety,” she said. “The Kino Sports Complex staff and partners worked hard at the planning and preparation involved with this event and are looking forward to its reschedule at some date in the future so that we may once again show the world stage how great Pima County and Tucson are for hosting major sporting events.”